10 Things Your Professional Learning Partners Should Want to Tell You

Blog Series, Leadership, Learning, Smart Teachers

I have been thinking about the way things are in the world of professional development. Thinking about all those things I have learned to say. Thinking about the questions I have learned to ask. Thinking about the assumptions I have learned can not be assumed. Thinking about the realities of planning, implementing, and improving professional learning for educators.

As we all work together to do better for students, educators are establishing professional learning relationships with partners to hold each other to high standards. Here are 10 things your professional learning partners should want to tell you:

1. We want professional learning to look like what we hope to see in our classrooms.

So, why does professional learning not look more like what we hope to see in the classroom? Why do we often find an expert on pedagogy standing at the front of the room, between a dimly lit projector and screen, trying to disseminate information to participants from a poorly designed, often outdated PowerPoint?

We want professional learning to reflect the strategies, practices, and tools we hope to incorporate into teaching and learning. So, give us time and space to explore a framework like TPACK and teachers will quite literally become active models of the TPACK venn diagram as they discuss their experiences with the intersection of technology, pedagogy, and content.

Learning is messy. We need space, we need to change around the room and stack chairs and… wait for it….we need to laugh and play.


2. We want to give educators voice and choice when it comes to their learning.

What if we ask educators what they are interested in learning? Then, we must listen to the answer and support educators with whatever they need to pursue that learning. What if every teacher had their own IEP? What if we pair what teachers want to know (interest) with what they needed to know (metrics)?


What if we developed a culture where learning and growth was not only expected and encouraged, but passionately pursued by everyone on campus? Can you imagine teachers beating down the door to buy tickets to a PD session? Why is that such a funny image? Instead, the most mentally taxing moments of a PD day may be spent fantasizing about all the places they would rather be.

Let’s start by letting go of some control, loosening the reins, and treating educators like professionals.

3. The details really do matter.

It is 2015 my friends. Wifi is not optional. Relevant sites should not be blocked.. Surveys should not take ten steps to get to. Please don’t piss off my participants right before they do the survey; you are messing with my data. And holy guacamole, please don’t make my teachers sit in chairs that are  not proportioned adequately for the adult derriere. The learning space should be reflective of the expectations and value placed on interaction and thinking. Say no to rows!

How about a moment to decompress before after school PD? While we are at it, can we all agree to avoid PD right before spring break? Right after a big standardized test (as in the afternoon after actively monitoring a high stakes test)? I know, I didn’t think I had to voice that as a request either, but that one is a true story.

4. We want the administrators to stay and be a part of the learning.

We know you are quite busy, but we really do wish you would stay and model the dispositions of a mindful learner for your staff.

It is more than your proximity, although that can be helpful for determined distractors. We want your mind. We want you to model, as Ron Ritchhart says, “Who you are as a thinker.” Your actions, your participation, your questions will either encourage or impede the culture of thinking on your campus. Back us up (if we deserve to be backed up), provide context for why you brought us in, make connections, and set the expectations for the rest of the group to make the most of our time together.


5. We want to show this is more than theory.

Research shows that we typically lose people at the implementation stage, although I think many times it is even sooner (if people are grading papers and cutting lamination during your session). There must be an intentional balance between the comprehension (I get it) and implementation (I can do it) of pedagogical theory in the learning design.

So, please give us an opportunity to show this really works within your specific context: your students (yes even that one), your infrastructure, your curriculum. Let us into your classrooms where the rubber really meets the road. Let’s co-teach, model, coach, right there and work out all the little kinks along the way. Let’s build in time for reflection and planning the next steps so we keep moving forward.

And, I’ll go you one further: Let’s involve students and ask them what works and what does not. Lots of tools, resources, and strategies hyperbolically promise engagement. Let’s ask the students what is engaging and allow them to become part of the lesson building and professional learning ecosystem.


6. We would rather build capacity than dependence.

We want to be an extension of your team, your thought partners, your collaborators, but primarily we want to support the growth of your team. We are driven by impact and we want to make lots of it. When we focus on empowering you and your team we know at some point we may work ourselves out of a job in your district, but shouldn’t that be a goal on some level? Help us look for opportunities to develop capacities over focusing on deficits.

7. We want your honest opinion.

Life’s too short to be passive aggressive and to gossip. If something isn’t working, just tell us. Let’s make it better. Tell us what you think, from the start. Let’s model the type of open communication we hope to see with our teachers, administrators, students and parents and keep the drama level down. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Let’s design the feedback loop with everyone in the loop and plan for regular check points to reflect on progress. We believe in the growth mindset. We want to change. We know there is always room to improve.

tracy-clark-sq-300x3008. We want learning to be about creation not consumption.

I am still at a loss for why so many learning opportunities for educators are designed to be sit and get. We know better. People learn by creating, doing, playing, struggling, persevering. Period.

We talk about the dangers of spoon feeding students information, assistance, and answers—what about educators? Why is it suddenly acceptable to spoon feed them information, a scripted curriculum in a can, and mandated execution of whatever pet projects the powers that be deem necessary (all to be uprooted the next year before their effects could even be analyzed)? Take away the creativity and agency from teaching that should provide intellectual stimulation and fulfillment and we might end up losing anyone who craves that.

9. We want to play the long game when it comes to involvement and impact.

It is easy to conduct what Greg Garner calls Seagull PD: Just swoop in, disseminate information, and swoop out, leaving some rather unfortunate remains behind. It is harder to do the intentional thinking, problem solving, and strategic planning required to be a part of the long term plan.

One size does not fit all, and just changing that title slide does not count as customization. Sometimes you do have to reinvent the wheel, when the vehicle requires it. Business folks may ask how we can scale such customization. We are more interested in teacher development and inspiration than a perfectly replicable business model.

10. We want to try new things.

Just because your district always has two PD days a year in the cafeteria with the whole staff does not mean it needs to stay that way. Should two days a year be the only time to plan for the growth of our teachers and other leaders anyway? PD should not be about just putting a check in the checkbox.


We believe in a posture of experimentation. What if administrators became the substitute teachers once a month (or more) so teachers could have a day to plan, collaborate, share best practices, and learn?  What effective learning might take place for administrators too, facing the challenges of the classroom head on? What if common planning time was a priority in the schedule, not an afterthought? A posture of experimentation allows us the freedom to create.

tracy-clark-300pxw-2Where can we find those little bits of time and opportunities to build up our educators? Help us model the posture of experimentation by both encouraging and supporting our desire to try new things. We will not stumble upon innovation if we just keep doing the same things. Let’s fight the status quo, design professional learning where teachers don’t even think of bringing papers to grade and laminate to cut, learning where teachers can explore, create, and find meaning that impacts their students and ignites their desire to grow.

So, may we all be brave. May we say the things that need to be said. May we hold each other to the highest standards. And may we diligently set each other up for success, because the outcomes of professional learning ultimately impact more than the hours they take up. It’s really all about our kids.

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Tracy Clark

Tracy Clark

Tracy is a former bilingual teacher turned teacher educator, writer, and co-organizer for EdTechWomen Austin.


Deborah McCallum /

This is a great blog post. We need to change our methods of professional development. I think that part of the answer could lie within our traditional roles. If we can become more creative about how we run our libraries and planning time, I think we can harness extra time each day for PD and collaborative inquiry among teachers – this could translate to the students as well! I just wrote my own blog post about this at we.me/p2FQbV-20U

Thank you!

Richard Andrew /

Well written Tracy. Excellent article. I’d like to post this on my blog. In my experience professional learning most commonly falls down due to the lack of a roadmap (and usable resources) re the implementation of ideas from the course. Teachers typically leave the sessions thinking “Well that sounds great … but HOW do I implement it?” Unless the participant can find “10 uninterrupted hours of planning time” immediately after the workshop/s the ideas typically end up “on the shelf”.
Here’s another common issue with technology training: The trainer uses a “Bells and whistles” approach … “Here’s how this tool works … here’s how the next tool works … here’s how the other tool works … let me show you this feature.” What is infinitely superior is the “Tried-and-tested experience” approach … “Here’s a file/resource I created with the software which I use a lot. Let me show how this works. Now let me show how I created it. Now you create it.” (And repeat to other examples). Thanks for writing!