Top Ten Factors for Successful Professional Development!

Top Ten Factors for Successful Professional Development!

by Karen Nemeth, Ed.M.

Slide1A large part of my work is doing professional development about teaching young DLLs and collecting valuable resources here at Language Castle.  I’ve traveled the country and worked with hundreds of programs.  I am always mindful that my visit is so temporary, but what happens in each program before and after I arrive is what will really make or break the success of my presentation.

A great presenter can only go so far if the stage is not set for a commitment to learning.  A great administrator can spend a lot of money on professional development, but will be disappointed if that stage is not set.

If you are an administrator,  this list is absolutely essential for you.  Using it will undoubtedly help you to get more value from every professional development dollar you spend.

If you are a professional development provider, use this list to help your clients get the results they are hoping for when they pay for your expertise.

So here is what leaders need to know to make professional development successful!

10.    Hire staff that are lifelong learners!

If you want to hire people who are going to be good teachers, look for people who value learning. Talk about professional development in the interview.  Ask questions like, “What was your favorite professional development experience?” or “Do you belong to NAEYC or other professional organization?”  Set the stage so everyone know that working for you means a shared respect for ongoing learning.

9.      Use data as well as staff interests to plan professional development!

The choice of topics should come from a plan based on data about what is happening with staff and with children.  Plans should also come from your knowledge of trends and requirements in the field.  Don’t forget about staff interests – they all bring their own past experiences, talents and preferences.  Keep records of who attended what training – use that to observe and comment on their work.  Conferences are great, but not necessarily for sustained change of practice.  Set goals for every PD experience whether sending or bringing in or approving individual courses.

8.      Create a climate of professionalism and learning!

It all starts at the top. If you asked about professional learning in the first interview – you got off to the right start!  Be a learning role model.  Talk about interesting meetings, articles, podcasts, webinars you’ve encountered. Be a member of NAEYC or other professional organization and pay for staff memberships maybe as a reward for longevity.  Above all, set the tone for valuing PD.  Know what they are learning and why, and look for it when you observe their work.  As a leader, be explicit about your expectations of how your staff should behave:

ž * Bring pen/pencil or device to take notes

* Bring back handouts to share

ž * Don’t have side conversations

ž * No cell phones

ž * Don’t pack up early

ž * Get enough sleep

7.      Consult with the presenter in advance!

Collaborate with every presenter.  Don’t just hire someone to come in and do a workshop with no idea about what your staff need to learn.   Professional development providers need to know:

ž * What is your curriculum?

ž * What training have staff had on this topic?

ž * What requirements must they meet?

ž * Why did you pick this topic – what are particular needs/challenges?

ž * What are the job titles in the training?

ž * What is the nature of their work – ages, grades, etc.?

6.      Make each workshop part of an ongoing plan with follow-up!

To ensure workshops are worth their cost – plan for how you will use them and make your plan clear to all who participate.  I know funds are tight – but cheap isn’t always worth the price.  Saving money by choosing one-shot workshops with no follow up will end up costing you money in the end. On the other hand, effective PD can be done for free if you read articles together or view webinar and create your own plan for improvement – share ideas and help each other.  Support staff involvement in professional learning communities since they often have high potential for change with lower cost and higher staff motivation for the long run.

5.      Don’t force it – offer options!

How many presenters have been in front of an audience that was forced to attend a workshop and they made sure the presenter suffered the consequences?  This is a leadership issue.  If you really need your staff to participate in this training, then you need to make it clear why it will be valued and valuable.  Offer options – individual learning vs group learning, reading vs. listening.

4.      Include ALL staff!

In a well balanced, high quality preschool classroom – assistants need to know as much as the teacher knows.  Specialists from special ed, child study, ESL, bilingual ed, art, music, gym, library need to know what’s happening in the classroom.  Lunch aides, bus drivers, secretaries, nurses – all need to know appropriate ways to interact with and support children and families – with diverse languages, cultures, ages and abilities.  Change is most effective when it is systemic.

3.      Prepare an appropriate environment for learning!

Miserable people rarely learn much.  Plan timing that is considerate of their schedule – traffic, parking, school drop-off etc.  Don’t squeeze too many people into the room.  If presenter needs tables, projector, room for movement  – provide them.  Yes, it’s true that presenters need to be prepared for glitches, but glitches do reduce the effectiveness of the training that you spent your hard-earned money on.  Treat the audience like adults – you and they can’t expect every workshop to be like a craft project.  If you are too busy to ensure the trainer has what he needs, then assign that job to someone.  You’ll get so much more out of the event.

2.      Make it mean something!

Celebrate the new information/strategies and incorporate them into ongoing work.  Ask staff to write about the PD in a staff newsletter.  Award comp time or a gift certificate for participants who share what they learned.  Get funding to issue staff pay raises for successful PD completion.  Have private conversations with staff about their PD – ‘How did it go? What did you like about it?”


The number one, top-notch, absolutely essential factor in the success of professional development is when the directors, principals, and leaders actually stay in the room.  Yes, of course you are extremely busy.  But you spend a lot of money on training, and most presenters will tell you that there is a big difference in what happens in a program when the leader introduces them and walks out of the room vs. the program where the leader stays and engages in the professional development and hears what the speaker says, and participates in discussions.  If you can’t stay for the entire presentation, be there for part of it and actively pursue information about the parts you missed.  This is one clear case where time is money – invest your time and the professional development will surely be worth the money!

I presented this content in a webinar for Early Childhood Investigations

Then, Fran Simon and I created a Linked In group to support ongoing conversations and resource sharing here: Early Childhood Staff Development Professionals.



  • Denise says:

    Your comment on setting the stage is so true!
    A lot of factors are involved in making the most of a professional development workshop. Your guidelines lead us to be aware of and try to provide the factors that would lead to greater learning and success. Thank you!

  • Louise says:

    Dear Karen, Thank you for sharing the “Top 10 factors…” I have been thinking about these ideas over the years. I truly appreciate having them identified clearly as a resource sheet. I will definitely use it in my work. I am looking forward to reading more about the work you do. Thanks again. Louise

  • Stephen Spiteri says:

    Very good comments – I really like. My tuppence worth – be absolutely prepared to the extent that you show your audience you are actually prepared. Recently I was at a PD where the lecturer was using Powerpoint on Slide design view – I couldn’t believe it and inside me I was screaming “Use slide view !!!”
    A case in point where the lecturer was not as prepared as she should have !!

  • Shelley Knight says:

    I love the comment about leaders staying in the room. Too many times I have observed leaders coming in to introduce the presenter and then leaving! And yet they expect all staff to attend! Great points overall. I’ll definitely put them in my tool box! Thank you.

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