Rethinking Professional Development to be Proficiency-Based

It is interesting to collaborate with other districts and education initiatives, and hear frustrations about how much they have invested in professional development – how many sessions they have provided – and how it has resulted in very little change in practice.

Perhaps it is because our thinking about professional development has been incomplete.

Sometimes folks say that teachers are oppositional or unwilling to change, but perhaps it is that workshops are simply insufficient (and perhaps their role is misunderstood), even though they are a key component. Professional Development is more than just workshops, readings, and online courses.

Teacher Face-to-Face TimeOur thinking about professional learning needs to be proficiency-based, not participation-based.  Schools aren’t really interested in simply sharing techniques or information. Schools want changes in classroom practice.

Schools should probably consider that their support and professional development efforts are successful when they garner changes in how teachers design and implement learning experiences for students, not simply that their educators have participated in trainings.

Mike Muir, the MLTI Director, writes about Proficency-Based Professional Development, based on the work done supporting teacher’s professional learning in his former district in Auburn, Maine.

Over time, their understanding about what districts need to pay attention to in terms of PD and support has expanded to include 3 overarching categories: clarity; support for foundational knowledge, and support for achieving proficiency. The article outlines strategies within each category:


  • A Professional Learning Curriculum
  • A Professional Learning Progress Management System
  • Answering “But What Does It Look Like?”

Support for Foundational Knowledge

  • “Same Page” Trainings
  • Reusable Learning Objects

Support for Achieving Proficiency

  • Lesson Invention and Tryouts
  • Coaching and Feedback
  • Teacher Face-to-Face Time

Muir points out:

We don’t just see that there are 3 categories of professional learning, but we acknowledge that all three compliment each other and are needed. Teachers don’t get to proficiency without the foundational supports. To offer workshops without defining the desired broader professional learning at best leaves gaps in teachers’ learning and at worst becomes a collection of random workshops. To share a set of expectations with teachers (the professional curriculum) without providing training and supports is the irresponsible expectation that they can change practices without supports.

The article ends with this invitation:

If your initiative isn’t progressing the way you would like, if you aren’t seeing the the classroom changes you’d like to see, I’d invite you to look at the strategies within the three categories. Is your initiative attending to each?

Full Article Here



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