How to Create a Professional Development Plan for Teachers

A teacher stands in front of lockers holding a clipboard.

Professional development plans help teachers meet one of their most difficult requirements: continuing education. In addition to the enormous challenges and responsibilities of teaching, educators must keep up with evolving pedagogies, changing academic standards, shifting methods of teacher evaluation, and new testing standards for students. Without a system for keeping track of goals, measuring progress, and marking success, teachers can lose focus and motivation, inevitably resulting in lower career satisfaction and poorer learning outcomes for students.

Defining a Professional Development Plan

Professional development plans can target any number of goals, from maintaining certification and licensure to improving student engagement. Creating a plan for continuing education and development can benefit teachers of all experience levels.

Common areas of focus include skills development and instructional priorities, which teachers can explore through programs of varying complexity and length. For example, they might attend a one-day workshop on the integration of remote learning tools or another technology in the classroom. However, developing new teaching methods or strategies––practicing culturally responsive teaching or implementing inquiry-based pedagogy, for example––might require a much more involved series of classes and activities.

Once they have established their goals, teachers and administrators can explore the methods for achieving them. Workshops, small-group discussions, online and in-person training, school visits, coaching sessions, self-guided research, and peer observation can all be effective methods with thoughtful preparation.

Elements of an Effective Professional Development Plan

Professional development plans are more likely to be successful if they meet the following criteria during the planning stage:

  • Collaborative. Development plans should not be the sole responsibility of teachers or administrators but rather a joint effort that combines personal and institutional goals.
  • Customized. One size does not fit all. While some development goals might be necessarily and appropriately broad, learning goals are more effective if teachers tailor them to their specific needs, disciplines, and grade levels.
  • Limited. While it might be tempting for teachers or administrators to list every goal they hope to achieve, an effective plan will focus on only one or two goals.
  • Realistic. This criterion includes being realistic about the time and difficulty of implementing a strategy, as well as the personal and institutional costs.
  • Specific. The more specific a goal is, the more easily it can be measured. This is key for making the goals meaningful.

Teachers should also be mindful of factors that improve the likelihood of success during the implementation stage:

  • Active and social. Just like their students, teachers generally learn better when a lesson is active rather than passive. Lecture-based workshops, for example, have less success than active and interactive exercises. Discussions, live modeling, and classroom visits can create an engaging social and collaborative environment.
  • Supported. Professional development plans require continued support from educational leaders. Without regular check-ins and feedback, teachers have no way to measure their progress or their development’s impact on students.

Challenges of Professional Development Plans for Teachers

Time and cost pose the greatest challenges to professional development efforts, so teachers and administrators must consider both factors when creating and implementing a professional learning plan.

  • Time: Addressing this challenge includes making time to create, implement, and manage development plans. Teachers need time to learn new skills, but implementing them in the classroom is far more challenging and time consuming. Failing to recognize the amount of time that teachers will need to devote to implementation, as well as the time that administrators must devote to managing programs and collaborating with teachers and other stakeholders, can derail an otherwise sound plan.
  • Cost: Some of the costs related to teacher development are straightforward; administrators can easily estimate the funding requirements for materials and training services, for example. More challenging to assess is the cost of teachers’ time. If professional development occurs during working hours, with teachers devoting time to collaboration with peers or outside coaches, it may require additional staffing or substitute teachers. If administrators expect teachers to work on professional development outside of their standard workday, additional pay or stipends may be necessary.

Benefits of Professional Development Plans for Teachers

Professional development plans for teachers are beneficial to both educators and their institutions. Having clear, achievable development goals helps align the needs of teachers with those of their schools and districts. It also gives administrators a way to measure and report progress.

Creating and implementing professional development plans also benefits teachers by putting structure around their complex and evolving training needs. This can help them manage their personal and professional goals, making them accountable for learning and giving them a sense of accomplishment for the progress they make. Effective professional development results in more successful curricula and classroom environments, which ultimately benefit students.

Planning for Better Educational Outcomes

Mills College’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program prepares educators to create effective environments for teaching and learning. With a focus on public service, Mills offers a unique curriculum that emphasizes collaboration and prepares leaders to bring transformative change to all levels of education. To learn more, visit Mills College’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership.

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Edutopia, “Creating a Teacher-Driven Professional Development Program”

National School Boards Association, “Professional Development Done Right”

TeachThought, “5 Strategies for Better Teacher Professional Development”