In-House Professional Development is the New Normal

Professional development is currently in an evolutionary phase.  It has metamorphosed in the following way.  Until recently workshops, headed by a competent outside facilitator, was seen as the optimum vehicle for increasing adult learning.  Today there is renewed emphasis on a multi-step approach to PD that is job-embedded, collaborative, and horizontally configured (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).     

Job-embedded professional development sessions utilize “in house’ expertise.  This is important since the teaching staff has firsthand knowledge of the students’ needs and abilities, as well as their interests and learning preferences.  In addition, through communication with their parents staff gains additional insights into the cognitive, physical, and emotional makeup of their young learners.  Accordingly, effective PD meetings offer an efficacious platform where this panoply of information can be shared and analyzed for the student’s benefit.

To develop a proper framework for job-embedded professional development we must invoke three dynamics, i.e., content, process, and context. Content can be defined as the information and skills teachers and/ or students will know and be able to do at the conclusion of the training.  Content, as it relates to actual practice, begins with an examination of what students know and are able to demonstrate.
Process revolves around the design of a program that supports student learning.  This includes planning, organization, execution, and follow-up (Content-Process-Context Framework,n.d.). 
Context can be defined as conditions such as the school’s values, norms, organizational structures, culture, and resources that must be in place in order to ensure that the process works and the content is acquired to support student advancement (Content-Process-Context Framework, n.d.). 

Importantly these three dynamics must be aligned with state learning standards.  As such, the standard’s varied components provide benchmarks for a school’s culture that lead to exemplary professional development, higher quality educator practice, and improved student learning (Hirsh, 2006).  Parenthetically, all professional development standards are entwined and consequently each informs the other.  Therefore, they must be viewed holistically (Hirsh, 2006). 
These standards mandate new roles and responsibilities for teachers and principals.  More specifically, instead of selecting a single leader, today’s paradigm offers multiple paths of entry into the facilitator’s slot.  As a result all members of a particular school’s staff now have the opportunity to aspire to and actually fulfill leadership roles (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).

The principal is a major player in creating and maintaining a vibrant community for his /her cohort of learners.  As such, this leader oversees the following components of the Learning Communities standard.  He/ she prepares teachers for collaboration by creating a cooperative organizational framework that supports collegial learning (Hirsh, 2006).   In addition, this leader incentivizes the entire process with remuneration.  Preeminently he/ she does all of this with the goal of improving teacher capacity and enhancing student learning (Hirsh, 2006).  

Correspondingly, current professional development models place the goal of increasing students’ learning at the center of their practice (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  In addition, many educators now believe that professional development should be tailored to complement the school's learning culture. This school and district-wide climate subsumes issues of student ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, motivation, and family support (Killion, & Roy, 2009).  Additionally, it takes into consideration views on formal and  informal leadership roles, administrator participation, and the cultivation of trust among staff (Killion, & Roy, 2009).   Further, the institutional beliefs in PD must also be supported by resources such as time, materials, and money (Killion, & Roy, 2009). 

Ideally, once these characteristics are in place, the actual PD process can begin to unfold.  It all commences with an examination of what students know and are able to do.   Cutting-edge professional development also emphasizes the importance of what educators will know and be able to do at the conclusion of the training.  First, participants identify and collect evidence of students’ work and cooperatively develop strategies to meet the learners’ needs (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  State standards as well as the school’s improvement goals guide this process (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Next, as a team they decide what the teachers need to know in order to address their pupil’s concerns (Killion, & Roy, 2009).   These targets should describe specific desired outcomes and detail steps teachers will take to achieve those goals (Killion, & Roy, 2009). 

Pertinent questions should be posed at this time. They include: “Who are we?” “Why are we doing this?”  “Why are we doing it this way?” (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Other requisite questions include “What will we teach?” “How will we assess?”  “How will we respond to students who do not learn?”  (DuFour, et al, 2006)

Flexibility is a vital characteristic since educational problems are often ill-structured. This is the result of pedagogical principles mixing with new blends of students each year. The inherent challenges often require pliable, “just in time” solutions. In a like manner, the PD program’s goals, agreements, procedures, and other agenda items are aligned to address specific student need.  Finally, continually assessing the results of both the adults as well as students’ learning is an essential part of the program (Killion, & Roy, 2009).   This will feed into a cycle of continuous development and improvement. 

Collaboration is a keystone activity that must be part of any professional development program.  Accordingly, collaborative learning is the new normal for educators who are able to discover new strategies to enhance student learning while addressing the unique learning characteristics found in their school.  They do this by pooling their collective expertise and diverse perspectives about learning theory and pedagogy and acting, in concert, on this knowledge.  As part of this collaborative effort each member must balance individual goals with the collective objectives of the team (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).   In addition, all members should share the task of gathering resources to support their assumptions, perceptions, and conclusions (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Finally, speaking and listening skills must be continually improved in order to actualize a vibrant dialogue that led to deeper understanding of the issues (Arnold, 2013).   A productive compatible asset is to use the “what”, “why”, and “how” strategy when explaining the connection between the student samples and the proposed strategies.

Other important criteria are endemic to the collaborative process.  First, we must have positive intentions regarding the goal of meeting.  Secondly, we must choose congruent behaviors such as patience, impulse control, and receptivity (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Moreover, we should listen as well as speak strategically i.e., know when to integrate our thoughts and when to more forcefully assert them (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Lastly, we should endeavor to support the topic, goal, and process of the meeting (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013)

The role that the facilitator plays in affecting a successful PD meeting cannot be underestimated.  The facilitator first establishes a safe and engaging atmosphere where, among the participants, collaborative and cooperative relationships can thrive (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).    He/ she also formulates the agenda, which includes the goal, and takes care of the logistics (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Importantly, the facilitator also focuses the group’s attention, encourages them to actively participate, and helps develop understanding though clear questioning and responses (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).    

Moreover the facilitator understands that the participants are adult learners.  In this regard, these teachers are self-directed workers and who align their personal and professional growth objectives with collective goals. 
Here is a checklist of facilitator skills.

Or lower the conversation to more concrete terms with:

Use open-ended questions.
Ask about perceptions assumptions, interpretations, and invite others to chime in.

“What might be some assumptions?”
“Given our concern and knowledge on this issues what are some observations?”
“What are some of the perspectives you are considering?”
“What are some of your feelings about….?”

Facilitators should probe for specificity by eliciting details.  Qualify and clarify means the conversation is grounded in data and measureable details.
Avoid “we must”, “we have to”, “You shouldn’t”, “and I can’t.”
Avoid universal quantifiers such as everyone, all, no one, never, always.
Facilitator should eschew ownership of ideas since others might respond out of their feelings for the facilitator.
He/ she should couch ideas in these terms:
“This is one idea”
“Here is a thought”
Data has no meaning on its own
Meaning is the result of human interaction with the data.
Here are some ways for the facilitator to promote interaction with the data:
“What are some predictions?”
“With what assumptions are we entering?”
When observing and analyzing the data, the facilitator should ask:
“What seems surprising?”
“What are some categories, patterns or trends that are emerging?”
“What inferences or conclusions can we make?”
“What additional data sources must we explore?”
“What are some actions we might take as a result of our conclusions?”
In addition, the facilitator must pay attention to physical and verbal clues that indicate restlessness, boredom, hostility, or interest.  He/ she can respond with shifts in bodily postures and location, modulating the  tone of voice, breaking eye contact, pausing, or transitioning into another segment. Use gestures and posture and location to keep attention.
To demonstrate that the facilitator presumes positive intentions:
“Given our shared concerns…?”
“So as a committed professional…”
More structures of inquiry:
“Can you help me understand your thinking?”
Inquire after  pausing and  paraphrasing’
“What are some…?”
“How might you…?”
“What are your hunches…?”
Inquire about values, goals, assumptions.
“How does this relate to your values, goals?”
Get down to basics. Use concrete examples.
“Imagine you are in a new school and…”
“What are some examples of….?”
“What do you think might happen if we acted on your proposal?”
Explain your reasons for inquiring
“I am asking because….”
Investigate other assumptions
“Would you be willing to have each of us list our assumptions.”
Continually check for understanding about what is being said by pausing paraphrasing and inquiring.
Ask for broader context:
“How might your proposal affect…?”
“In what ways is this similar to?”
“Please share a typical example of…”
“In what ways does this relate to your other concerns?”
Reveal your listening process:
“ So far I have heard two themes.  Are there others?”
Make thinking visible
“I’m thinking that…”
State assumptions
“Here is what I assume are the causes.”
Describe your reason
“I came to this conclusion because….”
Describe your feelings.
“I feel…”
Distinguish data from interpretation:
“Here is the data, now this is what I think the data means.”
Reveal your perspectives
“I’m seeing this from the viewpoint of…”
Frame the wider context that surrounds the issuer
“Several groups would be affected by what is proposed.”
Use transition stems:
“Here is a related thought.”
“I hold it another way.”
“An additional idea might be”
“An assumption I’m exploring”
“Taking that one step further…”

Use abstract and concrete terms incrementally to widen the audience.

A professional development agenda model

Meeting Agenda
Meeting Outcome:  Develop a list of math-related strategies that are aligned to student needs.
Name of team:
Other participants:
Starting and ending time: Thursday 2:30 to 3:30

Purpose:  Dialogue, informing, understanding, and recommending.

 We will conduct a dialogue session to explore ideas related to both student math needs and attending teacher strategies.  Subsequently, we will propose a list of math approaches that address the needs of our students.


We will utilize the experience and expertise of our team members to build a communal pool of knowledge.  We will function in an engaging climate that respects all members by activating a set of capabilities related to social skills.  In addition, we will be clear about our goals and outcomes, we will deal with substantive content, including authentic data, and we will assess the process of our meeting using PD evaluation criteria.  At all times we will keep in mind the overarching principle of striving to improve the math skills of our students.


We will meet in the library.  All members will be present and prepared to initiate work on time. Cohorts will listen respectfully and will balance inquiry with advocacy.

Accountability is another crucial component of any professional development program (Hirsh, & Killion, 2009).  Constant evaluation of results-based approaches is critical (Hirsh, & Killion, 2009). These ongoing formative and summative assessments determine if the program has led to improved student learning (Hirsh, &Killion, 2009).  Analyzing the collected evidence concerning teaching methods and student learning and formulating plans to address any weaknesses will ultimately strengthen the professional development program (Hirsh, &Killion, 2009).  Eminently, the ensuing data will allow educators to evaluate both the processes and results (Hirsh, &Killion, 2009).

Criteria that guide the formation and fruition of learning communities will result in the following best practices.

Three focus questions that should complement this list are:

“What is the current reality at our school?”
“What do we know about best practices?”
“How are we applying these to solve the current problem?”

Two valuable resources will help empower teachers who participate in professional development. The first is a book entitled “Powerful Designs for Professional Learning” by Lois Easton (Easton, 2008).  It includes a number of strategies which demonstrate results-based evidence of increasing student learning.  This resource includes twenty-one job-embedded PD practices.  Each strategy contains tips on when and why to use the approaches as well as information about how to apply the design into the current climate of a particular school (Killion, & Roy, 2009). 

In addition, NSDC has published a series entitled “What Works” by Joellen Killion (Killion, 2002).  Here, she critiques a variety of PD programs in various contextual areas including the elementary grades (Killion, & Roy, 2009).   The author’s selections provide evidence of having a productive effect on student learning (Killion, & Roy, 2009). 

Another valuable resource is Bruce Tuchman’s “Four Stages of Team Development” (Killion & Roy, 2009).  These include the “Forming” or orientation stage where individuals arrive with many questions (Killion & Roy, 2009).  They wonder about the team’s purpose and their place in the scheme of things (Killion & Roy, 2009). At this point, the facilitator needs to make explicit the team’s purpose and the reason behind individual membership (Lee, 2009).   This is best accomplished by describing the overarching goal as well as articulating the essential knowledge, skills, experience, and unique perspectives that each person brings to the team(Lee, 2009).   In this manner he/ she inculcates a sense of belonging to all cohorts.  Accordingly, they begin to think in terms of “we” (Lee, 2009). Finally, since the power of teams lies in the synergy of the intertwined consortium, this early bonding will eventually enable members to envision a set of shared purposes that will strengthen their commitment to the team (Lee, 2009). 

The second, sometimes contentious stage is called “Storming.”  The diverse ideas which individuals bring to meetings sometimes lead to conflict. These disputations must be reconciled before true collaboration develops (Killion & Roy, 2009).  Inevitably, this requires dialogue in which conflict resolution and a general consensus is reached by the constituents.  Once these amenable agreements are attained the team can begin to function in a productive manner.

“Norming” is the third step.   At this juncture, the catalyst of trust has been developed over time largely through interacting with and understanding the other persons’ views. Because teams are interdependent, cohorts soon realize that they must relax their tendencies toward full control and instead incorporate the views of others (Lee, 2009).  When members feel comfortable about speaking freely, then divisive characteristics such as hidden agendas, unwillingness to voice issues of importance, and lack of integrity are minimized or eliminated (Lee, 2009).   To increase trust each must make their motivations transparent (Lee, 2009).   In addition, all should model forthrightness, honesty, and integrity (Lee, 2009).   The facilitator’s role in establishing trust cannot be overrated.  Facilitators should engage participants in learning more about each other’s history, perspective, needs, individual priorities, and work styles (Lee, 2009).   In addition they must be willing to protect unpopular opinions at appropriate times and speak up for the marginalized (Lee, 2009). 
Additionally, in this third step, original agreements are refined and improved.  True, interactive discourse, supported by strong social skills adds to the effectiveness.  At this point members no longer view themselves as individuals but as part of a team (Killion & Roy, 2009). 

“Performing” is the last stage.  Teachers are now synergistically using their collaborative skills and expertise to reach targets (Killion & Roy, 2009).  However, to maintain their progress they must continually asses and reassess their team’s adherence to the agreements and seek continual feedback on their performance (Killion & Roy, 2009).

Backmapping is a seven step recursive initiative that helps plan effective professional development (Killion & Roy, 2009).  Its septenary of practices revolve around the central tenet of improving student learning.  This process begins with the end in mind by focusing on student and adult learning goals and outcomes. This contributes to a cycle of continuous improvement. A central supporting principle is that PD programs will best address student’s needs when the school’s staff is responsible  for planning professional development (Killion & Roy, 2009).

The initial step is “Analyze Student Learning Needs” (Killion & Roy, 2009).   Here we must identify our student’s requirements and achievements through an analysis of the assessment data.  This will help guide the trajectory of the attending professional development.   More specifically we must focus on what is being measured in the assessment.  Some questions that should be addressed: “Are there patterns emerging from the data?” “What is surprising?”

The second step is “Identify Characteristics of Community, District, School, Department, and Staff” (Killion & Roy, 2009).  To undertake step two we must make sure that the characteristics of the school and staff support PD.  We must also ascertain that shared leadership is a top priority and that trust is both present and prevalent among the participants.  In addition, we should determine if the staff is responsive to change, if it has a supportive attitude towards school goals,  and whether faculty members communicate with one and other (Killion & Roy, 2009).   Next, we should certify that PD support for and by leadership is an active component.  Lastly we need to garner additional information concerning the staff’s experience and the degree of collegiality each member exhibits (Killion & Roy, 2009).

We must also delve into the students’ backgrounds. The attending statistics encompasses ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, their degree of family support, and their attitudes toward school (Killion & Roy, 2009).   Next, we must ask, “Does the community support the school?” and “Are they involved in school activities?” (Killion & Roy, 2009).  Lastly, we need to have the necessary budget, time, and materials to implement our plans (Killion & Roy, 2009). 

The third step is “Develop Improvement Goals and Specific Student Outcomes” (Killion & Roy, 2009).  These noble aims should be cultivated by asking:
“What results do we seek for the student?” and
“What new practices do we expect from the staff?” (Killion & Roy, 2009). 

The fourth step is “Identify Educator Learning Needs.”    Do not ask the staff what they want to learn.  Rather, discover what they need to learn by having leaders conduct classroom walkthroughs.  This will give them a heads-up on current content as well as the teacher’s strengths and weaknesses.

The fifth step: “Review Research for Specific Professional Learning Programs, Strategies, and Interventions.”  Two books, “What Works” and “Powerful Designs for Professional Learning” emphatically address the concerns of the fifth step. The first is a book entitled “Powerful Designs for Professional Learning” by Lois Easton.  It includes a number of strategies which demonstrate results-based evidence of increasing student learning.  This resource is comprised of twenty-one job-embedded PD practices.  Each strategy contains tips on when and why to use the approaches as well as information about how to apply the design given the current climate of a particular school (Killion, & Roy, 2009). 
In addition, NSDC has published a series entitled “What Works” by Joellen Killion.  Here, she critiques a variety of PD programs in various contextual areas including the elementary grades (Killion, & Roy, 2009).   The author’s selections provide evidence of having a productive effect on student learning (Killion, & Roy, 2009). 

After identifying effective PD strategies we need to ask:
“What aspects need to be modified to match the unique characteristics of our school?”
“What type or degree of district, school, and community support is needed to make the professional development successful?”
A deep dive should then be taken  into our school’s climate and culture to discern whether the school encourages or resists  new ideas. We should then enquire:
“What do teachers already know and what do they need to know next?” Explicitly we must evaluate the staff’s current understanding of content as it relates to state standards.
Finally we should enquire, “What practices are teachers currently using in the classroom and how do these differ from the recommended practices?”

The sixth step, “Plan Intervention, Implementation and Evaluation” once again emphasizes the use of teacher expertise and student-produced information from within the school (Killion & Roy, 2009).  Long-term support and follow-ups are also highlighted.   Moreover, planning the program and the evaluation at the same time gives the participants greater clarity about how the professional development is intended to work.

Additionally the PD intervention should align itself with teacher needs.  Leaders should then inform the staff about new practice, help with their implementation, and monitor the activities to ensure that they are utilized on a continual basis. Continual training and on-site help is crucial.  Finally, accountability is a critical component of any professional development program (Hirsh, & Killion, 2009).  Evaluation is accomplished by levying continuous assessments that determine whether improvements for teachers, students, and the district and school have achieved the intended results (Killion & Roy, 2009). 

Step seven, “Implement, Sustain, and Evaluate the Professional Development Intervention” embraces the mandate that teachers and principals are responsible for monitoring and making adjustments to ensure the program’s success.  Importantly, initially setting high expectations and aligning these with state standards is paramount.  Then too, summative and formative assessments used on a continual basis will provide data to continually enhance the professional development. However, before attempting step seven, leaders must first conceptualize high performance in actual practice.  Innovative Configuration maps will help them in their quest.

Innovative Configurations identify the essential parts of a standard and describe each component’s quality level (Roy, & Hord, 2004).  These IC maps were created to rationalize the differences that exist when comparing the abstract ideal of the benchmark with how the standard appears when activated in the class (Roy, & Hord, 2004). 

Finally, sustenance of the gains is maintained by a cycle of formative assessments, feedback, and strong advocacy.  Every teacher can be an advocate for professional learning by speaking knowingly and powerfully about essential elements that must be part of an efficacious PD programs (Hirsh, 2000).    More specifically, advise the staff to avail themselves of job-embedded opportunities to adopt leadership roles and to collect and study student-produced work (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Next, their findings and attending strategies should be applied to specific problems found in those samples (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  In addition, positive intentions, congruent behaviors, and collaborative interactions must be present (Garmston, & Wellman, 2013).  Finally, follow-up activities and ongoing assessments are critical to maintain the high level of the training.

In conclusion, professional development has evolved from a discrete, privatized, and often isolated teacher experience to one where all educators come together to share their knowledge and skills in a cooperative manner(Garmston, & Wellman, 2013. This is a fortuitous change since we now know that collaborative learning contributes to the depth and breadth of knowledge as well as widens the participants’ perspectives.  Accordingly, the costs of developing and extending professional development programs should be seen as an investment rather than expenditure (Hirsh, &Killion, 2009). In this manner programs that develop teacher capabilities as well as enhance student learning should enjoy the full support of the district and schools.

Arnold, K. (2013). What’s the Difference between Dialogue and Discussion? Retrieved from:

Content-Process-Context Framework. (n.d.) Retrieved from:

DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Lopez, D., & Muhammad, A. (2006). Promises kept: Collective
commitments to students become a catalyst for improved professional practice. Journal of
       Staff Development, 27(3), 53–56. 
Garmston, R. J., & Wellman, B. M. (2013). The adaptive school: A sourcebook for developing
         collaborative groups (Rev. 2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
 Hirsh, S. (2000). The powerof oneJournal of Staff Development, 21(3), 10-16.
Hirsh, S., & Killion, J. (2009). When educators learn, students learn: Eight principles of
professional learning
Killion, J., & Roy, P. (2009). Becoming a learning school. (Companion CD). Tool 1.3, "How Do
        We Stand?" Dallas, TX: National Staff Development Council.
Lee, G. V. (2009). From group to teamJournal of Staff Development, 30(5), 44–48.

 Roy, P. & Hord, S. M. (2004). Innovation configurations: Chart a measured course toward change. Journal of Staff Development, 25(2), 54–58.