How do you plan professional development?

What makes professional development great?

As a pedagogical leadership team how do you plan professional development for your staff?

This section introduces you to two key tools for planning a learning activity for your staff, be it a workshop in a staff meeting, a whole school professional development day or a formal evaluation of a lesson.

David Kolb's learning cycle introduces the importance of learning from experience.

Robert Glaser provides a planning tool for developing a programme of training.

For a quick planning tool go to Teacher Toolkit 5 minute CPD Plan which is highlighted in dig deeper.

Read this page together with Professional Development which provides a list of Top Tips on effective professional development.

Understanding how adults learn - The Learning Cycle by David Kolb

Kolb's learning theory sets out a cycle of experiential learning: 'immediate or concrete experiences' provide a basis for 'observations and reflections'. These 'observations and reflections' are assimilated and distilled into 'abstract concepts' producing new implications for action which can be 'actively tested' in turn creating new experiences.

Kolb suggested that it is not sufficient to have an experience in order to learn. It is necessary to reflect on the experience and then apply the learning to new situations. This learning then needs to be tested out in new situations. The learner must make the link between the theory and action and keep relating one back to the other.

The four elements of the cycle:

  • Concrete experience (doing or having an experience) - this could be engaging in research, teaching in the classroom or engaging in a learning activity (many ideas are included in the Leadership Toolkit ).
  • Reflective observation (reviewing / reflecting on the experience) - it is important to encourage an attitude of reflection when involving adults in an activity. Time to use a reflective journal, or meta-cognitively ask 'how has the activity/protocol developed your learning?' Lesson evaluations should provide good opportunities for colleagues to reflect on the experience they have had - what did they do to progress learning?
  • Abstract conceptualization (concluding / learning from experience). Reflection in itself does not change or improve practice. This is the stage when there is new input either through research or attending staff training.
  • Active experimentation (planning / trying out what you have learned). These new ideas are then put into practice. Active experimentation then starts the cycle again.

Activity 1: How do your staff team approach their learning?

David Kolb recognized that staff have different preferences in the way they approach learning based how they approach a task and how they think or feel about it. The combination of these leads to four distinct preferences or learning styles.

Click here to read his description of different learning styles and then complete the worksheet in relation to your own staff.

Designing professional development

Robert Glaser and Barbara Roadcap expanded Kolb's learning model by showing how the cycle could be used to design a whole learning programme. They expanded Kolb's number of steps to seven. They are:



Examples of what to do

1: Focusing

Warm up and introduction to the learning

Ice breakers

Essential Agreement - how we are going to work

Expectations of the learning


Giving people a structured learning experience which allows participants to engage in a concrete way with the subject being explored.

You could use any of the activities in the Leadership Toolkit

Use case studies

Videos as stimulation to learning

3: Reflecting

An opportunity to reflect on the learning experience they have had and link with previous knowledge.In groups reflect on the activity - what was new? What is their understanding from the discussion?

4: Thinking

This is where new knowledge and ideas are introduced.

A (PPT) presentation

A video

Think Piece

Expert witnesses

5: Modifying

At this stage of the learning cycle participants consider how their existing knowledge and understanding fit with the new knowledge and understanding. They assimilate the new knowledge.

Prioritization and categorization activities such as Diamond 9 or Heart of the Matter.

6: Applying

This step requires participants to consider how they are going to apply new learning as they return to their workplace.

Scenario planning (see this tool in the page on Strategic Tools)


7: Integrating

Capturing key learning points. Considering next steps. Action Planning.

Action Plans

Learning Journals

Activity 2: Planning a professional development workshop for your staff

Use the following template to plan a workshop for your staff.

Link to websites

If you wish to find out more you may like to access the following websites:

Review Tool

How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your facilitation of learning with colleagues? The following questions can be used as a guide for both planning and reviewing a training session you have led.

Authentic and reflective inquiry:

  • Do you know the issues your staff are facing and the questions they are actually asking? Which questions is your workshop or training session trying to address?
  • Have you tailored your training to the needs and context of your participant staff?
  • Have you provided enough time and space for reflection during the workshop so that staff can appropriate the material to their own situation and reflect on how they are going to apply it in their own situation?
  • What do you do to ensure that participants understand the purpose of each activity so that they are fully engaged?
  • Do you meta-cognitively analyse the learning process as you are facilitating the learning so that you are continually aware of whether the protocols or activities used are meeting the needs of the participants, and do you show flexibility in changing activities accordingly?
  • Do you model activities participants could replicate in their situation? Do you make this modelling explicit so all can capture the learning?

Collaborative Inquiry

  • Have you identified the key lines of professional inquiry for the workshop or training session? Have you communicated these clearly at the beginning of the session?
  • Are you sure these lines of inquiry relate to the needs of the participants? How?
  • How do you phrase these lines of inquiry – as open questions? Think carefully about the wording of these questions.
  • What strategies and activities have you included to encourage collaborative learning? Have you sufficiently provided colleagues with the protocols for collaborative work (e.g. identifying key roles in a group, ensuring the tasks are clearly defined so that all know what needs to be achieved by the group).
  • Is there sufficient scope for pair, small group and plenary work so that people can learn from each other? Have you designed activities around producing a product as a result of collaborative working (e.g. where rewards are based on group results as defined in the pre-process and evaluated in the in-process phase)?
  • How can you evaluate the effectiveness of problem-solving exercises you use to ensure that all participants engage in inquiry-based learning?

Differentiated learning

  • Do you know the different learning styles of your staff? How do you know?
  • How are you catering for the different learning styles of your staff?
  • How flexible are you during the workshop to change activities to meet the learning styles of the participants? Do you have a large enough bank of materials and activities to be able to adapt your workshop to the specific needs of the participants?
  • How dynamic and balanced (both physically and intellectually) is your workshop or professional development session? Is there a correct balance between intellectual, kinesthetic and reflective activities?
  • Do you provide opportunities for participants to evaluate their own creativity in the workshop or training session?

Dig deeper

As part of their 5 minute planning series Teacher Toolkit have a 5 minute planning guide to professional development which is very useful. Click here to access it.

Instructional Design Central provides accessible summaries of (a) what instructional design is, and (b) various models (e.g. Merrill's First Principles of Instructional Design - which are particularly helpful).Instructional design models help instructional designers to make sense of abstract learning theory and enable real world application. Instructional design models are used to design learning experiences, courses, and instructional content. 

20 Questions That Schools Should Be Asking About Professional Development,  Drew Perkins, Teach Thought - a useful checklist.

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