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Building a Professional Learning Program in Your Local

Professional learning is not a one-time event; it is a continuous process of examination, reflection and improvement. Strong professional learning programs empower individual educators and committees of educators to:

  • Make complex decisions

  • Identify and solve problems

  • Connect theory, practice and student outcomes

Successful professional learning systems share a number of common traits:

Program Structure and Governance

A local’s professional learning program operates within the governance structure of the union. The decision to start a program should be discussed with the executive body and, if approved, information on the benefits and impact of the program should be shared at a building rep meeting and then a general meeting. The governance structure should include the local leader, executive board, the local site coordinator and—as they are selected to be trained in the various courses—the trainers.  

To incorporate professional issues into the core of union activities, union leaders must understand the elements of high-quality professional learning and be able to advocate and negotiate for the policies and structures necessary to design a system of professional support for members. 

Download the Implementing a Professional Learning System Checklist for a list of indicators to consider as you embark on designing and implementing a professional development program in your local.  


Selecting and Supporting Trainers

Trainers are the backbone of any high-quality professional learning program. When building a program, locals must develop a system to identify, recruit, prepare and support trainers. Trainers should be exemplary in their profession and have strong communications, problem-solving and leadership skills.

It is essential to outline expectations and responsibilities of trainers early in the process so that candidates understand the role and time commitment.

The AFT PD program is based on a capacity-building training-of-trainers model. A local that chooses to become involved in AFT PD identifies one or more individuals to attend an AFT-sponsored Summer Educator Academy. At the SEA, participants learn about the research and its applications, as well as strategies and skills to help them present this information to classroom practitioners and school-related personnel.

The Role of the Local Site Coordinator

The local site coordinator (LSC) is the individual designated by the local president to be responsible for the overall management of the AFT PD program in their local.

LSCs will receive training and support from the AFT to learn how to establish and manage a local PD program, budgeting, marketing and logistical planning for professional learning sessions in an ongoing process. Above all, they learn how to deal with the adult learner, a skill essential to their success.

Outreach, Marketing, Creating Buy-in

The success of a professional learning program is dependent on the interest and participation of members; thus, the best programs survey members to assess their needs and wants, design offerings that meet those needs, and implement marketing and outreach strategies to inform and engage members about professional learning opportunities that have been tailored to them.

To build sustainable support for the local’s program, it is important to build relationships with the district and higher education programs when possible. One way to do that is to invite school board members, district administrators and other stakeholders to attend a professional learning offering.

Logistics and Accessibility

Significant logistical planning is required to ensure that professional learning offerings run smoothly and efficiently, and to guarantee all participants are able to access events with minimal inconvenience and maximum benefit. Ensure that there is capacity to do this important but easy-to-overlook component of developing an effective program.

Financing Your Program


AFT professional learning has been designed so that every local, small or large, can afford it. However, a financial commitment will be required for successful implementation. District and union leadership should jointly decide how elaborate and costly your program will be. Most successful programs start out with a modest budget and then grow incrementally with time. Consider how partnering with the district can ease the financial burden to the union while providing high-value, locally based professional learning opportunities to the district at a reasonable cost.

Maintaining Course Content

Successful professional learning programs and learning systems cultivate high standards for program development. Content standards are customized locally to ensure professional learning offerings fulfill the needs of the participants.

Periodic review of course offerings every 3-5 years is suggested to ensure content reflects new research, policy changes, and the changing needs of members.

Building Labor-Management Relations

To build and sustain a successful professional learning program and learning system, collaboration with the school district is all but essential. Designing a program that is tailored to the district’s needs and priorities will make it easier to establish a labor-management relationship. The end goal is to use that relationship to create the learning structures, arrange the schedules and provide job-embedded support teachers need to deliberately and successfully implement high-quality instruction gleaned from their professional learning experiences, in order to impact student achievement.


Our staff can assist in developing a strategy for engagement. Contact us for assistance.

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