At our 2016 InterAct CLASS Summit, we asked a group of educators to share their biggest difficulties in implementing professional development within their organizations. Despite the group’s diverse backgrounds, they reported similar challenges:

  • Getting buy-in
  • Uneven teacher skill sets
  • Planning and logistics
  • Time constraints
  • Sustainability
  • Costs

We're excited to introduce the third post in our four-post series discussing strategies to help with these common challenges.

Starting up a new professional development (PD) program is always exciting, but it also presents many challenges to overcome. In the last post we talked about obtaining teacher buy-in, and while this is incredibly important, we’ve also learned that buy-in is only one piece of the PD puzzle. To have a meaningful impact on children’s learning and outcomes, a well developed plan for PD that supports all teachers and achieves organizational goals is essential.

But, before creating a plan, you must first take a few things into consideration. First, it is critical that you understand all your barriers such as: time, resource limitations, and logistical complications—and then brainstorm creative solutions. By intentionally looking at data and learning from your previous and current PD plan, you can make informed decisions. Reflecting on the answers to the questions below will help you build success in your new initiative.


Analyze Current Efforts & Get Creative

Start by reviewing classroom and student outcomes data and identifying available resources (e.g., money, materials, staff time) that support professional development. Reflect on your current efforts and think creatively about the way in which PD is provided. Not all PD has to be facilitated by a coach or an outside expert, nor does it have to be expensive. For example, chances are good that you have some master teachers who can provide support to other staff members, stretching your PD budget while creating valuable leadership opportunities.

Reflect on questions such as:

  • How are professional development goals determined and how effectively do we measure and communicate success?
  • How consistently do we ask for and respond to teacher feedback?
  • How can opportunities for leadership and mentorships be cultivated among staff at all levels of the organization to empower peer collaboration and promote collective responsibility for learning while at the same time decreasing costs?
  • How can limited time and resources be capitalized upon while ensuring sustained opportunities for growth?


Find Out What Works (and What Doesn't)

Highlight the components of your current program that are having a positive impact on teachers’ growth and children’s outcomes. Try to determine not just what works, but why and how it works. Tease out components that are not producing the desired impact, especially when compared to the time, resources, and finances you invest in them. Again, contemplate why components of the current program not working and consider trying possible modifications.

Reflect on questions such as:

  • How can we increase our impact and better define and clarify what our teachers already know about effective teaching?
  • How can teaching methods that we know work be intentionally modeled in our PD rather than just talked about?
  • How can our PD align with best practices in adult learning and offer meaningful choices and relevant learning opportunities?
  • How will we ensure each teacher is provided with individualized, strengths-based feedback that promotes engagement and consistent use of new teaching methods?


Plan & Implement a Professional Development Initiative

Work with a small group (that includes teachers) to brainstorm creative solutions. Think of new ways to overcome time and resource challenges by considering ideas such as coaching in collaborative teacher groups, utilizing online learning opportunities, cultivating leadership, supporting mentorships, encouraging reflective practice, and reallocating resources. Think about a reasonable timeline for your professional development plan. Determine how and when classroom observations and child outcomes will be measured in order to best evaluate the impact of your PD program.

Reflect on questions such as:

  • How do our PD initiative support the dedicated time and guidance necessary for teachers to learn, practice and improve teaching?
  • How might facilitated group learning and professional learning communities (PLCs) be utilized as both a time saver for busy coaches and a way to enrich learning experiences for teachers?
  • Can online resources be provided to support teachers’ need for flexible study times, choices in self-directed learning, and extended coaching conversations?


"One-size-fits-all" professional development plans may be tempting, but is seldom (if ever!) successful. The challenge is truly finding the right mix for each organization that balances needs with assets. We hope you find our suggestions and questions helpful and we welcome your comments below sharing what works in your organization and what has been problematic.

Thinking outside the PD box is so much easier when we all help each other brainstorm creative solutions!


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