How to choose the right professional development workshops for your school

Learn how to select the best teacher professional development workshops to attend that align with your school improvement goals.

by Michelle Schweikhardt

Professional development is a powerful tool for unlocking success and ensuring the continuous growth of educators and students alike. By investing in professional development, educators can continually elevate their teaching practices and meet the evolving needs of their students as they navigate the educational landscape.

But with so many options out there, how do you choose the perfect professional development opportunities for your school?

Begin by creating a school-wide professional development plan that aligns with your school improvement goals. This strategy will help you navigate the myriad of options available and find the professional development workshops that will maximize the growth and development of your staff.

ALIGN professional development to the school improvement goals

It is easy to find the cheapest and most convenient option to fulfill district requirements, but that typically does not produce the desired results. Your school’s goals should be at the heart of your professional development plan.

Making sure professional development workshops ALIGN with these goals can ensure that your staff is developing the knowledge and skills they need to improve student learning.

Use the following criteria and questions to ALIGN professional development to your school improvement plan.

Ensure that professional development workshop ideas are:

Attuned to school goals and needs

Professional development should be tailored to the specific context of the school, taking into account its unique strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities. Focus on the areas that the school has identified as priorities for improvement.


    • What do you want your school to achieve in the next year, five years, or ten years?
    • What do the professional development workshops need to provide to support your school in reaching its goals?

Led by experienced and qualified experts

Educators trust a workshop presenter who is experienced and qualified—meaning the presenter has a deep understanding of the subject matter and can present the material with evidence of having actual classroom experience.

Teachers aren’t left questioning whether the time they spent learning was worthwhile and of value. Or whether what was presented will work.


    • Is the workshop led by a presenter specialized in this area of learning?
    • What experience does the presenter have?
    • Does the presenter come highly recommended?
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Interactive and engaging

Likewise, being experienced and qualified does not always mean the expert is enjoyable to learn from. When professional consultants are engaging and relatable, they create a learning experience that sticks. They capture the attention of teachers and keep them interested in the material.

Teachers want to learn from someone who understands the challenges of today’s classroom and can make relevant content easy to implement.

A little touch of humor can go a long way in making the learning experience more enjoyable, engaging, and memorable.

The secret to keeping staff motivated and engaged is choosing presenters who are high-energy and keep teachers wanting more.


    • Does the professional development provider offer previews of the presenter in action?
    • What opportunities for interaction will occur during the workshop?
      • Are opportunities provided for participants to collaborate and share ideas?
      • Do professional development sessions provide opportunities for participants to reflect on their learning and develop action plans?
    • Does the provider offer ways to continue the connection beyond the workshop?

Grounded in research-based best practices

Rigorous scientific studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of research-based best practices in improving student learning. For teachers to learn the most effective ways to teach students, choose professional development workshops for teachers that ensure the PD is grounded in research-based best practices.

When professional development is grounded in research-based best practices, teachers walk away with effective practices and resources they can apply right away.


    • Is the professional development aligned with current research on effective teaching and learning?
    • What specific best practices need to be emphasized?
    • What student outcomes will be impacted when teachers apply best-practice strategies?

Needs-based and differentiated

Mrs. Donovan’s signature “waah waah” teaching from Charlie Brown is the perfect metaphor for how irrelevant professional development sounds to teachers. In fact, the primary reason teachers reject PD is because too often it is not relevant to their teaching needs.

Teachers’ needs vary based on their teaching experience and emerging issues within the classroom as well. Professional development companies that respond to the diverse needs of teachers and offer varying levels of customized solutions can better serve all teachers.

It is no secret that teachers are more motivated to participate in professional development when leaders ask for their input on which workshops they would like to attend, even if the school district requires specific professional development. Professional development is valuable when it aligns with teachers’ goals.


    • What do teachers want to learn about?
    • What are the biggest challenges facing your teachers and students?
    • What new skills or knowledge would be most beneficial to them?
    • Are there ways to differentiate workshop participation?

Aligning professional development workshop ideas to school improvement goals ensures that the professional development will meet teacher and student needs, encourage teachers, and foster positive results.

Choosing the right professional development is all in the details

An administrator choosing professional development for teachers is like a farmer choosing seeds for their crops.

The farmer selects the right seeds for the soil type and climate to produce a bountiful harvest. Similarly, administrators need to choose suitable PD workshops for their teachers to yield the best possible results for students.

After determining whether the professional development workshops align with the school improvement goals, the rest of the selection process depends on the logistics and practicality of the PD.


The number one factor that impacts what PD schools can provide is the budget. Schools need the financial resources to cover the cost of professional development workshops and materials.

Many variables contribute to the PD funding available for schools. Consider:

  • The cost of sending staff to attend workshops compared to hiring an on-site consultant.
  • Funding for school-wide resources to support the implementation of professional development.
  • Substitutes needed for teacher coverage.
  • Travel expenses.
  • Stipends for purchasing workshop resources or compensation for work outside of contracted time.


When asking teachers what factors impact the professional development they can participate in, time is the top answer. Professional development requires dedicated time for learning.

While most districts provide regular and timely learning opportunities throughout the year, in-depth professional development requires more than a two-hour meeting every so often. At the same time, it takes a delicate balance not to pull teachers out of the classroom too often.

Before selecting workshops for your staff, consider:

  • The amount of time available for professional development.
  • The best time of year for professional development to occur.
  • The number of professional development sessions needed.
  • How long teachers are willing to commit to a workshop or learning course.
  • How student learning will be impacted if the teacher is out of the classroom.


Thanks to technology, investing in high-quality professional development has become much more accessible for school districts.

Most professional development companies provide both in-person and online workshops or a hybrid of both. This results in more opportunities for when and where teachers can participate in professional development.

For example, Smekens Education Solutions offers a variety of professional development resources through onsite consulting, on-demand workshops and videos, along with remote coaching as follow-up support.

Selecting needs-based professional development may entail initial on-site training facilitated by a consultant followed by ongoing support through online learning and remote coaching.

When selecting the format for how teachers will participate in professional development, consider:

  • The learning style preferences of teachers.
  • School resources available for teachers to participate (e.g., computers, reliable internet access, screens for viewing).
  • Goals for long-term sustainability.


Just because professional development is supposed to provide new and improved learning doesn’t mean it needs to all be new.

Choosing professional development doesn’t require adopting a whole new program. If teachers already have a foundational understanding of a concept and are currently using a program or materials, additional teacher workshops could focus on strengthening what is already in use.

Aligning professional development workshop ideas to school improvement goals ensures that the professional development will meet teacher and student needs, encourage teachers, and foster positive results.

Helpful tips for researching different workshop providers

To avoid feeling overwhelmed by the multitude of workshop providers available, equip yourself with these helpful tips to streamline the search and make an informed decision:


Ask for recommendations from other schools and districts.

Read online reviews of different workshop providers. Choose providers with a good track record.
Seek out companies that have clear and transparent pricing.
Look for professional development providers that specialize in a particular area of learning but offer workshops covering a variety of topics within that area. (Meaning they provide more than surface-level learning.)
Steer clear of boxed programs that do not provide customized learning support.
Evaluate the quality and quantity of the resources and follow-up support the company provides.
Check out the company to see if they offer free professional development workshops for teachers (e.g., webinars, free trials, blog posts, etc.).
Taking the time to ALIGN your school’s professional development workshops will maximize the impact of your school’s investment, leading to improved student learning and outcomes. Most of all, your teachers will thank you for the careful planning and for providing meaningful and powerful professional support.

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