Teaching Fellows Ask: What’s the Best Professional Development?

During our teaching careers, most of us have experienced worthwhile, meaningful professional development. But we’ve also wasted our time sitting in a workshop that has no relevance to our practice and that robs us of precious time to plan, grade papers, and have a life.

Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow Pam Smith offers two examples of the former: “meaningful, productive professional development opportunities” that have enriched her teaching and learning.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC has quality, timely teacher workshops each summer, as well as enriching fellowship experiences. The viewing time in the Museum as well as the interaction with Holocaust survivors are both priceless components of the multi-day professional development. Due to my participation in both Belfer summer conferences as well as the Museum Teacher Fellow program, my life changed and I grew as a Holocaust educator and world citizen. The USHMM workshops are conducted throughout the country. Check the website for spring and summer workshops in DC as well as Pennsylvania (March 10), Indiana (April 15, 2011), and Iowa (June 15, 2011).

Another excellent annual teacher conference and summer program is offered at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, in Independence, Missouri. Mark Adams, the Education Director and webmaster, and Tom Heuertz, the Associate Education Coordinator, plan a week-long event featuring topics related to the Truman era as well as world issues. I have attended conferences related to the Cold War, Presidential decision making, 1948, and World War I. This year’s conference will be held July 11-July 15 with the topic “Kansas, Missouri and the Civil War: 1854-1865.” The conference agenda can be found at http://www.trumanlibrary.org/borderwars/agenda_2011.pdf . Application information is located at http://www.trumanlibrary.org/borderwars/TeacherApplicationForm.doc.

Having read Pam’s suggestions, we would like to invite other teachers to share examples of specific professional development experiences that have refreshed, empowered, and motivated them. Please send your recommendations!
2010-2011 Teaching Ambassador Fellows


  1. One of the best professional development I have encountered has been the IMPACT. I have been motivated, encouraged and got a good start for the future career and my improvement as a professional educator. This program gave strong skills and support. Having been a participant in the program of professional development for teachers, I am also satisfied.

  2. After 30 years of teaching, countless classes and workshops and a Master’s degree, I went through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification process. This was a year of constant hands-on learning and research through my own reflection and analysis of my teaching practices and how those practices effected student learning.
    This was, hands down, the best, most effective professional development I have ever encountered. I know, without a doubt, that I have been a better teacher during the 10 years since I became an NBCT.

  3. I would encourage middle school and high school teachers to look at a training offered by the EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) Program headquartered at Purdue. EPICS High is starting to put on trainings across the country and is also working on some distance learning tools. This program is phenomenal! It isn’t all about Engineering but more about STEM in general. It’s a hands-on, project based program where students work in teams and design and build a variety of projects to fill needs within local not-for-profit agencies. In today’s economy its a terrific tool for exposing students to STEM fields and helping the communities surrounding the schools. It’s a great PD opportunity for teachers in all subject areas and a great program. Purdue provides teachers with lots of resources and helps the teachers incorporate EPICS into their schools every step of the way.

  4. I have taken Impact I,Impact III and Number Talks. I am so looking forward to any other class from TLC in Columbus, Ohio that I can sink my brain into. These classes have been the best PD I have ever had. My teaching has taken new and enlighten turns. I’m more excited about teaching math and my students have made such progress. I was able to listen more to my student’s thinking and use guided questions to help them think deeper. My first graders can solve amazingly complex, rich problems. It may sound funny, but I am better able to process mathematical concepts myself. This has made it easier for me to help my students make connections to other math concepts to make learning fun and understandable. I’ve had many parents come to me this year bragging about their child’s mathematical thinking. They are blown away to think first graders can process in such an elaborate way and then are able to communicate their thinking as well. I just can’t say enough. These classes have changed my life and I’m passing it on!!!

  5. I would encourage everyone to participate in summer externship programs. Most of us entered into teaching directly from college with little practical experience in our content areas. During my 17 years in the classroom, the single greatest PD experience for me was spending several summers working in the field related to my subject area. This has given me the practical knowledge and experiences to demonstrate the relevance to my students. An added advantage is that you can develop relationships in the field for when you may need support in the classroom. The extra money doesn’t hurt either. Externships are often offered through our local chamber of commerce. If interested you may want to start there. Take a chance, there are many benefits to partering with your local business community. Good luck!

  6. Wow! Interesting input – across thoughts, backgrounds, and dispositions.

    As a classroom teacher for 17 years (middle – college level) and a PD designer/facilitator and instructional coach for 12+ years, I can definitely understand Max’s viewpoint that real learning comes from experience, but to hear that none of your PD experiences were valuable to you, Max, affirms my professional choice to work independently as PD support to serve as many educators and their students & families as possible.

    Thoughtful, purposeful, engaging professional development/learning experiences that tap into what participants want and need to know, and then deliver with follow-up and ongoing ‘messy’ conversations can lead the way to real growth that is desired, valued, and necessary.

    To that end, using emerging technologies such as twitter is a fantastic way to collaborate with colleagues around the world – with diverse ideas, backgrounds, and suggestions. Bravo, David (#29)! I’m a big fan of twitter, too, and jump into #edchat from time to time.

    I noticed lots of comments about IMPACT for K-3 folks…. Interesting – do you all read this blog regularly?? (Seems like lots of thumbs up for it!) :)

    I’d like to add Project CRISS training to the list. As a CRISS teacher and trainer, I find it valuable when delivered in a manner that reaches the needs of the current group. Currently, I’ve customized it for Career and Technical Education instructors… good stuff!

    Bottom line: I passionately believe that PD is only as effective as the person facilitating it. Did he or she do his/her homework to find out what your needs are as a learner? Is lifelong learning part of the process? Is process as well as content demonstrated, its rationale provided, and then practiced with follow-up that embraces conversations, or learning communities/cohorts? Are you engaged in reflection and action plans while in the training?

    These are the basis for design and implementation *every*time* in my book, and are often the subject of posts on my blog. :)

    Happy Tuesday, everybody!
    ~ Because learning is lifelong and boring is not an option!

  7. Thank you for your responses to our PD Blog. I appreciate your sharing about several quality PD programs including IMPACT, Fulbright programs, and the Goethe Institute.
    I approach professional development venues as opportunities to continue my trek as a lifelong learner. Also, I, too, find it valuable to assess my strengths and weaknesses to guide my PD involvement. Although pedagogy and student engagement trainings/observations are important, I recognize that knowledge acquisition in diverse, varied areas increases my personal and professional value as a communicator of world views, unbiased information, and uncompromising appreciation for the earth’s environment and all of its inhabitants.
    I am interested in “winning” PD that you have designed or would design. Do you have ideas for topics, delivery, audience, or methods?

  8. K-3 IMPACT classes were a wonderful experience for me. The hands on activities that we participated in was meaningful and helpful when going back to the classroom to teach. It made me start thinking outside of the box and realize that not everything is black and white. There are many ways to get to an answer. I feel IMPACT has made me a better teacher. This way of teaching/learning is more meaningful to the students.

  9. I too have benefited from The Teaching and Learning Collaborative’s K-3 IMPACT classes for mathematics in Ohio. I’ve taken all three courses and can truly say that they altered my career path. Through these courses, which provide teachers with research based pedagogy and opportunitites to actually apply this pedagogy in the classroom, I not only changed my personal understanding of math and my classroom instruction but also became a math coach so that I could share what I learned through IMPACT with more teachers in my district for the benefit of our students. I cringe to think how I would still be teaching math if I hadn’t taken IMPACT!

  10. As an Intervention Specialist IMPACT 1 is by far the best class I have ever taken. Usually after a class, I do not feel that I have learned anything that will help intervene with students struggling with math. I keep my notebook from IMPACT 1 next to me and refer to it before each unit of intervention. The class format allowed us to practice and present the strategies so we were comfortable implementing each one when we returned to our classrooms. This class was so beneficial it should be a methods course for undergraduate students.

  11. I have taken 3 IMPACT classes. The workshops and the way the material was presented is great. Trying to get my math students to be “thinkers” and not just complete the problem is one of the things I have brought back to my classroom. The hands on activites are very useful in the classroom.

  12. At the high school level, training for teaching AP courses is exceptional professional development. AP strategies are good teaching for all levels of students.

  13. I have taken IMPACT 1 and 2. These classes have taught me how students learn math. It has helped me understand how important it is for students to become thinkers in math. It has changed my way of teaching math.I would recommend this class to anyone.

  14. I have taken all the IMPACT classes that have been offered and each one has impressed me and has changed my teaching, my own learning, and student learning in immeasurable ways! My students (first graders) are really math “thinkers” not just “takers of tests!” I take my time, allowing for depth of understanding just as the research suggests. If we teach kids to think I believe they can pass any test the test pushers can send our way. Time and again I have seen what every teacher yearns for in her students — to see that lightbulb moment!! With IMPACT I have learned to think outside the box and give kids the opportunity to construct meaning instead of spitting back answers…like I did! All primary teachers should take advantage of this PD if you ever have the chance.

  15. I have taken IMPACT 1&2. IMPACT has dramatically changed how I teach math in my class. It taught me how to make math fun and challenging for my students. It showed me how to get even the youngest students thinking about math. Math has always been challenging for me. IMPACT not only showed me how to better teach my students math skills but it has helped me to understand Math better. IMPACT is great if you ever get a chance to participate it is worth every minute of it.

  16. Having taken both Project IMPACT 1 & 2, I can honestly say it has changed the way I teach and approach math. The IMPACT courses bring the current research to the forefront and educate teachers to teach math in ways that allow students build the foundation they need for the higher math concepts. The hands-on activities are deep and rich and my students continue learn through the conversations and sharing sessions they have. We know child development through reading and it is nice to now know the child development tbrough math.

  17. I have taken both IMPACT 1 and 2 for K-3. It has help change my teaching in math where I am not giving facts and information, but my students are giving the facts and information, and I guide their thinkning. I’ve learned ways to teach math concepts that I wouldn’t have thought of from these IMPACT classes.

  18. Michele, #16.:

    How do you “discus” math related activities with your students?
    Do you all go out to the track field and throw them?

    Other than the first few replies, these comments(especially those about Math), seem contrived and artificial.
    Perhaps they are similar to canned laughter from television shows?

    I referred to myself, as Silly mom, because my 5th child is a failing student in the 6th grade.How could I possibly have any input on this subject, since you know, I’m just another parent blaming the schools……
    The entire U.S. education system is a dismal failure, this CRAP, you refer to as math is a joke.
    Not only are the students having trouble with it, the teachers need help to ‘learn best practices’. Such as, how to teach the use of a calculator to a 1st grader. HA HA HA!
    My son’s ‘Math Specialist’ teacher is unable to add simple fractions, and does not believe that $8.25 = 8 and one-fourth.


  19. The absolute best professional development I’ve gotten has been through #edchat on Twitter. We have a conversation daily between teachers from all over the world, and a focused conversation on Tuesdays.

    Yeah, I know, it’s kind of weird to be talking about Twitter as a professional development tool, but until you have checked it out had it explained to you, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    The thing is, it acts like a forum for discussion in which any can participate, anyone can share links, and questions. Generally we are excellent about welcoming newcomers, and not all of us are technology geeks. We have actually have a very wide range of experience and a reasonably diverse group of people online at any given moment.

    What I especially like about it is that it is available 24/7. Whenever you have time, feel free to drop in and check it out.

  20. I am fortunate enough to work for a school district that is willing to invest in Reading Recovery. My district not only sent our RR teachers to the RR Conference in Columbus, Ohio each winter, they also sent several K-2 classroom teachers each year. Because of budget cuts the past several years, classroom teachers are no longer able to experience this wonderful training. This training has most impacted my reading instruction. I known I am a much better teacher due to what I learned at these conferences.

    The Impact I Math class came along much later in my career. It was exactly what I needed at a time when I was searching for ways to make my math instruction more effective and meaningful. This class also provided me with a new purpose and increased my excitement for teaching. I was challenged to teach not only skills, but to also help my students develop important math concepts.

  21. I have taken the first two workshops for K-3 IMPACT. I have completely changed the way that I teach mathematics. This program demonstrates a research based, hands-on approach to teaching and provides foundational knowledge for teaching math through the use of manipulatives and reasoning/understanding. I have realized that there are steps that students have to take in order to fully understand concepts that are taught. It is a well-organized program that all elementary teachers should participate in!

  22. The best professional development I have encountered has been the I.N.Q.U.I.R.E (INvestigating Quality Understanding In Real-world Experiences)program sponsored by Teaching & Learning Collaborative. It was phenomenal. I have been encouraged by our district to implement more inquiry based lessons for a number of years but there was little concrete support for bringing it into the classroom. This program gave strong guidance, application and support for this. My students are more actively engaged in the learning process than previously. I would strongly recommend this course to those who understand Inquiry-based teaching as a good thing and want to know the practical nuts and bolts involved.

  23. Any suggestions for PD for a special education learning center? As a facility that educates students 3-21 with a variety of disabilities, we are having difficulty with finding valuable PD. This IMPACT sounds great would it something that could come to Michigan?

  24. As per my teaching/professional experience, nothing beats hands on activities where students actually experience what they are learning about.

  25. This is the first time I heard of Impact classes. Can anyone share with me any information about this. You all got me interested in it.

  26. I have taken both Comet (4-6) and Impact (K-3) PD math courses, coordinated by the Teaching & Learning Collaborative, and have gained far more than ever expected. I consider myself knowledgeable about math but these courses helped me to dig deeper into my own knowledge, develop it further and have a better understanding of how to pass that understanding on to my students. It has provided me with an increased understanding of questioning process and how it enhances math learning, allowed me to experience rich math learning through games and problem solving and verified the importance of sharing out responses because there are multiple means and methods to a correct response.

  27. As a fourth grade teacher I wanted to find new ways to present the information to my students. I have taken two of the IMPACT classes and anxiously waiting for the third one to be offered. Even though this says it is for K-3 teachers I highly recommend it for other grade levels. These two IMPACT classes have changed the way I teach math. I am very excited to teach math. The classes offer practical lessons/strategies you can go back the next day and teach to your students. I wish it was a requirement that all elementary teachers who teach math must take these classes.

  28. I’ve taken all IMPACT classes beginning with the first session offered years ago. Each class is facilitated by experienced teachers using a variety of quality materials. Each participant has the opportunity to explore mathematical situations within small groups and share out to hear all solution strategies. Time is given between sessions to adapt and try ideas within your classroom. No matter what the mathematical topic,(I’ve taken number sense, geometry, and measurement) the importance of process is stressed. Problem solving, representation of solutions, reasoning and proof, communication of ideas, connections to other topics, are all as important as the content learned. Best of all everyting I’ve learned in IMPACT classes can be taken back to my classroom and used immediately. Kids love the lessons while learning the content!

  29. I have participated in all 3 Impact Math Classes and I have even taken one of them twice (it was a few years apart and I had heard they had made a few changes). Not only is it the some of the best professional development I have done, but I have been fortunate enough to be able to come back to my district and share what I have learned with my peers. I have deepened my understanding of math content and how children approach different math concepts. It has taught me to be able to analyze how a child approaches different math concepts and help each of them in a way that is meaningful to that student. I have also had the pleasure to take both the Developmental Math Assessment class and Number Talks-which again have been top notch! I have loved taking these classes and collaborating with others!

  30. The COMET class was worth giving up six hours of my time on five Saturdays because I learned strategies that will help me improve my teaching. I was taught methods of teaching Math that I never learned in college or in any other professional development coursework including my Master’s Degree. I have taken many of the activities and strategies I learned in this course and I now use them with great results in my classroom.

  31. As a facilitator for the Project IMPACT courses offered in Ohio for K-3 teachers, I have witnessed positive transformations within the participants. Our teachers leave energized about teaching mathematics within an inquiry environment. It is inspiring to listen to deep conversations about the richness of activities they are providing students and the thinking going on in their classrooms.

  32. The IMPACT class was the single BEST class I have taken as an elementary teacher. The activities and thinking strategies have made me a much better math teacher. I am using a variety of strategies to help my second grade students think about, write about, and discus math related activities. My students have also commented about how much they enjoy math!

  33. The IMPACT experience I had was the best PD I’ve ever had. What I learned in the three classes I took has totally changed the way I teach math. My student’s understanding of basic math concepts is so much better than it was before taking IMPACT because I am able to teach it so much more effectively.

  34. I LOVE the IMPACT/COMET classes!!! My teaching has changed so much since I started taking these classes!

  35. I’ve taken two wonderful professional development courses recently. One was Math Solutions and the other was IMPACT. Math Solutions is 3-6, I believe and IMPACT is K-3. Both offer wonderful hands-on activities and lessons for your math students. An invaluable benefit is networking with colleagues and sharing ideas. I can’t say enough good things about these programs and would highly recommend them to anyone looking for great ideas with regards to teaching math!

  36. Max, no disrespect, but I feel sorry for you if you have never had a meaningful PD experience! If you are a K-3 teacher, you should take the IMPACT workshops coordinated by the Teaching & Leaning Collaborative throughout Ohio. It is one of the best workshops I have taken in the past 29+ years of teaching. The workshops encourage teachers to teach for understanding not just to pass the test. It also helps teachers see the Impact they can have on students learning the mathematical concepts that will help them succeed not only in school math but also in “life” math! It is taught the way math should be taught, hands-on, deep thinking, and sharing of ideas so that “students” should learn from their own experiences and those of others.

  37. As a mathematics coach, I have taken the K-3 IMPACT courses offered by the Teaching & Learning Collaborative along with teachers in my building. From the first course on Developing Number Sense, my teachers have developed a deeper content knowledge and effective strategies for teaching young children mathematics–and now they are hooked (glad TLC has 3 IMPACT courses to address different content!). I HIGHLY recommend this professional development opportunity for ALL K-3 teachers, especially as we look at the new common core standards in mathematics. It’s right in line with how we need to engage students in mathematical thinking and problem solving.

  38. I have completed 2 Impact classes and am currently taking a 3rd. I thought I was a good math teacher. Impact has shown me how to question the students to get them to figure out the math in their own way, to let them share their methods, so others can try new ways and they can learn in the way that best suits their learning style. The inquiry based approach works and the students understand what they are doing. I am excited to teach math, it makes it new and interesting. I love learning and getting new ideas from all the other teachers. I have never taken more valuable classes than these.

  39. IMPACT 1 is by far the best class I have ever taken. Usually after a class the notebook gets put on the shelf never to be used again. This is not the case with this course. I keep the class notebook on my table and refer to it before each unit I teach. This class taught me how important rich activities are and how teaching number sense can be a rewarding experience for my students. The class format allowed us to practice and present the strategies so we were comfortable implementing each one when we returned to our classrooms. This class was so beneficial it should be a methods course for undergraduate students.

  40. Having been a participant and an instructor of the IMPACT 1 course, I can not say enough about the program. It asks teachers to think outside of the box and to become a facilitator. Students learn best by showing and telling what they know. The inquiry based approach is ideal for presenting the new common core standards.

  41. I am currently taking K-3 Impact 3 class and just finished the Impact 1 along with the online piece. I was looking for a boost this year in my math instruction and am glad I decided to do these classes. Impact has really given me the push I needed. I think what I love more than the instructional tools they are giving me is the new found “philosophy” I have about math. If you don’t change your thinking about math then I believe you will never change your instruction towards it! Impact has given me so many “Ah-ha” moments this school year and I am glad my students have had the privelage of hearing it! I look forward to each and every session!

  42. I am currently taking K-3 IMPACT. The class has had a huge impact on my math teaching. I’ve learned how to teach my students through inquiry based instruction. Challenging them to think about why and how they are coming up with their answers instead of relying on facts and formulas. I’ve always loved math but being a part of this course has really changed how I approach teaching my third graders. Hopefully when they leave my room at the end of the year they will have a better understanding of how math works and relates to real life.

  43. I will agree with Max that experience is meaningful. Connecting our experiences to professional development outside of the school is one way to cultivate growth though much of my schools’ PD has been valuable. This may be due to the fact it is driven by teachers and caring administrators. It also shares the characteristic of being offered, not forced.

    In my 11 years of teaching in both K-12 and the University level, I have found one common denominator in beginning to improve my practice: defining an area of weakness and turning it into a strength. Realizing I had never had any “formal” education on Asia and this could impact my student’s ability to glean the nuances from the region, I sought out a free course at my local University. That free experience led me to two fully-funded international travel experiences and a seminar in Italy via the Fulbright Teacher Exchange. Without these, I believe it would have been would have been more challenging for me to be able to see cultures in my curriculum through the eyes of those who lived there.

    It is not always possible to find the time or space to go abroad, however. Now that this is the case, online courses have been a more reasonable choice and cheap too!!! My local World Affairs Council (Pittsburgh) is also amazing in providing free workshops.

    Pennsylvania requires 180 hours (or 6 credits) of PD every five years so this was one motivating factor in the beginning, to be honest. Regardless, these opportunities have been incredibly valuable.

  44. The Goethe Institut Transatlantic Outreach Program is one of the best. They take teachers from the U.S. and Canada to Germany for two weeks to build friendship, understanding, and an appreciation for German culture, history, and teaching modern Germany. I participated in 2008, and it was transformative.

  45. The Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum offers several summer programs. There is an annual symposium involving all the Presidential Libraries on a timely topic. In the past it has included 20th Century Conflicts, Civil Rights, and this year the Middle East. They also offer a wonderful program called “Primarily Teaching” which is also offered at National Archives, Regional Archive sites, and other Presidential Libraries.

  46. A refreshing, empowering and motivating professional development setting — nothing works better than the great outdoors. No matter what is on the agenda, it never hurts to get out of classroom/school building settings, get outside and think outside the box.

  47. The only meaningful PD is experience. As a former teacher, I’ll say that I have never taken anything useful from a workshop or seminar, and that actually teaching something, and talking to fellow teachers in that subject area through informal conversations and observation of their methods is the only thing that was ever of any use whatsoever.

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