The Confianza Way: Effective PD Is a Process, Not an Event

by Marjorie Kirstein

Imagine spending the day in a hot, dark auditorium on the day after the last day of school. The power is out, the professional development (PD) presenter has laryngitis, and your school administration has decided to go ahead with mandatory professional development. Imagine being trained at the end of June in computer software that you will not use until September. If you are a teacher, you may have similar memories of professional development that just didn’t work. I’ve attended numerous PD sessions over more than two decades as a teacher. Some were required, and some I attended voluntarily. I was kind of a PD junkie, constantly seeking answers to the many challenges that come with being an ESL teacher. Post-PD, I always tried to implement what I learned. Even with the highest quality PD, it was hard to sustain meaningful change in my teaching based on short-term exposure. According to a 2017 report from the Learning Policy Institute, “traditional PD rarely makes room for participants to connect the content to their individual contexts to build understanding, and provides no opportunities for participants to learn skills or strategies by actively trying them out.” 

So when I sat down to hear Sarah Ottow present at the 2016 MATSOL (Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages) conference, I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary. The presentation was titled, “Differentiated Professional Development for All Educators of ELLs.” Suddenly I was riveted! Sarah was describing an approach to PD that was dramatically different from anything I had experienced before. Sarah and Gen Grieci, Bilingual Program Director of Framingham Public Schools, described an approach to PD (described in this blog, coincidentally written on my birthday) that blended a series of workshops with coaching sessions, providing the participants with the knowledge and the time to try out the new skills in their classrooms. To demonstrate their competencies, teachers completed an "Action Cycle" capstone individually or in teams to address an ELL-focused problem of practice.  

I had been exposed to Action Research in my graduate program but had never seen it used to train teachers. This was really powerful! As soon as Sarah’s presentation was finished, I marched up to the front of the room and asked if I could send her my resume. This is not something I typically do, but I felt strongly that I wanted to be part of this particular PD approach. I’ve been a Confianza consultant since 2016 and have seen firsthand how the “Confianza Way” takes the long view of PD and supports educators’ ability to grow new mindsets and incorporate new strategies into their practice in practical, meaningful ways.

What makes this approach to PD so compelling? Confianza’s interactive approach to PD, use of the Action Cycle, and inclusion of post-PD coaching are aligned with features identified by educational neuroscientist David A. Sousa in in Brain-Friendly Learning for Teachers that generate positive responses in teachers. Confianza’s blended professional learning approach

  • offers learning experiences associated with challenge and creativity using tools for self-assessment and inquiry
  • speaks to problems that teachers identify through personalized action plans,
  • supports hands-on participation by incorporating interactive strategies into PD
  • allows participants to give feedback on the PD—and receive regular feedback in follow-up sessions

Below are a few examples of Confianza Professional Learning Partnerships that embody Confianza’s foundational principles of inquiry, action, support, and feedback.:

St. Martini School, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Confianza’s Success for Multilingual Learners Program combining workshops with classroom coaching resulted in an immediate shift in mindset as well as a sustainable shift in the way our teachers backward plan, shares Principal Carly Hertel, “Confianza has transformed the way my team of teachers and support staff think about our instruction and implementation of curriculum. I have seen how Confianza has given the tools to keep the rigor high for ALL students in our urban setting and to close achievement gaps. Confianza has been a blessing to our teacher team, support staff, students, and families.”

Westborough Public Schools, Massachusetts

Another successful Professional Learning Partnership with Confianza blended online learning with hands-on classroom practice through coaching to enhance co-teaching practices. As Daniel Mayer, Westborough Assistant Superintendent explains, “Working with the Confianza team enhanced the capacity of our district to teach all students. Our building principals, central office staff, and teachers have been inspired by their engaging in hands-on professional development. Confianza has helped us to create vibrant co-teaching teams and provided us with valuable observational data about our language and literacy practices.”

New York City Charter Schools Collaborative for Inclusive Education

Confianza’s partnerships support not just individual schools and districts but also networks. At the New York City Charter Schools Collaborative for Inclusive Education, a series of workshops supplemented with online learning provided leaders practical tools for analyzing curriculum, instruction and assessment for linguistically diverse learners. As Ronald Watson, Professional Learning Community Leader reported, “Asking questions, diving deeper, reevaluating tools for bias, recognizing your own personal bias, defining and understanding the qualities of effective instruction--I found this [professional learning] insightful and inspiring.” Melissa Katz, the center’s Director of Multilingual Learner Supports agrees, “I was so impressed with the ability to navigate difficult conversations of privilege and identity and really appreciated the balance of theory and practice. If you are looking for support on how to tackle instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse learners, I would highly recommend partnering with Confianza.”

Tashkent International School, Uzbekistan

Supporting multilingual learners is important not just in the United States but in international schools as well. At the Tashkent International School in Uzbekistan, Confianza customized on-site and follow-up support for instructors and school leaders. “We are busy taking to heart the action steps as a result of our partnership with Confianza, including systemizing communication with parents about selected tiered vocabulary, discussions about where and how to incorporate the language pieces into our planners so they are accessible, visible, and regularly utilized, and continuing to clarify roles in how best to use the time and expertise of our ELL teachers,” explains Robyn Ibrahim, Assistant Principal/PYP Coordinator, Tashkent International School, Uzbekistan. 

Keeping in mind the “Confianza Way” when designing professional learning experiences for your district, school, or professional learning network is an optimal way to engage teachers in their own learning and build sustainable change. We work collaboratively with schools, districts, and networks to co-create goals based on context-specific strengths and needs, provide support and feedback, measure impact for educators and students.

To Further your Learning:


Rucker, K. (2018). The Six Flaws of “Traditional” Professional Development. Retrieved from 

Souza, D.A. (2009). Brain-Friendly Learning for Teachers. Retrieved from 

See our set of professional learning offering options.


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