Six Degrees of Professional Development

Many years ago, a play called “Six Degrees of Separation” so titled because of a theory popularized in a story written by a Hungarian writer. A little later on, and based on this theory, a “party game” was created called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” in which you can take any actor alive or dead and connect them to Mr. Bacon within six people–or six degrees. Yours truly can also be connected to Kevin Bacon, only by two people. In the mid-’90s, a movie was released, “Something to Talk About,” starring Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid. I won’t go into detail about the movie’s plot, but they are a southern family, and the daughter of Julia’s and Dennis’s character rides horses for competition. In my hometown of Perry, Georgia, we have fairgrounds with several arenas capable of holding horse jumping competitions, so Warner Brothers decided to film several scenes of the daughter’s competition in Perry. Of course, they needed a lot of extras to be a part of the audience, so I volunteered. Well, it just so happens that Kyra Sedwick plays another character, a sister of Julia’s character. Kyra Sedwick is married to Kevin Bacon (yes, surprisingly, they are still together!). So, within two “degrees,” I am connected to Kevin Bacon because I was an extra in a movie his wife filmed.

I shared that story because, abstractly, we want our instruction to be one degree of separation from our students—the closer the instructional connection to our students, the better the chance of seeing them succeed. I then began to think about professional development, which educators should be attending to stay current on trends in education and teaching. ISTE 4.5 for coaching states, “Coaches plan, provide and evaluate the impact of professional learning for educators and leaders to use technology to advance teaching and learning” (ISTE). Thinking through that standard prompted me to ask the question, “What is the relationship between professional development and student learning so that I, as a technology coach, can ensure proper planning? I, like most teachers, attend professional development every year. I always choose the workshops that most interest me. I have never thought, “how will this workshop most benefit my students?” Yes, each professional development may have been planned with the students in mind, but it is not at the forefront of my mind if I am truthful.

In the essay, “Connecting Instructional Technology Professional Development to Teacher and Student Outcomes,” Martin and Strother note, “instructional-technology PD (Professional Development) that is closely aligned to a program’s core conceptual foundations can lead to positive . . . student outcomes” (71). I did not discuss the technology side of professional development because I see all PD as necessary. Still, this essay discusses technology PD based on the assumption that the 21st-century learner and technology go hand-in-hand. I believe enhancing a lesson with technology is essential for student achievement. The authors also say, “Teachers who have successfully integrated technology in the classroom have reported experiencing PD that helps them to understand how technologies can connect to curriculum and standards and provides a sound pedagogical approach”(54). It is through this “sound” pedagogy, teachers will see success in their students.

In an article titled, “Digital Professional Development & the Case to Invest More,” the author quotes Sonal Patel, coordinator of digital learning innovation, reiterates the Martin and Strother essay saying, “that meaningful and purposeful technology PD for teachers can enhance student outcomes. ‘For one, technology can be used to remove barriers and create a more personalized experience for educators and students'”(par. 5). What Patel is saying is significant. Technology, in many ways, allows teachers to differentiate instruction to better support many learning levels. For example, with some software, the same text can be assigned to all the students, but the Lexile level can be changed based on each students’ reading level. This is a game-changer for many teachers who require minimal training to use the software.

Technology PD is needed for teachers to best create lesson plans; these are the backbone for successful student achievement because the lesson plans are guided by the standards, and the technology used helps develop more effective classroom instruction. As a coach, I now recognize the importance of not just planning good PD, but making sure that I ask myself, “How is this promoting student success or student achievement? Then, what technology will help, as Patel says, “create a more personalize experience for educators and students?”


Cunningham, E. (2021, May 10). Digital Professional Development & the case to invest more. Technology Solutions That Drive Education. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from

ISTE standards: Coaches. ISTE. (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2022, from

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Martin, W., Struther, S., Beglau, M., Bates, L., Reitzes, T., & McMillan Culp, K. (n.d.). Connecting Instructional Technology Professional … – eric. Eric Database. Retrieved January 24, 2022, from

Six Degrees image url:

Something to Talk About image url:

2 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Professional Development

  1. Nick R says:

    Jeff, your blog posts are always so enjoyable to read. I love the connections you make between pop culture and the focus of your current investigation. What really struck me was how important it is for PD to make clear connections between sound pedagogy and technology integration. I also gathered from your research that good Ed Tech PD explicitly addresses instructional challenges teachers encounter that have a direct impact on student learning/achievement. I also appreciated the reflective questions you pose at the end to ensure student outcomes are at the forefront of PD. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Deanna Bush says:

    You make some great points in this blog post, Jeff. As a Language Arts teacher, I was especially interested in the software that changes the reading level of text. Common Lit and Scope both offer “high” and “low” reading levels, but there are so many different levels of reading in addition to those two. I love the focus on technology and PD that helps teachers support student success and personalizing learning without adding additional work to their already staggering load.


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