TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap RETIRED

Professional Development for Inclusive Education


To provide guidance regarding the development of a comprehensive professional development (PD) plan as part of the TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap, including the content and process activities necessary to build capacity (knowledge, skills, and confidence) in order to provide inclusive education for all students with disabilities, explicitly including those with significant cognitive disabilities. 

Creating a professional development plan, rather than a schedule of professional development activities, is essential to establish, sustain, and scale up inclusive education initiatives. To achieve the intended outcomes of any systems change effort, school and district leaders must ensure that all administrators and teachers gain a strong understanding of the rationale for and expected outcomes of inclusive education. After completing and identifying which system priorities to focus on, leadership identifies the areas where the system needs to build capacity and then determines the best methods to introduce and support learning in the organization. Likewise, instructional teams must take the knowledge and skills they learn and collaboratively apply them to provide effective instruction inclusive of all students (Showers, 1990).

Clearly articulated teacher and student outcomes drive the creation of an effective PD plan. The content of the professional development plan provides school personnel with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve the outcomes, and a data-based evaluation process will identify additional needs that arise and drive changes or additions to the PD plan. The processes used to support learning during professional development, and transfer to practice, must meet the needs of adult learners. The context in which the PD will be delivered is also relevant to decisions regarding the delivery and content of PD. For more details about designing effective professional development refer to Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Development

Inclusive Education Professional Development

Regardless of the level of the system, the priorities identified for building a comprehensive, sustainable inclusive education system through the TIES Reflection on Inclusive Systems of Education (RISE) tool provides key information for developing a professional development plan. The RISE self-reflection is completed annually to identify priorities, growth or stagnation in the key focus areas, and fidelity of implementation of system-wide inclusive practices. These implementation data paired with other outcome systems and student outcome data (such as percentage of students in the least restrictive environment, access to the general education curriculum, graduation rates, aggregated classroom observation data by coaches and administrators) provide key insights for the leadership team in developing professional development plans. 

A professional development plan for inclusive education should include general information for all school personnel as well as more specific information for smaller stakeholder groups. 

To create an inclusive school and district culture that encourages all students to be viewed as general education students first, it is helpful to use an inclusive approach to professional development. General and special education teachers should attend professional development activities as grade-level or subject-area teams and all PD activities for teachers should be designed to be relevant to this mixed group. Examples given during PD activities should include learners of all ability levels and with a variety of learning differences, inclusive of those students with significant cognitive disabilities. 

Characteristics of an Effective Professional Development Plan

Guiding Questions

  1. What are the goals and related outcomes that you wish to achieve through the creation of your professional development plan for inclusive education? 
  2. What types of professional development activities (see below) will you provide in order to support adult learning (for example, webinar/presentation, work sessions, professional learning communities, coaching) that build knowledge, skills, and their application in the general education classroom?
  3. What topics will you provide professional development on to increase knowledge, skills, and their application in general education classes (for example, research base for inclusive education, general education curriculum access, and adaptations; supporting peer interactions)? 
  4. Who will organize and deliver the professional development activities? How will you ensure high-quality professional development
  5. How and to whom will coaching be provided to support the transfer of learning to planning and instructing in inclusive classrooms? Who will serve as the coaches?
  6. How will you assess participants’ satisfaction PDF ?
  7. How will you assess increases in participants’ skills and knowledge PDF  and the impact on student learning?
  8. How can information regarding inclusive education be embedded into other professional development offerings (for example, curriculum offerings, equity offerings)?
  9. How will you ensure sufficient professional development opportunities related to inclusive education for general and special educators, collaborative teams, paraprofessionals, other school/district personnel and families?

Variety of Professional Development Activities

Understanding what effective professional development (PD) includes and why is key to supporting systemic change. Individuals learn in different ways. It is estimated that individual teachers require a minimum of fourteen hours to become effective in different educational strategies. This is in addition to ongoing professional coaching and feedback (Hanover Research, 2017).

Professional development is best delivered through multiple means. Adult learners benefit from a menu of professional development options that enable them to choose the best match for their learning style. Additionally, an array of professional development options that are strategically layered throughout the school year supports building and transference of knowledge and skills into practice. Research tells us that there often is a mismatch between the type of professional development delivered and the expectation of changing instructional practices . Bush (1984) found that large group presentations led to a change in behaviors in the classroom for only 10% of the participants. When modeling and demonstration were added to the lecture, an additional 2-3% of people transferred the new information to practice. When practice in controlled environments was added to the PD, another 2-3% transferred the learning. When feedback was added to these PD methods another 2-3% of the participants transferred to the classroom. But, when coaching was added as part of the professional development plan, 95% of the participants transferred what they learned to practice (see Table 1 below).

Table 1: Transfer of learning resulting from different forms of professional development (Bush, 1984)

Professional Development Components

% of Participants Who Transferred New Learning to Practice

If you had 100 people, approximately this many people would transfer the knowledge and skills gained to practice: 

Large group presentations



Modeling and demonstrations added

Additional 2-3%


Practice in controlled setting added

Additional 2-3%


Feedback added to the practice added

Additional 2-3%


Coaching added



Many of these options can be delivered in-person as well as virtually. The mode of delivery should also be taken into consideration when planning, as there are benefits and limitations to each. (Refer to Table 2, below, for a menu of professional learning activities). Other professional learning activities can also be built into your menu, such as journaling. 

Table 2: Menu of Professional Learning Activities

Professional Learning Activity


Barriers to be Removed or Minimized


  • Strong driver in changing practice

  • Highly individualized and customized to meet the needs for professional growth for an individual or a team

  • Can be customized for coaching teachers, administrators, preparing coaches, and instructional teams

  • Utilizes EBPs that include pre-planning, observation, data, and feedback cycles

  • Can be done at an individual or small team level

  • Greater expense both in terms of time and personnel

  • Assuring that coaching cycles can be carried through

  • Assuring that the coaches are expert in their knowledge of inclusive education practices for a wide array of students, including those with significant cognitive disabilities as well as adult learning

  • Requires time and preparation to build the trust among colleagues to maximize the benefits of coaching

Teachers co-planning lessons and co-teaching

  • General educators, special educators and/or English Learner educators, plan, implement and reflect afterwards on their lessons and student learning

  • Ongoing learning by general educators about specialized instruction. Ongoing learning by special educators about general education standards and curriculum

  • Scheduling regular collaborative planning time for co-planning teams

  • Supporting the development of co-teachers as they work through the stages of developing powerful co-planning, co-teaching and co-evaluation

Team discussion of data for instructional planning

  • Learning is grounded in instruction, student outcomes, and next steps to continually enhance learning

  • Teams of general educators and special educators are collaborating to learn together about implementing evidence-based practices (EBP) based on their student data

  • General educators, special educators and/or English Learner educators, plan, implement and reflect afterwards on their lessons and student learning

  • Ongoing learning by general educators about specialized instruction. Ongoing learning by special educators about general education standards and curriculum

  • Assuring that the system and teams have a plan for collecting data as part of the instructional cycle so that student learning can be determined 

  • A regular, ongoing schedule for teams to analyze data to assure progress 

  • Building the knowledge base of what the data means, how to analyze data, and determining follow-up actions

Inclusive Education“Help Desk”

  • Creates a time and place (virtual or in-person) for individual teachers and instructional teams (including parents) to brainstorm questions and challenges about implementing inclusive education

  • Supported by district and building staff (and even external partners) who facilitate a process for thinking through and responding to the question

  • Responsive to immediate needs of teachers with built-in check in after the meeting

  • Low stress opportunity for feedback and support for teachers while building their knowledge and skills 

  • Collecting data about the questions brought to the Help Desk may also identify areas for capacity building within the larger organization

  • Each Help Desk process does not need to be organized in a specific way. The process followed should be customized to the needs of each organization

  • Ensuring that staff who support an Inclusive Education Help Desk have the beliefs, knowledge, and skills to problem solve inclusive education situations.

Learning Walks: Observations of others’ instruction followed by a reflective discussion to apply what was learned

  • Follows structured protocols both before, during and after the observation

  • Can be scheduled and routinely conducted, or planned in an emergent fashion

  • Allows for the person observing to gain and share insight(s) that might not otherwise be highlighted in other PD offerings, as it is close to practice level

  • Supports cross organization/ team learning

  • Requires preparation to build the trust among colleagues to build the comfort and acceptance that others will be observing their practice 

  • Follow up reflection on what was learned must be scheduled so as to facilitate the transfer of learning.

  • More challenging to schedule, particularly at the school level

Individual learning by reading targeted materials, watching videos, etc.

  • Allows maximum flexibility 

  • Allows for various forms of adult learning

  • Incorporates and supports self-directed learning

The knowledge gained remains with a single person unless this is in incorporated with other PD plans for reflection and application, such as  sharing in  dyads or teams

Small group presentations

  • Provides more specific content

  • May be more individualized to needs of teams and students

  • May be scheduled more in the moment

  • Offers greater opportunity for discussion

  • May not be planned with the bigger picture/ planning in mind 

  • If done during a regular small group meeting, such as regular grade level team meetings, and not well integrated, it could impact other collaboration planning

Large group presentations

  • Provides a large amount of general content knowledge to a large group of participants

  • Is efficient in use of time and resources

  • Used alone, this lacks follow up and/or feedback or job-embedded facets of adult learning

  • May not occur in a timely fashion that is responsive to needs or goals due to being scheduled in advance (many times identified months prior) or the time is not available.