Professional Development: What Do Educators Really Need?

Image by Rachelle Dene Poth

For many educators, summertime is an opportunity to relax, recharge and reflect. Contrary to the popular perception that teachers have their “summers off,” many teachers take advantage of extra time during the summer to pursue personal and professional development. While it is not the same as following the daily school schedule and keeping up with all of our responsibilities, it seems that the majority of teachers these days stay active in some form of professional learning over the summer.

Finding Time to Learn

The school calendar fills up quickly every year and finding time to attend in-person events for professional learning can be a challenge. Most schools offer their own professional development sessions and some teachers may have the opportunity to travel to local or even national conferences, depending on their school district. However, as great as these opportunities are, preparing to attend them requires that teachers do additional planning and preparation for students. For this reason, some teachers might opt not to attend conferences.

So what is the best way for educators to get the professional development that they need and to have time to relax not only through the summer but throughout the school year? We know that technology is great for providing new ways to learn and to make connections for ourselves and our students. Although technology is not always the answer, it can present multiple solutions for educators looking to take advantage of professional learning opportunities.

Microsoft Innovative Educator Experts Alberto Herraez, Rachelle Dene Poth, Cindy Tucker and Seth Fewell at At Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA). Image by Rachelle Dene Poth

Five Ways to Get PD

Here are five different types of learning experiences that can enable educators to engage in professional development, free from any time and place constraints.

  1. PLCs: Schools may be moving in the direction of PLCs. A PLC is a professional learning community which can function in multiple ways. Each individual group can have a specific focus, for example learning about STEM initiatives, focused on topics such as trauma-informed teaching or social emotional learning perhaps. Other PLCs may focus on a specific type of learning, for example a book study or even self-directed initiatives that teachers may choose to undertake. PLCs can meet during the school day in a common planning time, or scheduled on a regular day each week or as needed. Using technology, PLCs can collaborate whether through traditional email and messaging, or using communication tools like Slack or Voxer.
  2. Webinars and online learning: There are many resources available for teachers to be able to stay up-to-date with the different emerging trends and issues that are happening in education, many of which are provided free of charge. Some recommendations include Simple K-12, EdWeb, NEA and Education Closet which offer some free webinars and other learning opportunities. Another possibility is to enroll in self-paced courses that provide micro-credentials,  or have topics to choose from that could become a “passion project.” The benefit is that all of these enable you to learn on your own schedule and find something that meets your personal interests and goals. Also look to local schools or education networks. For example, a Pittsburgh based organization, Remake Learning offers so many opportunities and ways for educators and students to engage in learning.
  3. Educator communities: Another idea is to join one of the different educator communities that are available such as Apple Distinguished Educators, Common Sense Educators, Microsoft, or Google, for a start. In communities such as these, educators have access to resources become part of a supportive professional learning network (PLN) from around the world. These possibilities help to bring in authentic real-world experiences for students and for teachers. Each of these also offer additional opportunities to connect at networking events such as conferences and local meet-ups. Being a member of the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), I have been able to take many different courses through the online platform and also participate in community  calls and summits where educators share new ideas and resources.
  4. Blogging and personal reflections: An important part of our professional practice is the art of reflection. Being reflective is how we can continue to improve, to push ourselves to keep learning and use our experiences to plan our next steps. Our days can become so busy that keeping thoughts fresh about a class we taught, a conversation we had, or an interaction that could have gone better, might be difficult. There are different ways to make note of these experiences. Keep a small notebook or post-it notes and place them in different areas of your room (it works), or use a tool like Voxer to do voice recordings to keep  your thoughts.  The power in being intentional about reflecting is that we can transform these thoughts, or those notes, or voice  texts, into a blog and share with our PLN. Our stories can be shared and might just be the advice or encouragement that a colleague needs.
  5. Pineapple Charts:  If you have not heard of Pineapple Charts, check out Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy) for a post with more details. Basically a pineapple chart is a way for teachers to invite their colleagues to observe them. A chart is created where teachers can then share a lesson or topic and when it will be taught. The chart is available in a centralized location and teachers can look for areas of interest and stop in to observe informally. Another option is “Observe Me,” where teachers place a sign outside of their classroom door to let colleagues know that visitors are welcome to come in and observe them.

Why We Must Continue to Learn

Being an educator means that you are passionate about lifelong learning. It’s also about stretching ourselves when it comes to our comfort zone. We should not feel as though we can only teach topics related to our content area. The best way that we can provide authentic and real-world experiences for our students is if we continue to challenge ourselves and expand the things that we are knowledgeable about. We also need to understand what it’s like to be a student and to potentially struggle with different concepts or styles of teaching and learning.

I think we have to consider and realize that professional development today is different than it was in the past. We have access to all of these different resources and when determining our professional goals, we have to remember that what we are deciding to do is directly going to impact not only our students but those that interact with them in the future. So our professional development consideration should be student-focused as well as based on our own personal interests and needs.

The power of learning whenever we connect with others and share our stories and our experiences, really serves to amplify the learning potential. When educators seize the opportunity to try new things and continue to grow, we can provide our best selves for those we lead and learn with.

For more, see

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures, please see our Partner page.

Rachelle Dené Poth

Rachelle Dené Poth is a Foreign Language and STEAM Teacher at Riverview Junior/Senior High in Oakmont, PA.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.