Teachers as Learners: 6 Great Professional Development Ideas

Most teachers consider themselves life-long learners. As professionals, teachers are required to complete a certain amount of professional development (PD) every few years to keep their certification current. Usually this PD looks like speakers coming to teacher’s meetings, or educators attending conferences or taking courses at a local college. While these opportunities are ways to advance their craft, many teachers find that they don’t get much as they should from sitting in meetings or classes.

Teacher image

Image via flickr and woodleywonderworks

Just like the differentiated lessons they teach to meet students’ individual needs, teachers need to learn strategies in PD arranged for their individual interests and needs. Differentiated PD isn’t a new idea. Many administrators already ask teachers what their professional goals are and what the teacher will do to meet those goals. The teacher is observed in class and given suggestions to help align her practice to her goals. But differentiated PD should go beyond teacher goals; it should be an experience that gives educators new ways of thinking about their practice through a meaningful experience. We’ve compiled a list of unique ideas that help individualize the PD experience for teachers.

Professional Development Setups

  1. Book Clubs: Book clubs allow teachers with similar goals and interests to come together to read and discuss research and theories on the same topics. Administrators could ask groups of teachers to choose the book they’d like to read as a group, or could offer a list of possible books based on topics important to school-wide improvement, asking teachers to sign up for the one they’re most interested. A number of book clubs can be happening at one time, so that the entire staff is developing in different areas. Book clubs should meet at regular intervals and should schedule enough time so that every member can participate in the discussion. At the end of the book study, groups can present key takeaways and follow-up items to the entire staff. Check out this article from Education World that features a school faculty participating in book study.
  2. Action Research: Action research is best for teachers who want to apply learning in their classroom as soon as possible. It’s also a great way to get teachers interested in research and publishing in the education world. Like all research, action research starts with a question, usually something like “What part of my current teaching practice needs to improve?” From there, the teacher dives into the current research and literature about the topic and formulates a plan for improvement. The classroom becomes a mini-lab as the teacher tries out their newly researched strategies and collects data on their effectiveness. ASCD offers an in-depth look at action research in this book excerpt.
  3. Lesson Study: Lesson study is a PD strategy that has its origins in Japanese elementary education. During lesson study, teachers work together to plan a lesson, often based on a specific goal or research question. One teacher delivers the lesson to his or her class while the other group members observe. The group meets to discuss their observations, at which time the lesson is often revised so that another teacher can deliver it in his or her classroom. The group observes the second lesson and reports their findings to the larger staff. A lesson study gives teachers the time and space to collaboratively improve both individual and school-wide teaching practice. The Mills College Lesson Study website has lots of great resources for implementing the practice.
  4. Mentorship: Mentorship is usually reserved for teachers who are new to the field. Teachers who have been in the classroom for many years are great resources for newer educators, who many need help with time management or advice on dealing with challenging parents. But consider a broader application of the process for teachers who are beginning to learn any new method, skill, or approach. Maybe a veteran teacher wants to learn about technology integration in the classroom. Finding a mentor—even one who is newer to the profession, but who has a better grasp of technology—could be a great way to learn how. Mentors provide assistance in the form of information, feedback, and suggestions for refining a certain skill set. Mentors offer a built-in support system so that teachers don’t feel isolated. Consider onsite mentors or even cross-school mentors. This Education Week article has a list of what great teacher mentors do.
  5. Observation: Allowing teachers into the world of their colleagues, both at their own schools and at different schools, gives them a perspective of what can happen when they approach teaching in different ways. Teachers see new and innovate ways of instructing and organizing class time. They learn new methods for interacting with students and having students interact with others. Observations allow teachers to explore alternative ways to demonstrate their craft—not in theory, but in practice.
  6. Portfolios: Many schools nowadays require students to create portfolios to demonstrate their learning. Not all learning is represented as grades on a test, so students must find ways to symbolize their educational journey. Portfolios for teachers are a great way to collect artifacts and reflections on the school year. For PD purposes, teachers might be required to fill their portfolios with certain things like professional book reviews, video lessons, examples of parent communications, and so forth. Edutopia put together this helpful list of how to use tech tools to build a digital portfolio.

In Short

Teachers are skilled learners. As professionals, they’re required to continue studying and improving their craft. Schools design professional develop to help their faculty grow, but sometimes that PD is misaligned with teachers’ goals and classroom needs. By allowing teachers the option to choose how they’ll grow, differentiated PD options make continuous learning engaging and meaningful. We’re curious about what options your school gives you for PD. Comment below or reach out on Twitter or Facebook and let us know.


  1. Laura Gallagher

    July 22, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    We hear many trainers like to use Nearpod for PD – easy to create your content from scratch or upload a PPT or Google Slides, and quickly add & sprinkle in polls, Quizzes, Open Ended questions. Check out our Blog: Facilitating Teacher PD with Nearpod Homework:

  2. Candace Alstad Davies

    July 29, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Excellent article… I am a big believer in professional development through varies avenues. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Cara Little

    September 23, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    This is a great article to remind us teachers that we do have a choice with our PD. Each school strives to differentiate our instruction for our teachers, but we are not differentiating for the staff. When staff members feel the professional development meets their needs there will be more by in.
    Thank you!
    – Cara