10 principles of effective professional learning…


Apparently this random comment (my response to a tweet in last week’s #edchat) was well received!

This got me thinking (again) about the principles of effective professional learning for educators. In no particular order, the following points are based on my own experience.

Effective professional learning needs to be…

1. Conceptual

Effective learning for teachers is not always about things you can try tomorrow, but rather big ideas that shift your understanding of teaching and learning.

2. Self directed

Teachers need opportunities to set their own goals, choose their own learning and follow their own interests. (Sometimes the most effective medium to achieve that is social media.)

3. Inquiry driven

The most effective learning isn’t usually ‘delivered and received’. Teachers need to question, experiment, apply, find and solve problems, engage in action reasearch.

4. Collaborative

Learn with and from others. build a personal learning network. Create communities of practice in your own school, your neighbourhood, the world…

5. Creative

Think beyond one-size-fits-all PD delivered by ‘experts’ on special days set aside for the purpose. Create your own learning opportunities. Visit other classes. Start voluntary groups. Participate in Teachmeets. Engage via Twitter and blogs. Find your own people!

6. Personalised

How often are teachers compelled to attend one-size-fits-no-one sessions, not relevant to their current programs, practice, interests or experience? Even on school wide ‘PD days‘, teachers can have a choice.

7. Reflective

Too often, teachers are expected to shift rapidly from one ‘topic’ to the next (@lisaburman called it ‘Hit and run’). Effective learning includes sufficient time for reflection, application… and further reflection.

8. Active

Learning is often less effective when the expectation is for learners to listen passively. There need to be active participation and engagement, opportunities to interact, reflect and construct meaning.

9. Enjoyable
(I crowd sourced this one). Teachers like their professional learning to include humour and a sense of fun. It doesn’t need to be a boring chore!

10. Challenging

Professional learning (like any learning) can be messy. There should be tensions to work through and big ideas to connect. It goes beyond solutions and formulae and things to try out tomorrow… which takes us back to where we started!

Of course, all of this applies to any learners, not just teachers. Try replacing the word ‘teachers’ throughout the above post with ‘students’, or simply ‘learners’… which takes me back to a post I wrote a while ago about adult vs child learners. What are your thoughts on that?

What’s been your best professional learning experience? Did it fit the above criteria? What have a I missed?

55 thoughts on “10 principles of effective professional learning…

    1. Is it?! What makes you say this? Trainings in German for German teachers, you mean?! Depending on the topic, but there is so much online … Build your Personal Learning Network (Twitter, Google+, Blogs, Online Courses, …) and PD almost happens by itself. At least that’s my experience and it goes even so far that sometime I feel overwhelmed.


  1. Edna,

    As usual you have encapsulated a complicated topic into a neat and effective list. I believe the balance between the big picture and the practical is the challenge. The practical is so different for all teachers (hence the need for personal inquiry). Exposure to the big picture is also valid and valuable. Guy Claxton’s eight qualities of powerful learners fits well with your list

    It won’t surprise you to know that I believe the Teachmeet model fulfills many criteria for effective PL. 😉




  2. I appreciate your list, Edna. Terms such as conceptual, inquiry driven, and creative are often not included in discussions of professional development.

    An important challenge, I think, is balancing the requirements of professional development that is both self-directed and collaborative, particularly when the importance of sustained team-based collaboration within the school is taken into consideration.

    A fundamental responsibility of leadership is creating school cultures that enable continuous improvements in teaching, learning, and relationships within the school community. A core process of such cultures is strong and effective teacher teamwork driven by common, compelling, and stretching learning goals for themselves and for the students they collectively serve.


    1. Thanks, Dennis.I think to balance the requirements of self directed learning with collaborative, you need a range of different kinds of professional learning. At my school, teachers are encouraged to choose what external workshops and events to attend, have opportunities to participate in (and create) voluntary groups in school, as well as a mix of prescribed and self-organised after school sessions… In the end, it doesn’t matter what opportunities are provided, it depends on the motivation of the learner!


  3. I think that often new ideas come hard and fast. It’s not so easy to change quickly, and in my experience its also hard to do on your own. Collaborative change seems to be the most effective. Then it’s also easy to implement because a whole team are motivated towards the same goal.


    1. Hi Michelle
      Thanks for the comment. I think rather than trying to implement every new thing tomorrow, it’s important to develop deeper understanding of the big ideas by making connections and by ensuring we think about the ‘why’ not just the ‘what’. I agree that collaboration helps here… while keeping in mind though that learning (and change) are personal and everyone is at a different place in understanding, implementation, experience and motivation. In the end, everyone is responsible for their own learning, no?


  4. “What’s been your best professional learning experience? Did it fit the above criteria? What have a I missed?”
    The best thing that happened to me was the course “Blog, Twitter and Facebook in Teaching”. It made me start my own blog, follow right people on Twitter and make closed groups for students on FB. It made it possible to discover my own learning opportunities.
    I think that the best thing about it was the fact that we had to make some progress and some materials in order to pass the course. It is also important – products of work. So, we could say: “I learned how to … and look what I made!”

    p.s. Sorry for not so good English 😀


    1. Your English is great 🙂
      I get why that was the most valuable course you have done! I’ve learned more from engaging with other educators via social media (twitter and blogs mainly) in the last 5 years than I did from other PD in the preceding 25!


  5. Thanks for your list, Edna. As a department we have been trying to brainstorm ways to improve our professional learning opportunities. This will be good food for thought for my colleagues. One of the biggest changes I have made recently is the addition of Twitter and growth of my PLN, and I know I have personalized my learning in a way I have never known before. We need to empower our teachers to do the same, while we also find ways to improve the opportunities that we provide them within the context of the school setting. Thanks again!


    1. I agree about social media,Christie, as I said above. Perhaps a good starting point for improving professional learning opportunities within the context of the school is to ask (and listen to!) the teachers. Take a look at this survey for instance


  6. We must, at the district level & school level get away from the top-down approach to PD and begin to allow teachers and administrators to be in charge of their own professional learning.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your 10 principles of effective professional learning.


    1. Hi Scot… I substituted some words 🙂 What do you think?
      “We must, at the school level & classroom level get away from the top-down approach to learning and begin to allow all learners to be in charge of their own learning.”


  7. Great stuff Edna. I totally agree with the ‘self directed’ point. For way too long, teachers have had PD ‘done to us’ rather than initiating our own professional learning that fits our goals. It’s the main reason for PD not having any long lasting effects. Thanks for the great posts.


    1. Hi Andy

      So does that mean… if kids have learning ‘done to them’ rather than having some ownership, the learning has no long lasting effects? (I’m on a roll with this theme now!)



  8. well said. I would add that “hit and runs” are more prevalent when there is an over crowded improvement agenda and few if any connections to big ideas.


    1. Hi there

      I’m not sure enjoyment and engagement are interchangeable though. Learners can have fun, without being engaged in the learning. Can they be engaged without enjoyment? Hmm… something to mull over.


  9. Dear Edna,
    Thank you so much for your post. In the Netherlands, quite some reviews have been written about effective professionalisation. (Van Veen 2012 ea, Jochems ea 2013)
    In the UK I know the studies bij Stoll & Harris (http://www.stjosephsrc.co.uk/school/images/TeachersAsLearners/research-and-development-network-lit-review-theme-two.pdf)

    They mostly match your own list. Only one aspect is also mentioned: permanence and sustainability. This implies that effective professionalisation must take some time, allowing people to get used to new ways of thinking and working. Also, the chosen interventions must be building blocks for new development, instead of ‘something totally different’. And it’s very important that the chosen professionalisation really adds on to the school development, so that the chance of bringing new learning into practice rises.

    Let’s work hard to make this all happen. Your blogs are energizing and challenging for a lot of educators around the world!


    1. Naomi, thanks for your thoughtful comment and I’m glad you find my posts useful. I really appreciate your additional points and agree entirely. I should have included them!


  10. Spot on as usual. One aspect that you could include is ‘prompts action’. Maybe that is more on the learner than on the PL itself, but any learning that doesn’t lead to action of some sort could be wasted. Given how obviously desirable these ten points are, why is it that most aren’t like this?


  11. I seek out big ideas when I go for PD especially if there’s a chance to ask questions and clarify; I figure that the ‘how-tos’ are more easily google-able and I can do when it suits me. So my main criteria are your #s 1 and 10….at a minimum.

    Thanks for this post, Edna.


  12. Right on! I am a VIT CRT Network Coordinator and part of what I do is provide PD opportunities for CRTs (temp teachers, substitute teachers, etc) through the DEECD’s CRT Professional Learning Support Initiative (as well as a presenter of professional development myself!). You have just described, down to a T, exactly what makes PD engaging and effective.
    Nothing is worse than going to a PD where 90% of the people have been forced to come, the information on offer is largely irrelevant to them, delivered straight from slideshows and doesn’t give the participants a chance to cooperate with the others to refine their understanding. That’s when you see the smartphones come out and people playing games on facebook.
    The principles described here are the ones that see people leaving the workshop still excitedly discussing the information delivered or teachers coming into collegial meetings full of enthusiasm saying “look at what I found online!”, “this book is awesome” or “I went to see this guy and he was amzaing!”.

    Ed is also 100% right on how far this goes! These are the exact same principles I teach my students with. Be engaing by providing active learning, in a relevant way, that encourages students to explore the topics and achieve ownership over their own learning.

    Great post Ed!


  13. I could not agree with you more. After the past two days working with Kath Murdoch I am fizzing and this has not come through discovering I am doing everything right or that the path will be easy, but through being challenged, inspired and seeing the difference that good Inquiry based learning has.
    Every moment of the learning was enjoyable, I made connections and the team that I am working with is so collaborative that you could not have left the sessions without being inspired.
    Many thanks Edna for summarising this for me in on posting.


  14. Reblogged this on mrsbmusicroom and commented:
    this is absolutely true, it is the big ideas that you learn then infiltrate into your whole teaching style. I do hope I can strive to deliver this type of PD to teachers in the future. Thanks for your inspiration Edna!


  15. Edna — just started following your blog! I liked your post (10 principles …). I think my work would be compatible with your philosophical point of view. If you would like to read my blog posts here is a link! http://kennethfetterman.wordpress.com My work is also available via smashwords.com. Here is the link to my author page. http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/kennethfetterman
    If you have not published any of your work via smashwords–I recommend that you consider doing so. Download the free style guide and format as recommended. You can offer works for free or $. Thanks == I look forward to reading your posts! KEN


  16. Reblogged this on Clarion Collaborative and commented:
    What a wonderfully simple and powerful piece by Edna Sackson, describing ways to shift our thinking about learning and teaching. I think this is why I love the Connected Learning model. It’s a lens to re-imagine learning and teaching rather than a specific tool or technique.


  17. This post is important to us this year more than ever. As our state starts to include our participation in professional learning at a time where professional learning departments have been cut due to budget concerns, we are working to find ways to recreate our personal professional learning. Your list will help us be successful in our endeavor.

    Do you mind if I share your list with others?


  18. I think these 10 principles are very relevant. I like the one headed ‘personalised’. As professional teachers we are expected to differentiate for the students in our class, yet at my school the same courtesy is not extended to the staff. Having to ‘do’ concept driven curriculum 3 times in 8 years, or ‘transdisciplinary learning’ twice inside 2 years is unnecessary and quite disrespectful.
    One of the best PDs I have done was the first time I did Transdisciplinary learning at a PYP conference, ad the workshop leaders genuinely catered for differences in learning pace and style. I felt like it was a genuine learning journey with genuine exploration of what it means to have a transdisciplinary curriculum.


  19. Edna,

    Chi-miigwetch for your teachings! I have been reflecting was wondering if you had a thought of adding “reciprocal” into the principals? I think it is important as life-long learners to remember that we are gaining just as much knowledge from the teachings as the facilitator is from our feedback and perspective. This principal is often lost as we know how important it is to share our knowledge once we gain it, and that each person brings a different additive lens. How do you think we can promote this type of learning within a professional environment?


  20. Hi Randi
    I agree! I’m in a reciprocal mentoring relationship at the moment, for example. I’m supposedly the mentor, but I’m learning so much from my incredibly creative young educator partner.
    Two ways we bring in that sharing element you refer to- We have a collaborative teacher blog which we encourage every teacher to contribute to. And we have Professional learning days comprised of a choice workshops facilitated by teachers for teachers.


  21. Great to hear – I find these types of reciprocal relationships are ones that are what bring me to a deeper understanding of learning. In your experience, do you find that this type of relationship is often encouraged in a teacher-student relationship?


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