Staff Development vs. Professional Learning

Teachers across the world are required each year to complete a specific number of hours of “professional” or “staff development.” Many times they are all funneled into a single room where they everyone is presented with the same topic, strategy, or technology tool. This is a very over generalized way to help educators to grow professional and up their “game,” or improve their skill set, for the classroom. For years we have focused our professional growth on large groups of educators as a whole rather than our individual needs. We are expected to differentiate instructions for students in the classroom so that each student can succeed in the best way of each individual. Staff development has for years ignored the fact that teachers need to have their professional learning differentiated just like their students. A previous guest on the show, Mr. Kevin Sears (@ksearstis) shared a tremendous description of this on a previous episode of the show.

Staff Development vs. Professional Learning

Staff development and professional learning are not the same thing. For many years we have used those terms interchangeably; but at a cost that has a very negative impact on educators.

What is Staff Development?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, staff development is “the improvement of the knowledge and skills of employees within an organization by providing them with training.” Staff development has it’s place. There are times when it is 100% appropriate. Non-negotiable initiatives for all classrooms would be items that should be addressed by staff development (for example, a new grading platform or discipline procedures that all teachers and/or staff are required to use). “Sit and Get” sessions are the norm for staff development. This approach makes it very easy to disseminate information. It makes it impossible to take that information and personalize to each member of a staff.

What is Professional Learning?

Professional learning, in my opinion, is the personalized learning of professionals to meet their own goals for growth in their chosen field. As educators, those goals should be reflective of what we hope to achieve for ourselves, and our students. The structure and nature of professional learning can vary from educator to educator. Much like being a “connected educator,” there are not set rules for how each individual needs to go about their own professional learning. Educators can fuel their professional learning by taking part in edchats, enrolling in free online courses, attending webinars, attending after-school and summer session provided by their school or district, and more. There is no set formula.

Why is Professional Learning is More Valuable Than Staff Development

In my opinion, the benefits of professional learning far outweigh those of staff development. All educators should be reflecting on their own practices. They should be looking for ways that they can improve. When this practice is in place, each educator then has the ability to select an area where they hope to improved based on their own interests. This will allow them to maintain engagement better than if the content was prescribed for them by a third party. Self-directed professional learning provides a means for the educator to take full ownership of their growth. By doing so they are fully invested in improving for themselves and their students. Professional learning should always be about the individual and not the group as a whole. Perhaps the most important reason that professional learning is more valuable than staff development is illustrated by Evan Robb, Principal at Johnson-Williams Middle School in Berryville, VA. It is the best way to stay current.

What Do Other Educators Think about Staff Development vs. Professional Learning?

I reached out to various members of my PLN to get their thoughts on this topic and wanted to share some of those with you.

Educators who shared their thoughts:

Derek Oldfield, Instructional Technology Specialist with Berkeley County Schools, WV


Rikki McCormick, Director of Special Education with Lincoln County Schools, WV


Kasey Bell (Website), Founder of Shake Up Learning, Co-Host of The Google Teacher Tribe


Brad Shreffler (Website), Host of the Planning Period Podcast


Patrick Hausammann, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher with Clark County Schools, VA


What is Your School or District Providing For Your Growth?

Is your school or district currently providing you with Professional Learning or Staff Development?
Is your school or district currently providing you with Professional Learning or Staff Development?
Is your school or district currently providing you with Professional Learning or Staff Development?


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