Professional Learning

  • Overview

    From the Field


    “Increasing the effectiveness of professional learning is the leverage point with the greatest potential for strengthening and refining the day-to-day performance of educators.”

    Learning Forward

    Educators are the core of our education system. Increased digital learning opportunities for students and educators demands a systemic approach to professional learning that supports teachers throughout their careers. Professional learning that takes place as an ongoing process, based on relevant research is the key to  ensuring high-quality, relevant, college and career ready learning experiences to better address specific student learning needs. Educators – teachers and administrators – need to be able to choose the technology tools and resources most appropriate for their instructional practices to best meet the needs of students. This necessitates professional learning opportunities in content, programs and applications, as well as ongoing, sustained on-site support for teachers. Sustainable professional learning models, geared specifically to support teachers in student centered, digital learning environments can positively impact the teaching and learning experiences.

  • Planning for Professional Learning

    A district professional learning plan provides the opportunity to establish short- and long-term professional learning goals for instruction, to articulate how professional learning will take place, and delineates desired outcomes. Approaching professional learning planning comprehensively allows districts to achieve efficiencies and alignment and reduce redundancy across the schools. Districts with successful professional learning initiatives typically align goals, activities and outcomes across their departments, schools, and district.  The following resources describe the general processes for developing district professional learning plans, which can be applied to professional learning plans related to technology.

    Essential Elements

    Broadly, four components of professional learning planning are
    • Needs Assessment,
    • Goal Setting
    • Identification of Key Activities
    • Evaluation of Success
    Each component is listed below with questions that districts might ask and resources that could help with professional learning planning.

    Needs Assessment

    What gaps in educator competencies related to digital learning need to be addressed to fulfill the state and district’s academic goals? As with any good plan, an early needs assessment can help focus professional learning efforts on activities that reflect gaps and priorities for classroom instruction related to digital learning. A clear understanding of learning needs also provides concrete outcomes or targets for professional learning opportunities and typically provides some insight into what the best methods for accomplishing different types of outcomes might be. Needs assessments may be conducted via surveys, observations and focus groups.

    Goal Setting

    Goal setting is a hallmark of success with any initiative. Key aspects of high-quality goal setting include: exploring research and evidence-based practices; defining goals and objectives; defining desirable outcomes such as educator knowledge, skills, and abilities, and developing a logic model or theory of change about how professional learning will ultimately meet outcomes.

    Identification of Key Activities

    National groups such as Learning Forward, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)  have put forth guidelines to help assure professional learning success as related to technology in education. These standards emphasize activities that intertwine practice, research and theory. Briefly summarized below, these guidelines for creating activities include:
    • Job-embedded learning activities that directly connect practical challenges with tangible, relevant, and feasible solutions. (ISTE, CCSSO)
    • Rooted in sound pedagogy that is based on relevant research and grounded in learning theory. (Learning Forward; ISTE, CCSSO)
    • Aligned with learning goals and curriculum to provide focus for professional learning activities. (Learning Forward, CCSSO)
    • Informed by data generated systematically from a variety of sources to establish learning priorities and document progression. (Learning Forward, CCSSO)
    • Collaborative with local and distant colleagues to increase sharing of effective practices, reflection on/troubleshoot less successful efforts, and reduce teacher isolation. (Learning Forward, CCSSO)
    • Build capacity to improve and/or expand effective practice. (Learning Forward, ISTE, CCSSO)
    • Utilize blended learning modalities that can increase the accessibility and applicability of professional learning objectives. (Learning Forward, ISTE)
    • Contribute to measurable outcomes among students and teachers. (Learning Forward)
    • Tie to career pathways, including developing leadership pipelines. (CCSSO)

    Evaluation of Success

    Documenting evidence of participants’ learning, progress, and sustainability will help to measure both short-term and long-term success. Feedback loops can be beneficial for monitoring progress toward learning goals and identifying new areas for professional learning when there are authentic measures that are embedded in the learning process. Opportunities for feedback loops may include informal and formal data collection and analysis for with administrators, professional learning providers, instructional coaches, teachers and staff.

  • Action Plan

    In addition to defining and providing a shared vision for learning and assessment readiness, districts can foster digital learning by preparing a professional learning action plan for every staff member including the administrative, instructional and non-instructional staff. Each staff member will interact with students and the technology tools in some capacity and therefore each staff member including administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals should be trained in the pedagogy and rationale for the digital transition and the functionality of the technology tools.

    Administrative Staff

    Providing district and school administrators with professional learning opportunities to best support the instructional and non-instructional staff make the transition to digital learning helps to guide and support the process. Superintendents, principals and their administrative teams should help prepare by reviewing and updating policies and expectations related to broadband and infrastructure, curriculum and instruction and communication and teacher evaluation. In addition, considerations related to staff classifications and how individual staff member’s assignments may be impacted by a shift to digital learning should be considered.

    Instructional Staff

    Even before devices are introduced to students, educators must have sufficient time and resources to prepare themselves for the transition. This includes access to the devices and software, training on the basic technical facets of devices, training on instructional approaches utilizing technology and the opportunity to experiment with the tools and resources both independently and with peer groups. These training sessions may be in-person, online or blended professional learning experiences and should be supported by ongoing collaboration and follow-up opportunities.

    Non-Instructional Staff

    Paraprofessionals often work directly with students either one on one or in small groups and therefore they also need to understand how to support the students learning experiences. As with every other stakeholder group, these individuals need to be at the table to learn about and contribute to changing priorities as well as trained to support the use of technology for learning that is in the hands of more and more users.

    From Policy to Practice

    Instructional Technology Resource Teacher: Guidelines for Teachers and Administrators from the Virginia Department of Education The state of Virginia funds one instructional technology (IT) resource teacher for every 1000 students across the state. The districts have the flexibility to employ an integration specialist, a data analysis specialist or a combination integration/data analysis specialist.


    The role of the resource teacher is to work directly with teachers and administrators to integrate technology in the classroom, to train teachers to use technology effectively, and to assist with curriculum development as it relates to educational technology. Leaders use management systems to provide online and hybrid professional development sessions to schools. Web 2.0 tools such as blogs and wikis help foster participation and collaboration and the development of 21st Century skills.

  • Formal Professional Learning

    From Policy to Practice

    Apache Junction United School District (AJUSD) Collaboration Coaching Program The goals for the Apache Junction United School District’s (AJUSD) Collaboration Coaching Program are to build capacity in 21st century learning, which is built into the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards (AZCCRS).


    All AJUSD collaboration coaches are classroom teachers that have made the commitment to participate in the program and work alongside their peers to develop an engaging, creative, and collaborative learning environment for students. The trainings focus on technology integration, lesson design and pedagogy. While Collaboration Coaching provides ongoing, job-embedded professional development through learning communities, the format is different at each school based on the site vision and goals. In all cases, where teams engage students in rigorous learning, as they support and help build capacity with the AZCCRS. Every year site principals collaborate with their coaches to develop goals, providing direction and support for their staff. Areas of focus include content-based or 1-to-1 professional learning communities, building capacity with the AZCCRS, setting goals to increase rigor, and co-facilitating project based learning models. In addition to the support of the collaboration coaches, all professional learning provided by the district office is designed with technology integrated into the instruction.


    Educators typically participate in formal professional learning opportunities as requirements for state certification and district employment. Formal opportunities include university level courses either online, in-person or blended, webinars, workshops, district or school led communities of practice, and coaching/mentoring partnerships. Below are several examples of formal professional learning opportunities that can effectively support educators.


    • Instructional technology/digital learning facilitators or coaches have proven to be valuable in providing support to educators as they shift to new instructional practices. This direct one-on-one and small group instructional assistance can show teachers how to modify and deliver their lessons to take advantage of new technology resources. To be effective, districts should consider assigning at least one expert to each school (depending upon size) in order to accelerate the adoption of new forms of instruction and assessment.

    Communities of practice (COP)

    • Online, face-to-face and hybrid models of communities of practice provide educators with the ability to connect with fellow educators both asynchronously and in real-time to share resources, successes and challenges. Teachers and administrators benefit from the ongoing support available through these communities as they grow and expand to support the diverse needs of educators. Communities may be school, district or state based and/or connect teachers of similar content areas or grade levels nationally or internationally. Communities of practice differ from educators’ online courses. Online courses are more structured, typically requiring specific content and activities within a specific time period. Many of them do contain elements of a CoP to facilitate interaction and support among participants.

    Examples of Communities of Practice

  • Self-Directed Professional Learning

    From Policy to Practice


    Indiana Social Media

    Sponsored by the Indiana Department of Education, the hashtag #INeLearn is used for both asynchronous sharing daily, as well as a synchronous conversation (TwitterChat) every Thursday night. The #INeLearn Chat Blog documents the topic schedule and moderators for these Twitter gatherings.
    In addition to the formal professional learning opportunities and requirements, educators also engage in self-directed professional learning experiences both in and outside of their work environments. Self-directed informal experiences may include participating in social media feeds or reading a book or paper to support the teaching experience. Informal, job embedded learning opportunities such as discussions with fellow colleagues, sharing lessons plans or requesting feedback from students can also support an educator’s learning experiences. Many teachers also participate in more formal approaches of self-directly professional learning such as organizing a personalized learning network to track and build on their professional learning experiences.

    Personalized Learning Networks

    Online tools and social media have sparked new opportunities for educators to participate in self-selected, professional learning opportunities and to build their personalized learning networks (PLN) and to collaborate with peers. PLNs may include professional learning groups (online and in-person), COPs, listservs, blog subscriptions, newsfeeds and social media tool such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Ning and Edmodo.

  • Recognizing Professional Excellence

    Teachers who invest in the professional learning needed to create effective digital learning environments can receive recognition for their skills in a variety of ways. Gone are the days when teachers were largely recognized only for learning associated with requirements to continue their certification or employment. Teachers can now pursue professional awards, portfolios, badges and micro credentials that document and verify learning, thereby differentiating their skill set from that of other less tech-savvy teachers.

    Professional portfolios

    Portfolios provide teachers with the prospect to show growth over time and provide examples of effective teaching practices that can be shared with others. Portfolios are increasingly electronic based and can also be a learning tool for the teacher and their peers regarding lessons learned, best practices and the professional learning experiences that have been most beneficial.

    Badges and micro credentials

    Digital badges and micro credentials for knowledge acquisition have recently entered the education space. Badges are digital icons or logos on a web page. Typically badges are warded by institutions, organizations, groups, or individuals, badges signify accomplishments such as completion of a project, mastery of a skill, or marks of experience. (Educause Learning Initiatives: 7 Things you need to know about badges). Badges can provide incentives for participating in professional learning opportunities and an additional opportunities for collaborating with fellow educators. Numerous organizations and higher education institutions are now offering badges. Badges and and micro credentialing provide a shift in the way that educators demonstrate achievement and mastery.
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