Best Practices in Professional Development

Research has identified a number of best practices (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Guskey & Yoon, 2009; Rhoton & Wohnowski, 2005; NCCTQ, 2011) in providing professional development to teachers and educators. BEST Educators professional development should be based on the following six practices:

    • The duration of professional development should be significant and ongoing to allow time for educators to learn new strategies and grapple with the implementation problem.
    • Professional development that is longer in duration has a greater impact on advancing educator practice, and in turn, student learning.
    • Educators’ initial exposure to a concept should not be passive, but rather should engage them through varied approaches so they may participate actively in making sense of a new practice.
    • During training, participants should be placed in real situations that models desired approaches to project a clearer vision of the proposed change. Educators should have opportunities for actively engaging in meaningful discussion of the content they teach.
    • Modeling has been found to be highly effective in helping educators understand a new practice.
    • While many forms of active learning help educators decipher concepts, theories, and research-based practices in teaching, modeling (when an expert demonstrates the new practice) has been shown to be particularly successful in helping educators understand and apply a concept and remain open to adopting it.
    • The content presented to educators should be specific to the discipline or grade-level, and relevant instructional strategies should be offered.
    • Educators report that their top priority for professional development is learning more about the content they teach, giving high marks to training that is content-specific.
    • There should be support for educators during the implementation stage that addresses the specific challenges of changing classroom practice.
    • There is a greater chance for improved student achievement when educators have opportunities for continuous feedback after they have had a chance to practice what they are learning in the classroom.
    • Professional development should enable collective and collaborative participation of educators, such as through Professional Learning Communities.
    • Educators from the same setting, school, department or grade level are more likely to share resources and common curricular materials; integrate what they have learned into their own curriculum; and build a shared professional culture and learning community.

BEST Educators professional development is also informed by adult learning theory and research, which indicates that adult learning programs should capitalize on the experience of participants. To this end, we recommend that BEST professional development providers draw on educator experiences in teaching and participating in the engineering design process.

In addition, BEST Educators professional development should be structured to take advantage of specific motivations for adult learning, including the need for social relationships, the need for personal advancement, and the need for cognitive stimulation (Mirriam, 2008).  Grounded in the notions that adults are self-directed and active participants in their learning, require constructive feedback, and want opportunities to practice new skills, BEST Educators professional development should include a combination of delivery of new information, hands-on engagement with the new content, and time for educators to discuss applications to their own settings.

The LOGIC MODEL FOR EDUCATOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT (see image below) adapted from Desimone, 2009, demonstrates the connection between educator professional development and improved student learning:  Effective professional development results in increased teacher abilities and positive changes in classroom practice, which produce improved learning.


Mirriam, S. (2008).  Adult learning theory for the 21st Century.  New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 119, pages 93-98.

Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R., Andree, A., Richardson, N., Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad.  National Staff Development Council.

Desimone, L. (2009). Improving impact studies of teachers’ professional development: Toward better conceptualizations and measures. Educational Researcher, 38, 181-199.

Guskey, T. & Yoon, K. (2009). What Works in Professional Development? Phi Delta Kappan, 90, 495-500.

National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. (2011). Recruiting staff and attracting high-quality staff to hard-to-staff schools. In C. L. Perlman & S. Redding (Eds.), Handbook on Effective Implementation of School Improvement Grants. Charlotte, NC: Information Age.

Rhoton J. & Wohnowski, B. (2005) Building on going and sustained professional development. In J. Rhoton, and P. Shane (Eds.), Teaching Science in the 21st Century. National Science Teachers Association and National Science Education Leadership Association: NSTA Press.

Barbie Buckner
Educator Professional Development Specialist, NASA STEM EPDC
Armstrong Flight Research Center