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Professional development for teachers: How to stay ahead in education

Professional development for educators is the continuing effort to educate oneself, improve skills to boost outcomes for students. Picture Shutterstock
Professional development for educators is the continuing effort to educate oneself, improve skills to boost outcomes for students. Picture Shutterstock

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Professional development is an important part of building and advancing a career, however, it is clear it is only sometimes given the prioritisation it deserves.

In the education sector - where working and grading well after work hours is commonplace - setting aside time to develop professionally can be a real struggle. Student-free days which are specifically designed to improve professional development can also receive grumbles of disapproval from parents, who do not fully understand the benefits it can bring.

The reality is though, great teachers develop over time through a commitment to learning not just for their students, but for themselves. Professional development for educators may come in the form of one-day workshops, short courses that focus on upskilling particular areas, or longer-term studies such as EdD online programs that aim to prepare teachers to become innovative leaders.

What is professional development and why is it important?

Professional development for educators is the continuing effort to educate oneself, improve skills and boost outcomes for students. Learning can take place in formal or informal settings - for example, a conference, course or seminar may be considered a formal setting, while peer-on-peer learning or even conversations in the lunchroom would constitute informal.

Professional development can occur on a few levels - district-wide, school-wide, classroom-wide or on an individual basis - and there are a multitude of benefits for each including:

  • It positively affects student learning. Good educators are better at engaging with and teaching students effectively. When educators have access to resources that improve their skills, they are better equipped to become the good educators education facilities need.
  • It gives confidence to new educators. Confidence can be lacking for new educators and is a large contributor to turnover in staff within five years of entering the sector. Effective professional development can help address this and shape career-long learning.
  • It provides better student outcomes. In creating better, more confident educators, students will also benefit and be driven to improve their own educational outcomes.

Despite the clear, positive benefits, there are a range of perceived barriers to professional development. In a report by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 58 per cent of respondents reported 'professional development conflicts with my work schedule'. Approximately 39 per cent of respondents also stated they had 'no incentives to participate' and 'professional development is too expensive/unaffordable', and nearly 24 per cent declared there was a 'lack of employer support' regarding professional development.

While it can be difficult, overcoming these perceived barriers is the first step towards engaging more educators in pursuing professional development.

How to advocate and partake in professional development


Advocating for professional development within a community (whether it be in a classroom, within a school, or at a district level) is an important step forward in changing the mindset and removing perceived barriers toward professional development. There are several ways this can be done;

  • Petition to the school for access to professional development. With nearly a quarter of educators stating schools are not supportive of ongoing learning, demonstrating a willingness and commitment towards professional development is the first step to changing their stance.
  • Educate peers on the importance of professional development. Getting peers on board is an important part of advocating for professional development. The more participants, the more likely the school will be willing to make a change.
  • Start with small-effort development. Before venturing towards full-day or more professional development courses, start small. Create a mentor program for the school to help manage common teaching problems or methods with new educators, or build an online community educators can access at any time that works within their schedule. Demonstrate the value before moving on to bigger programs.


Partaking in professional development is an ongoing commitment to your career which will benefit your workplace, students and yourself. Partaking in professional development can be done through;

  • Researching appropriate online courses. Online study is often a manageable, flexible way to access professional development. In some instances courses can even be free like those on the Canvas Network.
  • Attend a webinar. Like online study, webinars are generally smaller, bite-sized amounts of content, especially when compared to their larger seminar counterparts. They can also be quite flexible which caters to a busy educator schedules.
  • Attend a teacher's conference. A conference is starting to edge towards a higher commitment, but this can often provide a greater return. Conferences are a valuable resource for educators to acquire new skills and methodologies, and to network with other professionals in their field.
  • Complete a graduate or higher education program. Once upon a time returning to university when already qualified as an educator was a commitment many felt was too time-consuming and financially difficult. Nowadays with part-time and online options available, completing further study can be ideal for those who want to grow their career into new or leadership roles.