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Rethinking Professional Development

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Professional development shouldn’t be the same old thing each year. The goal should be to provide high-quality training for employees so they improve their skill development, performance, and confidence. Offering employees professional development specific and relevant to their job duties can empower them to reach individual and district goals. 


Districts can use their professional staff development programs not only to improve the expertise of employees but also to retain current employees and recruit new ones. Having opportunities for professional growth and advancement is one of the top retention strategies of an organization, according to recent research by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Providing valuable and effective professional development to educators enables them to increase their knowledge and skills needed to address students and their learning challenges. According to Learning Forward, formerly the National Staff Development Council, student learning and achievement increases when educators engage in continual research-based professional development. Professional development also empowers non-instructional staff to better perform their job duties and prepare for possible career advancements. In school districts, most supervisors of nonexempt staff are promoted from the ranks, so offering them a range of on-the-job training, as well as leadership and management training, is worthwhile.


Whether it's the HR department or the professional development department responsible for makings sure employees receive relevant training, performing a needs assessment is an important initial step. Understanding the needs of your district, of different jobs, and of individual employees can help determine which specific types of training are relevant. Typically, school districts will balance district and campus priorities and objectives.

When planning, keep in mind district staff development for instructional personnel must be predominantly campus-based, related to achieving campus performance objectives, and developed and approved by the campus-level committee (Texas Education Code (TEC) § 21.451). Some trainings are required or recommended for school employees. You can find these on the TASB School Law eSource document Training for School Employees.

Common professional development topics for instructional staff include:

  • innovative instructional practices
  • intervention strategies
  • content-based training such as reading instruction
  • classroom management
  • applicable federal and state laws
  • diversity and special needs of student populations
  • technology integration
  • building student relationships
  • increasing parental involvement.

Common trainings for non-instructional staff include customer service, technology use, job-specific skills training, and general operating processes and procedures. 

There is no one-size-fits-all for what type of professional development is provided. Districts will need to prioritize training needs. One district may implement a blended learning initiative while another may implement professional learning communities (PLCs). While a kindergarten teacher has different needs compared to a high school science teacher, a custodian has different needs than a campus secretary. Offering a range of mandatory and optional sessions for employees is best practice for a professional development plan.


Employees are adult learners, so their work experience and knowledge can enhance or hinder their acceptance of new learning. Keep in mind that adult learners generally possess these characteristics:

  • Autonomy: Adults typically prefer a sense of control and self-direction and often take on responsibility for their own success or failure at learning.
  • Big picture: Adults require the big picture view of what they’re learning and need to know why, what, and how the learning activities will help them reach their goals.
  • Choice: Options in the learning environment are preferred.
  • Practical and purposeful: adults in the workplace want practical knowledge and relevant experiences that will make work easier or provide important skills that they can use.
  • Learning by experience: many adults prefer to learn by doing rather than listening to lectures.
  • Competence and mastery: Adults like to gain competence in workplace skills as it boosts confidence and improves self-esteem.
  • Results-oriented: Adult learners have specific expectations for what they will get out of the learning and will drop out of learning if their expectations are not met.
  • Emotional barriers: Through experience, adults may have anxiety or feel fear or anger about forced changes in job responsibilities or policies. These experiences can interfere with the learning process. 
  • Need for community: Many self-directed adult learners prefer a learning community with whom they can interact and discuss questions and issues.

Providing professional development to employees in an engaging and motivating way is important if you want them to buy in to new learning. Integrating technology and different learning styles into your professional development training sessions is crucial. Offer a variety of delivery models such as face-to-face trainings, webinars, blended learning sessions, book studies, or experienced-based trainings like shadowing an employee.

Districts can offer employees options to attend in-district trainings or sessions provided by educational service centers or professional organizations. Having a continuum of engaging professional development choices will be more appealing to your employees.

Often employees are capable of leading professional development trainings. Involving staff in the needs assessment, planning, and delivery of the sessions can help increase the possibilities for successful results.

Evaluating Professional Development

Taking the time to evaluate professional development will provide valuable feedback for future decisions. Any trainer or program should be thoroughly investigated and analyzed prior to being used for training to be sure there is alignment with district and campus plans.

Using questionnaires, surveys, observations, assessments, and informal employee feedback after the trainings are good strategies to evaluate the success of the professional development. Ultimately, effectiveness of the professional development is determined if employees retain and use the new skills and gain positive results on the job.

Rethinking your district’s professional development plans takes focused, strategic brainstorming and planning. Identifying your audience, implementing a needs assessment, selecting what trainings to offer, and determining how the professional development will be delivered can result in a successful professional development plan that benefits your district.

You can learn more about professional development methods in the Staff Development section of the HR Library.

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Cheryl Hoover
Cheryl Hoover

Cheryl Hoover joined HR Services in 2018. She assists with staffing and HR reviews, training, and other HR projects. During Hoover’s public school career, she served as an executive director of curriculum and principal leadership, executive director of human resources, principal, assistant principal, teacher, and coach.

Hoover earned her bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas at Austin and obtained her master’s degree from Texas State University. She is a certified PHR.

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