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Should We Flip Professional Development Too?

Educators need professional development (PD). These learning experiences improve the educational practice of teachers and impact the learning experiences of the students they teach. Teachers, therefore, are accountable for this ongoing learning. So what do these PDs look like? They can be workshops for a few hours to a few days. They can even be webinars. Whatever the format, there is a need to shift the PD format educators experience.

As educators, we are knowledgeable about pedagogy, and we tend to transfer this knowledge when teaching teachers. This should not be the case because teachers are adult learners who have a set of characteristics that are not the same as our own K-12 students. Professional development settings should be sensitive to the unique characteristics educators have. We must look into the theory of andragogy for adult learners. Lindeman (1926) named five needs of adult learners that are worth considering in professional development (as cited in Knowles et al., 2015):

  1. Adult learners are motivated learners based on satisfying their needs and interests. PD should tap on the needs and interests of adult learners (Knowles et al., 2015).

  2. Adults learners are life-long learners. PD should focus on life experiences rather than subjects (Knowles et al., 2015).

  3. Adult learners value experience as a valuable source of learning. PD should use and include the experiences of adult learners (Knowles et al., 2015).

These characteristics of adult learners are seldom seen in PD (Richardson, 2003). In fact, there has been much criticism about PD. Research shows that most PDs follow a short-term model with no follow-up; do not give opportunities for teachers to engage in conversations; and do not allow teachers to share their valuable experiences and expertise (Richardson, 2003).

Even with the noted challenges of PDs, they can be effective with “thoughtful planning and careful implementation” (Mizell, n.d., p. 10). So, should we flip PDs to make them more effective and relevant for educators? Darling-Hammond et al. (2017) found the following elements for effective professional development that is worth considering:

  • PD focuses on teaching strategies teachers need to implement (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017).

  • PD engages participants with active learning (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017).

  • PD supports high collaboration (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017).

  • PD uses curriculum models and models teaching (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017).

  • PD offers coaching and support for teachers’ individual needs (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017).

  • PD includes time for feedback and reflection (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017).

  • PD provides teachers with adequate timing (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017).


Darling-Hammond, L. Hyler, M., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2015). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Mizell, H. (n.d.). Why Professional Development Matters. doi:

Richardson, V. (2003). The Dilemmas of Professional Development. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(5), 401-406. doi:10.1177/003172170308400515.

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