6 degrees of professional development

In my recent post, What is Professional Development? I proposed six types of professional development that most teachers have access to. Today I’d like to take that a step further and talk about blending these models together to provide teachers a more balanced diet.

Here are the six types I came up with: Academic coursework, Workshops/sessions, Formal research, Informal, Classroom embedded, Action research.

If we represent these as a graph, we would probably see a pretty common pattern. Teacher professional development is overwhelmingly done in in-services and workshops. If it was a pie chart, it might look like this.


Not much of a balance here.

For teachers excited by new opportunities with Web 2.0 tools, technology, and probably readers of this blog, it might look a little different. The concept of building a personal learning community, documenting your own teaching in a blog, or building your skills by reading popular blogs about education creates new opportunities for learning — but only in an informal sense.

For lack of a better term, I’ll call it an “edublogger” PD profile. It might look something like this:


And of course, someone who is getting a degree might look completely different for a while.


Now, none of these show much balance. And I think balance could be a really good thing to bring to professional development. Doing things only one way leads to complacency and a lack of perspective.

Bringing balance to professional development
So what might that look like? Just like a balanced diet, I think brainstorming blends of various types of PD is a terrific way to open your mind to new possibilities. Blending these models also provides a way to leverage the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of each type.

Take a look at this:


I’ve shown 4 different blends:

  • informal + action research
  • classroom embedded + workshop
  • classroom embedded + informal
  • academic research + workshop

So what do you get when you cross informal PD with action research? One idea might be that if a teacher is seriously blogging to uncover patterns in their professional practice, that’s a worthwhile form of professional development. A strength of informal PD like blogging is the personal passion and commitment people bring to it. A weakness is that it’s hard to measure or plan. But by incorporating some of the discipline of action research, you could come up with a plan that turns blogging into a more objective reflective practice.

classroom embedded + workshop: What does it look like if you move a traditional workshop into a classroom environment, complete with students? Imagine that you give the usual podcasting workshop directly to students, with teachers looking on. What might happen is that these teachers will see that students pick it up quickly, and can create podcasts without much direct instruction on the tools. They will see that their own reluctance to try podcasting is not shared by students, and the roadblocks that they have created in their own heads don’t apply to students.

By pushing the workshop into a live classroom, it solves the problem of teachers creating false complexity out of the technology and being the roadblock to classroom implementation.

classroom embedded + informal: I’ve seen a few examples of teachers video-streaming their class presentations and discussions, announcing them on blogs or Twitter, and random educators just showing up to take part. The connection to the outside world is great for the kids, but what this is doing is providing examples of classroom practice that might otherwise be hidden from view.

By drawing these lines and brainstorming the possibilities, we can find new approaches to a more balanced diet of professional development. And I think that instead of trying to define them all, it’s a better idea for these ideas to grow organically from the people who actually are involved in local professional development planning.

Next: Counting what matters so that what matters will count – how blending models of PD can provide new evidence of success.


3 Replies to “6 degrees of professional development”

  1. This is a fascinating post and one that I intend to share with my team of staff development specialists. I particularly appreciate your thoughts about blogging as a form of PD. In our region, we are moving toward less traditional workshop approaches, and this post makes great reading for those of us who are trying to plan new approaches. This summer, I’m planning to use a coaching model where I (the trainer) will be coached by participants as I work with students in a writers’ workshop. Looking forward to it….

  2. Thanks for this Sylvia,
    I’m particularly interested in the informal use of blogs as tools for professional development and am toying with this topic for my dissertation. Your 6 degrees of PD is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been thinking about without a name for it so that’s for putting this out there. The more we can blend things together to make a richer experience for teachers the better our chances seem to be for stronger implementation. I especially like your idea of taking the podcasting to the students with teachers looking on. The students can certainly bring the teachers along for the ride.

  3. Sylvia,
    This is just the kind of article needed to support our teachers as they look for more meaningful and person kinds of professional growth. I am going to post a link over at Seedlings.bitbybit


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