Blended Professional Development: Assessing Needs

By: Judy Zorfass, Tracy Gray, and PowerUp WHAT WORKS


The first article in our series on blended professional development (PD) provided an overview, drawing on the exciting resources and information available at PowerUp What Works. Taking the next step, here you will learn about ways to access the needs of your intended audience for blended PD which might include general and special education teachers, school administrators, specialists, and other staff.

A well-designed needs assessment will allow you to identify more specific objectives aligned to the short- and long- term goals of your district or school. What is the source of those goals? Are they aligned with the Common Core Standards, College and Career Readiness Standards, those of your state or local school district?

Clarity about overarching goals helps set the context for determining specific PD objectives in English Language Arts (reading, writing, listening, and speaking), mathematics, science, social studies, history, technology, and/or vocational skills.

Your Needs Assessment

First, you will need data about what your audience already knows and what the participants hope to learn during the session. For example:

  • How can we better understand the challenges students face in learning a particular subject?
  • What evidence-based instructional and assessment practices can support all students, especially those who struggle and face disabilities?
  • What technology tools are currently being used in your school or district?
  • How do we successfully align and integrate technology tools into evidence-based practices?
  • How can we translate the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into practice to differentiate and personalize instruction?

You can select among several strategies for gathering the information needed to set specific objectives for each learning session . For example, you can observe teachers in action in their classrooms; conduct focus groups; interview individual teachers, administrators, and specialists; and/or use an online or offline surveys, questionnaires, or checklists. Combining these strategies provides you with different perspectives and uncovers a variety of participant needs. One strategy for information gather that led to more fine-tuned coaching is presented below.

Below is an excerpt from a case study that describes how special education coaches in Dallas, Texas used needs assessment to ensure that they would help a classroom teacher productively use PowerUp to deepen her instructional knowledge.

Tools to Use

Surveys and questionnaires are useful tools for conducting a needs assessment. Below are two examples of valuable tools: (1) the Quick Teacher Survey from PowerUp Your Professional Development and (2) The EdTech Locator from PowerUp Your School.

The Quick Teacher Survey

This quick survey can help you gain a better understanding of your teachers’ technology skills and knowledge. It is divided into four sections: (1) General Technology Use in Education, (2) Specific Technology Use in the Classroom, (3) Opinions and Attitudes about Technology Integration, and (4) Areas of Improvement / Technical Needs. Below is a screenshot of the questions in Section 2.

EdTech Locator

This tool provides free access to an online self-assessment of readiness for technology implementation school-wide (consisting of five questions), as well as a planning worksheet to advance the process. There are separate sections for teachers, administrators, tech coordinators, and PD coordinators, which also include descriptors/markers of individual stages (early, development, and target) of task completion.

The screenshot below shows one teacher question and possible responses that can promote reflection.

Coming Next

The third article in our series will focus on how to use the information gathered during a needs assessment to plan your blended PD. It will explore which types of face-to-face and virtual activities will meet your goals, what is the best combination, how to sequence, with what frequency, and how to engage in ongoing formative assessment to strengthen the PD over time.

Judy Zorfass, Tracy Gray, and PowerUp WHAT WORKS (2015)