5 Tips for Creating an Effective Professional Learning Plan

A professional learning plan is a “set of purposeful, planned actions and the support system necessary to achieve the identified goals. Effective [professional learning] programs are ongoing, coherent, and linked to student achievement (Killion, J. 2008).” A strong PL plan should identify both short and long term goals, then outline a process that takes into account your teachers’ current needs.

Drafting your PL plan

Learning Forward suggests seven key steps for drafting a professional learning plan:

  1. Analyze student learning needs - Start with the information you have: where are the areas of growth and success according to your student data? Is student performance the same across all student demographics or are there indicators of an achievement gap? Narrow in on different cohorts that may require distinct supports.
  2. Identify characteristics of community, district, school, department, and staff - Establish any necessary context and address any changes in learning conditions. Has your school experienced any large demographic shifts? Analyze the impact of any changes to students or staff (such as new curriculum, influx of new students, addition or loss of staff) that might influence student learning.
  3. Develop improvement goals and specific student outcomes - Create SMART goals for student outcomes that reflect realistic growth. In addition to student achievement data, what other data sources can be used to evaluate growth? If you identified subgroups in step one, you may also need to attach distinct goals to each student subgroup.
  4. Identify educator learning needs and develop goals and objectives - Translate your student goals into educator goals, making sure they are clear and actionable. For instance, if you’ve identified that ELL students lag behind their peers in their ELA scores, consider goals that prioritize ELA learning strategies for educators who serve large populations of students with limited English proficiency. Identify educator needs when drafting these; are there new initiatives or curriculum that might require additional supports?
  5. Study research for specific professional learning programs, strategies, or interventions - Professional learning no longer has to look like a calendar of sit-and-get workshops. Consider including a portfolio of options that will appeal to different learning styles and needs. When investigating outside vendors, ask for proof of impact. What outcomes are they achieving with other clients? Push them beyond satisfaction; are educators putting their learnings into practice and what impact has that had on student outcomes?
  6. Plan professional learning implementation and evaluation, including establishing a logic model for specific professional learning programs - Create a plan of action that links interventions back to specific goals. How will this move the needle for student achievement? It’s important to push your assumptions and get specific. For instance, something may seem “good to do” but if you can’t articulate how they will help you reach a goal, you probably shouldn’t prioritize it.
  7. Implement, evaluate, and sustain the professional learning - Lay out your PL timeline, building in opportunities to assess your implementation along the way. Just like a teacher schedules in quizzes before a final, create touch points to gather feedback. Save time to debrief and adjust your plan along the way.

5 Key Tips from Practitioners

1. Being specific about your teacher needs is critical.

“In thinking about how to assess the needs of our teachers, we examined our own expectations of our teachers. We wanted to know how they cognitively engaged students, how they used instructional strategies that require students to think critically and problem solve, and how they monitored student learning.

If we expected them to grow in those specific areas, we had to plan our professional learning around those specific needs. We used KickUp to design a needs assessment that asked the right questions to help us to help our teachers in the areas we expected them to grow.” – Stephanie True, Instructional Programs Director, Affton School District

2. Professional learning plans are more than a calendar of events.

PL plans should outline a holistic approach to supporting your educators’ growth. That means continuous support and feedback. Define how your teachers will maintain their growth outside of scheduled workshops or events. Events may be a key aspect of a professional learning plan, but without supports throughout the year, they have little chance of producing change.

3. Consider all members of your staff, not just educators in core subjects.

“It was important for us to administer a comprehensive professional development needs assessment that included survey items that were relevant to all certified staffing groups (e.g., counselors), not just our instructional staff members.  By doing so, we were able to indirectly communicate to all staff that we value everyone’s professional learning and growth.  Moreover, the comprehensive nature of the survey items helped us draft a professional learning plan for next school year that is not only aligned with our school improvement plan, but is differentiated to effectively meet the needs of all.” – Shannon McMurray, Professional Development Coordinator, Riverview Gardens School District

4. Don’t assume needs.

It’s common to assume that instituting a new initiative or curriculum means your educators will be starting from scratch, but that’s a dangerous assumption. Just like students come into classrooms with a diversity of experiences and skillsets, your teachers also likely have different needs. Personalizing PL can feel overwhelming, but a good needs assessment gives you the basis to differentiate your methods and is an opportunity to build teacher buy-in.

5. Clearly define a plan for assessing your plan during the year.

Once you’ve outlined your goals, consider how you’ll know if you’re on track to reach them. Build in opportunities along the way for formative assessment–so that you know whether your interventions were successful and how/if they have shifted your teachers’ needs. That might look like quick check-ins after an event, informal observations, or coach reflections. When possible, push your feedback beyond event satisfaction or attitudes; focus on translating your goals into observable indicators. For instance, instead of asking whether a teacher feels comfortable using technology, consider asking them to reflect on how frequently students are using technology in ways that support critical thinking.

Source: Killion, J. 2008. Assessing impact: Evaluating staff development (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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