Keys to Successful Professional Learning


Two years into a global pandemic, teachers are exhausted and continue to face significant challenges. While professional learning can provide assistance, many educators also view it as another drain on valuable time.

Well-designed personalized professional learning opportunities can positively impact learner growth if they’re aligned with five key research-based drivers:

  1. The content is relevant, useful, and timely.
  2. Teachers have agency and autonomy in terms of when, how, and what they choose to engage with.
  3. Courses include time for practice, reflection, and adaptation over substantial periods of time.
  4. Facilitators foster social connection and active learning.
  5. The experience is based on a quality program that enables and supports engagement both online and in person.


Professional development should focus on authentic, relevant content that allows teachers to address the most pressing needs of their learners. Before identifying professional development topics, district leaders should assess the current state of their students in terms of their academic and social needs. 

Teachers value content, curriculum, and tools that they can implement immediately, that address specific needs, and that support their learning as professionals. 

For example, educators who are new to the field might need foundational support, while experienced professionals would benefit from quality learning opportunities to continue their growth as professionals.

Approach and autonomy: 

Teachers—like students—desire approach and autonomy in terms of when, how, where, and what they choose to learn. When professional development is voluntary and designed to fit into their schedules, teachers often show significantly higher levels of engagement and satisfaction.

 We heard repeatedly that educators were able to participate because they could complete the online learning opportunities when and where they could find time.

Rhythm of learning: 

“To keep on going you have to keep up the rhythm ”

One-shot, stand-alone professional development workshops don’t create meaningful change or support. Educators benefit from rhythm of learning, practice, reflection, and adaptation over substantial periods of time to build mastery. Multiple modalities of content (e.g., books, videos, lectures, online coursework) also provide more opportunities to engage deeply in a topic than a single, one-day meeting. 

Social connection and active learning:

Everyone recognises that students benefit from active learning and connecting with their peers, and yet when it comes to teacher professional development, that component is often neglected.

Teachers need the opportunity to learn alongside their colleagues, so professional learning should incorporate social connections and active learning to deepen understanding.

Teachers deeply value the times when they have an opportunity and a space to problem-solve, plan, and collaborate to address challenges in implementation or ways to adjust content to their students and context. 

Personalized, flexible, and multimode: 

The need for professional learning has never been greater as teachers strive to meet the unique needs of their students. Instead of traditional, one-size-fits-all professional learning, however, we found through the literature and our own observations that successful programs are personalized, flexible, and multimode.

As districts plan for a new year of professional learning, we encourage them to incorporate these quality drivers to best meet the needs of their educators.