Professional Learning

With all the complex challenges facing schools today, the need for teachers to build on their instructional knowledge and pedagogy is more important than ever.  Professional learning programs offer teachers many opportunities to obtain needed knowledge and skills that can then lead to highly effective teaching.  Learn about the different ways to support professional learning in your school below. 

Supporting School-Based Professional Learning

Professional learning happens when a highly engaged group of educators routinely come together to better their practice and, in the process, improve outcomes for students. Effective and high quality professional learning is:

  • Purposeful
  • Evaluated and tied to educator and student outcomes
  • Data-driven and research-based
  • Relevant to participants and the current educational landscape
  • Provided in a safe environment for learning and risk-taking
  • Collaborative
  • Experiential
  • Differentiated and addresses varying adult learning needs
  • Ongoing and sustainable with opportunities for reflection
  • Supported through dedicated time, resources and structure

In A Handbook for Professional Learning: Research, Resources, and Strategies for Implementation, the New York City Department of Education identifies three key stages to developing strong professional learning experiences:

  • Planning
  • Implementing & Sustaining
  • Evaluating 


The planning process should:
  • Start with the real needs of the teachers and students in a school as determined by data
  • Utilize a planning committee made up of diverse members of the school community to ensure buy-in from multiple stakeholders
  • Utilize an outcomes-based model that connects teacher learning and practice to  student  outcomes
  • Incorporate elements of evaluation by backwards-mapping from the desired outcomes that will be measured
  • Include the identification of multiple measures for checking progress towards the final goal

Implementing and Sustaining

The implementation and sustainability process should:
  • Allow for variability to attend to different needs
  • Create opportunities for smaller groups of teachers to engage in different learning cycles to reach the identified outcomes
  • Provide sufficient time and support to practice new learning in the classroom
  • Emphasize patience and responsiveness from all stakeholders as teachers try out new strategies and practices 
  • Use formative measures to hold the school community accountable to student outcomes
  • Consistently incorporate looking at data such as student work and student talk


The evaluation process should:
  • Return to the identified outcomes set during the planning process
  • Utilize formative assessments to make mid-course corrections
  • Include summative evaluations to identify, revise, and sustain the professional learning experiences with the greatest efficacy
  • Incorporate a mix of quantitative and qualitative data
  • Focus on levels 3-5 of Guskey’s Professional Development Evaluation Model, which measures the efficacy of professional learning as it relates to:
    • Organizational support and change
    • Participants’ effective application of new skills and knowledge
    • Effective application of skills and knowledge improves student learning outcomes

Collaborative Learning

The answer is in the room.  That is the premise on which collaborative learning is built. By deprivatizing practice and creating structured opportunities for reflection and analysis, schools are able to foster environments where innovation and critical thinking can thrive.  Some essential elements of collaborative learning are:
  • Deprivatizing practice
  • Engaging in structured, ongoing cycles of learning
  • Acknowledging and embracing the complicated nature of the process
  • Understanding that student outcomes will improve by investing in adults and adult learning

Learning Partners

A program that supports schools in engaging in structured, ongoing cycles of learning is the Learning Partners program.  Learning Partners provides a structured, year-long approach to collaborative learning by matching a school that has promising practices in a specific area, known as a host school, with two schools or more schools interested in strengthening practices in that area, or partner schools.  More specifically, it supports collaborative learning by:
  • Engaging schools in structured cycles of learning that incorporate strong practices observed at other schools
  • Providing protocols, processes, and tailored facilitation support for cycles of learning, as well as practices that support collaboration within and across schools.
  • Supporting schools in developing and nurturing a team that can engage in this process and share learnings with the broader school community
  • Strengthening leadership at all levels of the school community through a variety of opportunities on the school's Learning Partners team

Showcase Schools

A prime example of deprivatizing practice is the Showcase Schools program in which schools open their doors up to three times per year to educators throughout New York City.  The Showcase Schools program supports collaborative learning by:
  • Using storytelling, which highlights both the successes and challenges of a school’s journey, to create real connections between educators and grow a network that can better support students
  • Providing actionable tools that educators can use in their own practice
  • Sharing practices in action, which can both validate the work that teachers are doing as well as help them to identify ways to positively shift their own practice
  • Building leadership capacity in the teachers who are helping to share the work of their schools
  • Emphasizing that school improvement is a continuous process
  • Offering extension opportunities for educators to dig deeper into particular promising practices 
Showcase Schools Resources