Professional Development eKit


Professional Development (PD) is how we improve teaching, increase student achievement, and retain teachers.

However, music teachers often receive nonmusical PD that does not help us strengthen curriculum, improve music assessment, or learn ways to better support students’ music learning.

What is effective professional development for music teachers? NAfME offers music teachers many musical PD options, including informative state and national NAfME conferences.

But music teachers need multiple forms of PD. Researchers have identified seven essential elements of effective PD experiences.


Effective Teacher Professional Development:

  1. differentiates between needs of beginning and experienced teachers
  2. is musical
  3. places teachers within a supportive community of learners
  4. is voluntary, featuring elements of autonomy and choice
  5. provides opportunity for reflection in a cycle of innovation, feedback, and reconsideration.
  6. is sustained, with ample site-specific support for classroom implementation.
  7. results in improved musical achievement for students.

According to teacher education researcher Sharon Feiman-Nemser, “If we want schools to produce more powerful learning on the part of students, we have to offer more powerful learning opportunities to teachers”  [S. Feiman-Nemser, “From Preparation to Practice: Designing a Continuum to Strengthen and Sustain Teaching,” Teachers College Record 103, no. 6 (2001): 1014.].

When we create PD using these characteristics, music teachers experience powerful learning, and as a result our students do, too.  This Professional Development eKit gives teachers, administrators, and PD providers practical ideas for structuring PD that works.


What Makes Professional Development Effective for Music Teachers?


1. Effective Professional Development is not “one size fits all”—it differentiates between needs of beginning and experienced teachers:

  •  Beginning teachers need effective mentoring.
  •  Early- to mid-career teachers need ways to study teaching practice. They need support in making changes to improve student achievement.
  •  Veteran teachers need ways to organize their wisdom to help newcomers. They need ways to stay current with contemporary educational policy and expectations.


2. Effective Professional Development is musical.

Beginning Teacher Examples  [All names are pseudonyms.]

Ron, a young high school band teacher and trumpeter, plays in a community orchestra where he engages in active music-making and is immersed in musical content that gives him ideas for his own ensemble. He makes professional and musical connections with others. He feels less isolated, improves his musicianship, and has a chance to think deeply about what’s needed to perform with a group—much as he asks his students to do every day.

Sue, a recent graduate and an instrumental music education major, is in her first year of teaching middle school general music and chorus. She has enrolled in voice and guitar lessons at her local community college.

Katie, an elementary band teacher, goes one night a week to her local university to meet with other elementary teachers who want to learn how to incorporate improvisation and composition in beginning instrumental music. They eat pizza, share ideas, and practice techniques in improvisation and composition with one of the jazz music education faculty members.


Experienced Teacher Examples

Debbie is an elementary string teacher with 10 years’ experience. She meets for one afternoon a month with other string teachers in her county, all of whom have release time and bring a lunch. They read new string ensemble music together and take turns conducting their “teacher orchestra.”

Jesse is a veteran high school choir director. Each week he hosts a “healthy voice class” with all the choral teachers in the district. The teachers share warm-ups and learn techniques for teaching and learning proper vocal technique, both to prevent teacher injury and to promote correct technique among their students. The weekly voice class is also an opportunity for Jesse to take a half-hour before or afterward to mentor the two beginning choral teachers in the district.

Sean is a high school band teacher. He is enrolled in a two-hour graduate music course in improvisation.


3. Effective Professional Development places teachers in a supportive community of learners.

  •  Music educators’ jobs are often isolated. Music teachers need opportunities to collaborate with a community of peers.
  • Communities can be formed in a school, district, county, or state, or online.


Beginning Teacher Examples

 Productive curriculum meetings can be extraordinary learning experiences for beginning teachers. Jennifer, a new elementary general music teacher, works on benchmarks for student achievement in monthly meetings with other general music teachers in the school district. These meetings are facilitated by Sally, a senior teacher who has advanced training in curricular mapping and leadership. Twice a semester, Jennifer attends meetings for all district music teachers, which help her understand her role within the district in affecting students’ musical development.  Several times a year, Jennifer meets with grade-level groups at her elementary school to find points of intersection between the music curriculum and the yearlong plans of the classroom teachers.


Experienced Teacher Examples

Sally received district-paid graduate credit for attending a curricular mapping seminar and group leadership training. She also participates in an informal lunchtime book discussion group with other teachers from her school. They are currently reading a book on classroom management.

Mark, a veteran elementary chorus teacher, attends a weekly collaborative teacher study group facilitated by a music education faculty member at a local university. The four-person study group is devoted to looking at student work in the form of videos from its members’ classrooms and rehearsals.


4. Effective Professional Development is voluntary and features autonomy and choice.

  •  Teachers learn best when they choose their own role (mentor, facilitator, learner, observer) and their own delivery medium (e.g., online, face-to-face, lectures, small- or large-group learning).


Beginning Teacher Examples

Peer mentoring is effective for beginning music teachers because both parties are teacher and learner, share similar status, and make a conscious choice to participate in the relationship. Charlie, a beginning elementary band teacher, engages in peer mentoring with Chad, one of his fellow music-school graduates. They interact online and on the phone weekly, with monthly face-to-face meetings. Charlie acts as both teacher and learner in the relationship, contributing his own knowledge as well as benefiting from Chad’s. He is able to personalize his learning because he chooses topics on which to seek guida nce most relevant to his teaching situation.

Joan, a beginning band director at a large high school, has 45 minutes a week of release time to observe Jerry, an experienced band director at another large high school across town. Joan usually has two or three pertinent questions to ask Jerry about his rehearsals, and she takes Jerry’s ideas directly back to her classroom.


Experienced Teacher Examples

Rhonda has been teaching high school choir in the same community for 30 years. She organized a vocal jazz festival, inviting professional, amateur, and student groups from all over the region to perform for one another. The various directors served as clinicians and took turns working with one another’s groups. Rhonda said the musical and administrative demands of the festival were great learning experiences.

Sandy was interested in learning more about teacher or action research. She had many questions about the nature of student learning in her elementary music classroom and wanted to create a systematic way to study the achievement of her students. She got professional development credit from her district for enrolling in a graduate class, “Teacher Inquiry and Research,” where she designed and conducted a study on her students’ creative compositions.


5. Effective Professional Development provides opportunity for reflection in a cycle of innovation, feedback, and reconsideration.

  •  A cyclical process of learning is more effective than brief, sporadic attempts to try new things.
  •  Reflection and feedback work best when teachers have support from colleagues who share similar professional concerns and who will encourage them in a nonthreatening manner.


Beginning Teacher Examples

Beginning teachers are often in the “self” stage— learning to practice meaningful reflection techniques—and can particularly benefit from experienced music teachers’ modeling their reflective process.  As part of a video narration project, Amy spent professional development hours with her mentor Jayme. First, Jayme narrated a video of her own teaching. This gave Amy an example of reflection in-action, both while the lesson unfolded on film and after the lesson was finished. Then Amy worked on her own narrative reflection on Jayme’s video. As the final step in the process, Amy reflected on a video of her own teaching.


Experienced Teacher Examples

 Joan is in her eighth year of teaching and is participating in a district-led e-portfolios initiative to encourage continuous reflective thinking. She is journaling online and uploading documents, video, and recordings to document her own learning over the course of a school year, as well as the resulting musical progress of her students. Her team teacher Julie is engaged in the same process, and they help each other in these efforts.


6. Effective Professional Development is sustained, with ample site-specific support for classroom implementation.

  •  Professional development is more than single conference presentations or in-service days. More than an hourly requirement, professional development is a long-term approach to learning:  a semester-, year-, or career-long venture.
  •  Music teachers need support in translating new concepts and ideas into their own unique classroom context and school site.

[All examples in this document are both sustained and site-specific.]


7. Effective Professional Development results in improved musical achievement for students.

  •  The goal of music teacher PD is improved student musical achievement. Teachers who engage in sustained efforts to improve their teaching will perceive gains in student achievement.


Beginning Teacher Examples

Beginning teachers will be motivated by PD they can connect to improved student learning. Rick, a beginning choir teacher, needed multiple ideas that could be easily implemented for assessing student learning such as rubrics, rating scales, and portfolios. His state NAfME affiliate sponsored a series of workshops where assessment tools were shared among beginning and expert teachers.


Experienced  Teacher Examples

Experienced teachers may be newly inspired by the connection between professional development and students’ music achievement.

Experienced teachers are usually at the point in their careers when they feel comfortable in the classroom, and secure in their content knowledge. They need time to seek out and try best practices.

Sunnyside School District took a two-pronged approach to PD for their experienced teachers: (1) Release time was provided for partnering with other teachers to pilot systematic teaching approaches that have been successful for others and allow the teachers time for ongoing dialogue on translating theory (research) into practice; (2) Release time was provided for teachers serving on state, regional, and national boards, committees, and curricular initiatives, with the requirement that teachers return and provide PD for other teachers based on this work outside the district.

See a more detailed, downloadable version of these examples that you can print to show colleagues or administrators.


This eKit was a collaborative project by members of NAfME’s Society for Music Teacher Education “Professional Development for Experienced Teachers” Area for Strategic Planning and Action (ASPA):

Ann Marie Stanley, Cochair: Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Alden Snell, Cochair: University of Delaware, Newark
Ed Duling, University of Toledo, Ohio
Julie Derges Kastner, University of Houston, Texas
Tami J. Draves, University of Arizona, Tucson
Eva Floyd, University of Cincinnati College–Conservatory of Music, Cincinnati, Ohio
Jennifer L. R. GreeneFayetteville-Manlius High School, Manlius, New York
Carolyn Minear, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, Illinois
Alison Reynolds, Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
David Stringham, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Some Helpful Professional Development Resources


  • Start where you stand: Your state music education association is a good place to start. See a list of all the Federated State Associations of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME).
  • Know the ropes: If your district has a supervisor of music or fine arts, he or she might be a wonderful source of professional development ideas, as well as the person who knows what’s needed to stay current.
  • Consider online learning:  Many colleges and universities are now offering distance learning. Online courses offer convenience and access to many topics. Many classes are free or low-cost, but some are as pricey as on-campus offerings.  Check each school’s offerings, and make sure the credits you earn will qualify toward professional development in your jurisdiction.  Keep excellent records of what you pay and what you learn; there may be tax credits or professional deductions available to you.
  • Learn to teach guitar:  Teaching Guitar Workshops (TGW) are five-day professional development opportunities that help you start or enhance a classroom guitar program. TGW, sponsored by NAfME, GAMA, NAMM and Duquesne University, also provide three graduate credits, a guitar, method books, and guitar accessories to attendees. NAfME members are encouraged to attend one of these weeklong events. For site locations, applications and for more information, visit To get your name on the list to take a TGW I, the first level (where participants receive the graduate credit and the instrument), please contact
  • Read to Succeed:  Check out the following resources for your own and others’ professional development:
    1. The Musician’s Journey:  Crafting Your Career Vision and Plan by Jill Timmons (Oxford University Press, 2013;
    2. The Music Teacher’s First Year by Elizabeth Peterson (Meredith Music Publications, 2011,
    3. The First Days of School by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong (Harry K. Wong Publications, 2009;
  • Travel to learn:  Attend your state/regional music educators conferences, as well as national events such as the following, to stay current, network with colleagues, and gain professional development credit for sessions attended:


For more information, contact Ella Wilcox at NAfME 

© National Association for Music Education Society for Music Teacher Education, 2015