What Does ESSA mean for your PD?

Posted by Jaime DonallyO

August 22, 2017

If you’re a teacher (or started your education career as one), have you ever woke up to prepare for a day of learning with great anticipation that today would be the day—the day that will change the game for your classroom?


Early on in my teaching career, I had high expectations that all professional development (PD) activities were opportunities for me to grow myself as an educator and enhance my instruction to help my students grow. Yet after days of “sit and get” trainings and mandatory in-service days, those expectations went unfulfilled.


I’m confident I’m not the only one that’s felt this way. Have you?


All too often, the trainings and professional development opportunities provided to teachers fail to provide the learning experiences those same teachers are expected to provide to students.


For me, I learn best while playing, interacting, and engaging in the material—the same with my students. Although every classroom requires practice and exams, my goal was to make the most out of each class day with fun activities. I came to class excited to “play” with math!


When the opportunity came to change my role from classroom teaching to providing district professional development, I jumped at the chance, but then found myself wanting to be back in the classroom after just a few weeks.


Why? Because my initial reaction was to abandon instructional approaches that had worked well with students, and instead revert to the way I had received my own PD. As it turns out, teachers are just as disengaged from learning while listening to a lecture or completing a packet of paperwork as their students.


Educators are expected to be flexible in their lesson plans and adapt to the variety of needs in the classroom. Over the years, both the content and delivery of those lessons have changed, yet professional development has remained stagnant. Education has reached the limit of irrelevant “sit and get” sessions that are disconnected from student success. Among other changes, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is shifting the expectations—and definition—of teacher professional development.


The term ‘professional development’ means activities that … are sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, or short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom focused.”

(S. 1177, Section 8002, page 295, paragraph 42)


The ESSA challenges the quality and delivery of PD by the collaboration and data-driven results from the learning community, and opens the doors for educator input in their own professional learning through regular evaluation. In short, it marks a new era of professional development, where learning is dependent on long-term, focused, and engaging activities that are personalized for individual growth.


While some states are still submitting their individual plans to meet the ESSA requirements, districts are being challenged to make critical adjustments to existing plans, including professional development, to meet the demands of the legislation. As your district prepares, here are a few key questions that you can think about around professional development, including:

  • What is your district’s vision for professional development?
  • Does our professional development provide personalized learning for all school staff?
  • Will our planned PD offer support for ongoing, job-embedded activities?
  • Can our professional development provide data-driven results that connect to student success?
  • How will our district provide educators the opportunity for input and collaboration on their preferred learning activities?


While it can be difficult to imagine the changes our learning community will encounter in the coming years, it’s important to realize that we have an opportunity to embrace the changes initiated by ESSA to ultimately benefit our students.


Take an in-depth look at the impact of ESSA on professional development, including insights on how traditional PD activities stack up under the regulations and ideas to begin planning highly-effective professional development.


Download ESSA Guide


Jaime Donally is a technology enthusiast who began her career as a math teacher, before taking on a district professional development role, and eventually joining the Hoonuit team. Jaime is actively involved in the education community as an edtech presenter, co-founder EdChange Global (formerly edcamp Global) and Global Maker Day, and facilitates several twitter chats.

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