Summary - Professional Development Quality Standards Discussion November 12 - 30, 2007


November 12 - December 7, 2007

Part I: Quality Professional Development

What makes quality professional development? Adult Literacy Professional Development List Subscribers shared their interests in discussing quality PD, identified characteristics of quality PD, and shared their experiences that changed their practice. They explored questions such as:

  • What has helped you make a shift in your thinking and acting-a PD experience or combination of experiences that you felt has helped you to improve your practice?
  • What are characteristics of quality professional development?
  • How do you know it when you see it?

Subscribers also shared the benefits and drawbacks for having professional development quality standards.

Part II: Reflection Week

AALPD then disseminated a draft of quality professional development standards and indicators. The moderator asked subscribers to reflect on the quality characteristics generated by list subscribers, and to review the AALPD draft Quality PD Standards and reflection questions to prepare.

Part III: AALPD Professional Development Quality Standards

A week later, subscribers discussed the draft AALPD Quality PD Standards. Based on their experiences with professional development that leads to change, they offered feedback for improving the standards. Several themes emerged from this feedback:

Part I Discussion Summary

Subscribers' Experiences With Professional Development That Leads to Change in Practice

Question: Thinking back on your own journey as an educator, tell us about what has helped you make a shift in your thinking and acting-a PD experience or combination of experiences that you felt has helped you to improve your practice. (...versus something that you enjoyed attending but it didn't make a difference in the long run.)

If you are professional development staff, please also tell us about what you've seen to be effective in leading to teacher change.

In response to the question above, participants shared the following responses, categorized by discussion themes that emerged:

In-depth PD

  • We especially benefit from new learning that is connected to what we already know, that extends and challenges our understanding, knowledge and skills. This is a constructivist or project-based approach to learning
  • Participants need to have control of the learning activities, to tailor them to their own needs, their own goals and levels of knowledge and experience. They also need to be able to explore their own questions, and to connect what they are learning with what they are doing in their classrooms. This cannot be done in one workshop. It requires opportunities to learn, try out, synthesize, and share with colleagues. This in-depth professional development, the kind that significantly improves practice, takes time.
  • Experiential and immersion learning experiences - having students (and thus teachers in professional development) experience what they are expected to learn

Reflective Practice

  • Teachers experience their own evaluation of their own ways of learning and teaching and reflect on what THAT kind of learning is.
  • Teach them how to become reflective learners
  • Make change then reflect on that change


  • Task based learning and experiential learning I think work together to promote reflective practice and transformative learning. But neither of these will be as rich, if the educator doesn't choose what he/she wants to work on and have a strong understanding of why.

Self-Directed Learning

  • This is where REAL PD comes in-- people who work with learners who have never been taught the power of self-directed learning--how to do it effectively and authentically-- need to learn through good PD to be able to communicate to such learners positive views of their being able to learn how to be learners. I always tell my training groups that learners, like children, always live up or down to the expectations of their teachers--just as the learners at that center in Texas do--they drop out because from the first, the expectation is that they will.
  • Getting out of the "cook book" mode
  • The whole approach to learning in adult education, it seems to me, has been adopted wholesale from the teacher-centered, lesson-plan culture of K-12--and it is the antithesis of what adult learners need to thrive. When I try to get teachers to think about methods such as learning centers or individual learning plans or folders, both methods where learners make their own decisions about what they want to learn and how, the first response is always, "You mean I will have to do 15 different lesson plans??" I had one teacher in a PD session rise up in annoyance and tell me she could NEVER do this kind of teaching because it would mean students might TALK. (This was an ESOL training, too.....) As I say, the need to control the classroom to feel competent is pretty deeply ingrained.

On motivating teachers to consider change

  • It seems that helping people talk/think through what they do, where they feel they're strong and then where they feel they might learn, might be a good way to start.
  • Seeing what other adult education teachers were doing in their classrooms, even the classroom next door
  • Trying to motivate practitioners to become more interested in PD is to put them through simulations. Let them experience low literacy and then relate the simulation to the technique you are trying to teach.
  • Interactive
  • Multiple context approach


  • Flexibility with curriculum - employing a 'living curriculum' can take much pressure off the teacher and encourage student autonomy and buy in. The most gratifying part of this is that I continue to learn in tandem with the students which I feel is a great demonstration of respect for who they are and what they offer to the community of learning.

Time to Share With Other Educators

  • Provide lots of opportunities for networking - one of the biggest complaints we get regarding inservices is that there was not enough time to share.
  • The hard part about PD is that we all want something that we can take and apply immediately- however, there are few techniques or strategies that will work in 100% of our varied situations. I have found that some of the most valuable time spent in PD workshops and meetings, is the time I spend talking to other educators about their adaptations of a technique or strategy. These conversations have helped me in 3 ways:
  1. I have the opportunity to think about how what we are learning can apply to my situation.
  2. I have the chance to get other ideas from educators that I might not have heard from- enabling me to think of still more creative ways to use what we are learning in the PD seminar.
  3. If we are talking about a strategy or technique that I am already familiar with (as frequently happens in PD seminars), I have the time to think about it in a new or creative way, and bounce ideas off other professionals.
  • Sharing with other teachers - Other posts have mentioned this, and I see it as important in two ways. The first is to help avoid the perennial "reinvent the wheel." The second is that I feel it goes a long way towards treating part-time teachers as professional, contributing members of the department. So often, I feel like part-time professional development takes an almost remedial tone. But I know that my colleagues are doing creative, exciting things in their classrooms, and I would love to learn about it.


  • We don't expect our students to learn new skills without feedback on their performance. Why do we expect it of our teachers? I personally have only had one professional development experience that included follow-up mechanisms. And that was the only professional development workshop that has significantly changed my philosophy and my teaching practice (it was about student voice and student leadership in the classroom).
  • Follow up not only makes teachers accountable, but also allows them to see success through change

PD policies

  • Mandated professional development - Isn't lifelong learning what our profession is all about?
  • Pay - This may sound petty, but it's not. If I have to divide my already low per hour wage by the mandatory unpaid admin work, the unpaid prep time, and then mandatory unpaid professional development time, I'm coming out around minimum wage. And professional development, even if it has no registration fee, is still not free to a part-timer. Almost for sure, I will have either child care or transportation costs associated with my attendance.

Treatment as Professionals

  • Agendas & needs - Some people have asked how to get buy-in from reluctant teachers. Have you asked them what they want to learn? I know it is tempting as an administrator to "know" what your teachers need. And you may have a very valid point. But so often as I sit in our semester in-service, I feel like what is called "professional development" is really more like an indoctrination. The state requires X, the program requires Y, and good teachers do Z. Great, but what I really wish is that the program, which needs to accomplish both X and Y, would have a genuine conversation with the teachers about how we as a group can best meet those requirements AND provide the best possible learning experience to students. As a whole, part-timers may not have the credentials of full-timers, but we have an awful lot of practical experience and we are often the ones who have to buy in and carry out the activities needed to really get the program to X and Y. This is, again, a question of treating part-time teachers as professionals.
  • Shared opportunities for PD between both part-time and full-time staff

Individual responsibility

  • With the changes and the increased demands of our profession, we have a responsibility to learn how to do the best job we can for the learners in our program. They are investing precious time and, in order to respect this, we must make sure we are providing the highest quality service available today. After all, change is inevitable and we must all learn from each other to keep up with this change.


  • Value learners' contributions - Let them know that their contributions are invaluable and proceed to treat them that way.

PD Planning

  • Provides framework for PD that leads to teacher change
  • Based on what's needed to improve student outcomes
  • Program and individual plans that align with student and teacher needs for learning

Resources and Other Incentives

  • Free resources

Benefits and Drawbacks of Having Standards

What are the benefits of having PD Standards?

  • Standards provide a target to plan, implement and evaluate professional development in a systemic and meaningful way.
  • They provide a common target to plan statewide professional development. One need I have experienced over and over when planning professional development was the need for a framework to offer and define quality professional development.
  • The AALPD standards...offers us the target to provide quality professional development. In each state we do not have to reinvent the wheel to define quality professional development, we can proceed to plan, implement and evaluate the content for professional development to meet the needs of our state.
  • If...they help us to remember what it is we believe to be important and necessary to good educational practice, then they can be useful to us over the long term.
  • ... the development of PD standards in and of itself could present useful opportunities for ongoing professional development through a thoughtful, probably long-term(ish) process.

What are the drawbacks?
-- New to the field

  • It is a relatively new concept for our field and the need for learning what standards are, the importance of the standards, and the place to use standards is in the early stages.
  • Ultimately, these standards will only be useful or meaningful if they serve to help us continue our own ongoing learning and development. If they become mere competencies, things we demonstrate and tick off as having "done," we really gain nothing.

-- Overly-broad or too prescriptive

  • Sometimes standards are so general and loose that they hardly serve any purpose despite a lot of time and money spent on developing them.
  • Standards can be too prescriptive, limiting creative approaches to a highly fluid, very human process. By their nature, standards would have to either be the consolidated ideas of some group assigned to write them, or a compromise between those wanting nothing and those wanting rules and guidelines, which could mean the standards cannot really meet the needs of those who will provide PD and those who will be recipients of it.

-- Regulatory

  • I would worry about legislating or too-tightly regulating PD standards

-- Other

  • Hard to know in the abstract whether standards help or not.

Part III Discussion Summary

Based on subscribers' experiences with professional development that led to changes in practice and the draft AALPD Professional Development Quality Standards, subscribers shared the following feedback for improving the standards:

Springboard for customizing Quality professional development (PD) in programs and states

The AALPD draft standards provide a basis for program-based and state-wide dialogues for building a system of quality professional development. The standards are meant to inform systems thinking and to be revisited and adapted by systems. As Andrea Nash stated:

They prompt a conversation about quality - what it is and how we know it when we see it - and that it's this conversation that builds ownership and buy-in to a common vision. The challenge is to make sure that the next 'generation' of practitioners get to join this conversation rather than be handed down a static set of expectations to meet.

Purpose of Indicators

Some participants felt that the indicators may not apply to their unique situations, or that in some instances, they were "overly-prescriptive." So what is the role of the indicators?

The indicators are examples of any particular standard, and AALPD does not intend for them to prescribe practices. Amy Trawick suggested pulling out specific recommendations (like 'using problem-solving approaches') and creating a separate document of "recommended practices" if the intent is to highlight certain practices above others.

Not All PD Should Meet All Standards

The standards describe a coherent, quality PD system. Therefore, as both Nash and Maxwell noted, individual PD activities will not meet every standard.

As Maxwell described:

Different standards are going to be more meaningful for different types of PD activities. We want to make sure that we don't dilute the value of a particular style of activity or learning by making it adhere to standards that may not be appropriate for that style. (For instance, in-service programs designed to orient a teacher to a particular school probably don't need standard #8 - program, community, and state level collaboration - as much they do standard #9 - building a learning community.)…You should always evaluate your PD activity on all the standards, however if your activity doesn't meet all the standards, it does not necessarily mean it's the wrong thing to do.

Funding and Advocacy

Can standards become unfunded mandates?

Several participants expressed concerns over PD standards becoming unfunded mandates in an already substantially under-funded and over-stretched field. Ira Yankwitt, Kate Brandt, and others raised questions such as:

  • What can we do to ensure that there is an infusion of funds prior to implementing standards?
  • What can we do to validate and professionalize adult literacy and provide teachers comparable opportunities for salaries, benefits, paid PD release time, etc.?

Nash reminded participants that

…before AALPD drafted standards, it drafted a set of policies designed to ensure that quality PD would be supported by the funding and infrastructure it requires ( Standard #11 (which states that effective PD "is based on a set of policies that support practitioners' access to quality professional development") is our attempt to make this linkage very explicit. Separating the standards from the policy document creates the potential for the abuse (unfunded mandates) that Ira, Katie, and others have mentioned.

Are PD Systems Responsible for Ensuring Teacher Access to Professional Development?

Standard #11: Professional development that improves instruction and learning for all adult learners: Is based on a set of policies that support practitioners' access to quality professional development.


  1. Staff are supported by the following:
    1. paid professional development time
    2. paid substitutes to allow for participation
    3. paid planning time for instruction
    4. at least monthly staff meetings to share their voice in decisions for their program
    5. time for practitioners to develop a professional development plan with access to professional development that supports the plan and supportive monitoring by supervisors of staff professional development plans

Participants explored whether and to what extent Standard #11 should be a part of the draft AALPD PD Standards.

On the one hand, Maxwell noted that Standard #11 reads as a program management standard and thus is not one for which the PD system is responsible:

I wholeheartedly agree that the best practice would be for teachers to have paid release time. I don't see this however, as a professional development standard. It's a program management standard - just like other business practices. CA has public employee collective bargaining agreements. All teachers in our state adult schools (app. 12,000 teachers) are required to hold valid teaching credentials - adult education teachers included. Most school districts negotiate wage and benefit packages with the union representing their teachers. Release time for professional development is a negotiable item, just like health insurance or retirement benefits. If you're going to add standards on management practices (release time, livable wage, benefit package, full time employment, grievance or arbitration system), you open up a whole can of worms that the PD system is not responsible for, and cannot implement. For us, standards would have to focus only on the content of professional development systems, not the employment agreements between employer and employee.

However, Trawik noted:

…because I see the standards as being useful for the whole system, I see #11 as being relevant …although I would turn each lower-case Roman numeral into its own indicator.

Another subscriber suggested creating two categories of standards, separating out content from access issues.

Nash's about standard #11 is appropriate here as well. The reason why standard #11 was included was an explicit attempt to make the linkage between professional development policies and standards, so that quality professional development has the funding and infrastructure needed to support it and to avoid abuse (unfunded mandates).

Working Conditions

Nash noted that both the AALPD Professional Development Policy Recommendations and the draft AALPD PD Standards speak to teachers' working conditions but not those of professional developers. She suggested that AALPD should develop working conditions standards for professional development staff:

It strikes me that an organization representing the interests of professional developers might want to reconsider this! (See for the MA Coalition for Adult Education's Standards for Quality Working Conditions - also focused on teachers but a model we could draw from.)

Culture Shift-Quantity Outcomes, Quality Investment

A Rhode Island PDC colleague suggested an obstacle within our culture to implementing quality professional development standards:

I don't believe that standards are inherently easy or difficult to implement -- shifting the culture from one where the perception that external accountability favors numbers and outcomes to the exclusion of the enabling elements (time, resources, compensation) are obstacles that need to be overcome.


Participants reiterated the need for standards to "manifest sensitivity" to issues like values, ethics, and diversity. Namely, they described the need for standards language to encompass professional development that helps practitioners fully include and teach the historically disadvantaged, oppressed populations that adult literacy serves.

As Mev Miller described:

I don't think that "PD providers use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all learners" really gets at this…but in addition to UDL, I'd like to see some additional language that explicitly refers to PD that assists and supports practitioners learn more in depth about diversities, recognize and address privileged learning environments and also to handle & mediate conflicts that arise among students and that we can truly and meaningfully get to the broader stoke sentiments of "all learners" and "variety of methods."

Kate Nonesuch requested specific references in standards for "…needs and strategies around violence; it's a question of really making UDL 'universal.'" Otherwise, she shares, "…the important realities of our lives and our work would get lost, or purposefully left out."

Word Choice

Participants suggested variations on using words to convey intended and unintended meanings. On the one hand, "improves" could imply a deficit approach to professional development. On the other-who does not have room for improvement? As Allan French noted, "Professional athletes who have completed spectacular seasons will be the first to tell you that there is still room for improvement in their performance." Further, words like "advance" could imply lagging behind. Use caution in word choice without diluting the issues.

Keep the standards succinct. As Jeff Fantine noted, those that are "too wordy" become confusing and tend to tackle too much.

What Do We Mean by Research and Professional Wisdom?

Standard #5: Professional development that improves the instruction and learning for all adult learners: Enhances practitioners' abilities to evaluate and apply current research, theory, evidence-based practices, and professional wisdom.

What do we mean by research?

5c reads "Practitioners are encouraged to examine research critically." Trawick noted:

In some systems, this could mean checking to see if the research is experimental or quasi-experimental with random sampling. If it isn't, it doesn't count (or not as much). In other systems, it could mean realizing the strengths and contributions of various kinds of research, recognizing characteristics of quality for each, and making judgments accordingly. Is it the intent to leave the interpretation of research open by the system?

Additionally, Johan Urvin suggested that the PD standards should capture all that we know through research about the effectiveness of professional development. For example: he states that the standards should capture:

  • Focus on daily activities
  • Active participation
  • Sufficient time for learning to take place
  • Sustained effort
  • Access to outside expertise
  • Group support
  • Collaboration
  • Focus on curriculum and assessment aligned with curriculum
  • Focus on higher order thinking skills (as content of PD)

Further, what do we mean by professional wisdom? Does it imply expertise? Or do we mean beliefs and values? How relevant is the latter if it's not backed by research?

PD Competencies vs. Quality Standards

Urvin asked:

Are we talking about professional development standards and/or professional development staff/facilitator standards? They are different, I believe. I think we need a subset or different set that deals with the standards that professional developers need to meet. These will include subject matter knowledge (e.g., math PD facilitators should know math at least at the Algebra II level), facilitation/training skills, and attitudes.

The AALPD Quality Standards focus on the system level, not the individual level. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) developed the PRO-NET Professional Development Coordinator Competencies, looking specifically at the skills and knowledge individuals need to have to be effective in their roles as professional developers at the state, regional or local levels. The competencies address the question, "What would make a PD staff person/coordinator successful in his/her job?"

The Appendices include:

  • Professional development coordinator competencies and sample performance indicators
  • Professional development coordinator self-assessment tool

The self-assessment tool uses a four-point Likert scale for the individual to rate how relevant a competency is to the PD program, self, and whether the competency is a goal for the PD staff's own professional development.

Renee Sherman suggested ways that programs and states can use the competencies:

  • Hiring staff
  • Conducting performance reviews
  • Self-assessing individual work
  • Planning professional development
  • Developing PD staff certification

Further, she states that

…the two [competencies and standards] are connected for a quality professional development system requires that professional development staff is competent. The existence or lack of competency can effect the overall professional development system.

Funding and Time

Nadia Quiroz-Colby noted themes of funding and time throughout the dialogues. She connected participants' experiences with professional development that leads to change with these two themes. How do these standards tie to the experiences shared in Week One of the Quality PD Discussions?

Participants' Experiences With Change as Compared to the AALPD Draft Quality PD Standards

Jackie Taylor added a column to the standards table, creating a matrix of standards, indicators, and participants' experiences with change as it might align to one or more aspects of each standard. This illustrates where AALPD may have "hit the mark" and where the AALPD may need to revisit as they finalize the draft AALPD Quality Standards.


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