Have you ever been frustrated because you were expected to implement something you learned in a training, even if you didn’t feel like you were ready? How much professional development do you think a teacher needs to effectively implement what she learned? A week of sustained professional development? A month? A year?

How about 4 years! Read on to learn more…

Comparing Medicine Dosage To Professional Development
When we use antibiotics, we’re told that we need to take it regularly for many days, even if we feel better and think we don’t need it. If we don’t take that sufficient dosage, we may not improve and might even wind up developing a resistance to the medication. This information likely does not come as a surprise to you, but I wonder how it might apply as a metaphor for professional development.

As an educator for over fifteen years, I have been to hundreds of trainings as both the person being trained and the person doing the training. Usually what happens is that educators who receive training are generally expected to implement what they learned when they return to the classroom. Would this be similar to expecting someone to improve after taking a single dose of antibiotics?

This seems problematic to me when we’re expecting real change to take place. Consider this research from Dr. Vicki Jacobs. She and her colleagues observed teachers’ as they implemented strategies they learned from Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) training. The teachers were categorized into four groups:

  • Prospective Teachers: Undergraduate college students enrolled in a first mathematics content course for teachers
  • Experienced Practicing Teachers: Experienced K–3 teachers who were about to begin sustained professional development focused on children’s mathematical thinking
  • Advancing Participants: Experienced K–3 teachers who had engaged with sustained professional development focused on children’s mathematical thinking for 2 years
  • Emerging Teacher Leaders: Experienced K–3 teachers who had engaged with sustained professional development focused on children’s mathematical thinking for at least 4 years and were beginning to engage in formal or informal leadership activities to support other teachers

With these groups in mind, there are a two comparisons that should be particularly interesting:

  • Comparing the “Prospective Teachers” group to the “Experienced Practicing Teachers” group helps you isolate the effect of teaching experience on ability (especially for those with no CGI training).
  • Comparing the “Experienced Practicing Teachers” group to the “Advancing Participants” and “Emerging Teacher Leaders” groups helps you compare the effect of two or four years of training, respectively.


Predictions and Results
Before I share her data with you on how well each group prioritized student thinking over teacher thinking, I want you to predict what the results will show.

  • How much of a difference will teaching experience make in terms of successfully using student thinking to guide learning?
  • How much of a difference will two years of training make over no training? How will two years of training compare to four years of training?

Here are the results as a measure of the percentage of time they prioritized student thinking over teacher thinking:

  • Prospective Teachers: 6%
  • Initial Participants: 26%
  • Advancing Participants: 32%
  • Emerging Teacher Leaders: 72%

I was not surprised that Prospective Teachers with no education training or experience were generally unable to prioritize student thinking (6%). Similarly, I was not surprised that Initial Participants with experience but no specific training were just a little better (26%).

Everything else blew my mind.

Advancing Participants with two years of training did almost no better than teachers with no training, and Emerging Teacher Leaders with four years of training did MUCH better than teachers with two years of training. Think about it, after two years of training teachers, wouldn’t you expect significant improvement? I know most administrators would. I also would have never guessed that such a big improvement would take place after the third and fourth years of training.


Implications for Education
Consider what often happens in education. A teacher is usually trained once or maybe twice. At that point, the teacher is generally expected to competently implement what they learned. How realistic is that though? Is that closer to expecting someone to be healthy after a couple days of antibiotics? I don’t hear enough conversations in education about what the proper dosage should be. Instead, professional development seems closer to another checkbox. Once a teacher has been trained, they are good to go and it’s on to the next teacher or initiative.

How often are teachers trained for more than a year? In most schools and districts, if teachers were trained for an entire year, that would seem like plenty. Asking for two years of training would be pushing it, and four years of consistent training might seem ludicrous, even if that dosage seemed to have a significant effect.

Consider the potential fallout of insufficient professional development dosages. How often have you seen a teacher who, trained once, feels comfortable making a statement like, “Yeah, I went to that training. It didn’t really make a difference in my classroom.” With more perspective, is that like a sick patient making a statement like, “Yeah, I took my antibiotics for two days. It didn’t really make a difference in my health.” Furthermore, if that patient stops taking the medicine, might that increase the possibility of developing resistance to the medication (“I’ve already been to that training. I don’t need it again.”)?


When teachers receive professional development, are we doing enough to ensure that they receive sufficient follow up support? This might include additional professional development, coaching from a teacher specialist, lesson study with their colleagues, peer observation (like #ObserveMe), or journaling.

I believe it’s important to remember that professional development is not a one-time miracle pill. I can’t think of anything of significant value that I understood and could implement after having only learned about it once. If there’s anything on that list, it has to be short.

I’d love to read about what you think? What resonated with you about this blog post? Where can you push or extend my thinking? Please let me know in the comments below.


  1. Makes so much sense, Robert. I am a second career teacher in world languages and I just read something that clicked with me: focusing on the grammar or the study OF the language means the teacher is seeking an answer she already knows, whereas focusing on getting students to use the language to communicate, however haltingly, means the teacher does NOT know what the answer will be. As a first year teacher, it’s hard to give up that control and let the lesson go where it may…but I’m trying!!!!

    I agree with another post (Mr. Chase?) who said one must force oneself to leave the comfort zone…c’est si vrai!!

    • Thanks Susan. From the outside, teaching seems so easy because we’ve all helped one or two other people learn something. It becomes much more complex when it’s multiple classes of 30+ students! Welcome to the profession and keep up the reflections.

  2. With ever changing demands of our students, not to mention the new research it very difficult for individual teachers to stay on top their own professional development. That is why it is critical to have strong school districts with strong leaders leading the change. Individually we can’t do this. This has to be a collective effort. It all starts with education. We need our administrators to understand this first!

    • Certainly the conflicting goals are problematic. Administrators have many goals to balance, but sometimes it feels like we’re on a roller coaster as we go along for the ride. One step forward would certainly be more open communication about the direction the district is headed rather than it being one-way communication from the top, down.

    • Thanks J. I think this is interesting on at least two levels. First, (assuming an 8 hour work day) I don’t know of a lot of teachers getting 10 to 15 days of PD a year. Second, I wonder if that is 80 to 120 hours per year on a single topic or what? I imagine it would be much more likely for PD to resemble a sprinkler that gets lots of parts a little wet rather than saturating any one area.

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  4. There is one important mitigating factor that might account for this variation — almost every teacher leader I have worked with was invited to be a teacher leader by someone because of how closely what they know and believe mirrors the intended beliefs and knowledge of the people organizing the professional development. It may be that these teachers have learned a lot, but I’ll have to read the research to see how carefully the researchers isolated the effects of the professional learning from the selection bias in choosing people to be teacher leaders.

    • Thanks David. Please let me know what your conclusions are. I always appreciate the perspectives you take. I also wondered about whether the sample size was smaller than it needed to be to confidently reach these results.

  5. American Education System hasn’t changed much in some places since the Industrial Revolution. Now that we are in the 4th Revolution and the Metaverse is a possibility. I think we need to consider there are so many alternative ways to equitably meet the needs of all learners with diverse gifts and abilities. Heutagogical, Androgogical, and Pedagogical approaches to learning must align with the Purpose and intention of the learner or it will not be sustainable. Storytelling, Creativity, Expression, and Engagement are some of these universal strategies when receiving or delivering Quality Professional Development. I always say, you’ll get out of this what you intend to and are willing yo put into this. In a partnership, not a cookie cutter approach to save time and overhead costs.

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