Building an Audience for Your K-12 Professional Development Class

building and audience for your K-12 professional development class

You have decided to offer a class to K-12 teachers and administrators for their professional development needs. This is your first offering. Your class topic is timely and engaging and as a result, you anticipate a lot of registrations for your class. So why is it you only have a few registrations?

In marketing, I hear that question from time to time. The question is usually followed by, “Can we market this class more to get more registrations?” Well, technically speaking, yes, there is always more marketing that can be done; however, this question has a lot more going on than one might understand. In this post, we will take a look at the first offering of any K-12 professional development course and some variables that determine participant numbers.

  1. Branding (or, What Your Class Looks Like to a Buyer)



Branding is a marketing industry term that describes all the things that make up a company or product from logos to packaging. In education, we don’t really have a physical package we place a product in, but each course does have its own type of packaging.

A potential student cannot hold education in their hand, education is intangible, which requires a unique style of branding. In deciding whether or not to take a class, a participant will not use standard senses to determine if they want to buy an education. Meaning, they are not going to pick up a class and hold it in their hands to determine its quality or lack thereof. That is where marketers must appeal to a participant’s logic and curiosity.

Branding elements of a class includes the title, description, images we use, textbooks, communication, and instructor biography. If any of these elements are weak, it may lead to fewer enrollments.

To effectively market a class, we need the best possible information from each instructor. So, don’t skim over these important brand-building elements when building your class. Because this aspect is so important, I plan to write a more in-depth post about branding, specific to education in the future and will link to that when it is posted. You may also want to read about what to think about when designing a professional development class.


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…the biggest mistake a new professional development instructor can make is to cancel the first offering of their class because the student enrollment is not what they expected.


  1. Word-of-Mouth Advertising

Tin can phone


It is true, word-of-mouth advertising doesn’t really help you gain more students for the first offering of your class, but to be honest, the first offering of your class will nearly always see lower enrollment. Why? Because your class is new. Anything new takes a while to gain a following. But as we all know, anything new and exciting, quickly gains a strong following.

In my years of experience in the K-12 professional development world, I have learned that teachers want to take classes from individuals whom they either know personally or have heard good things about from their fellow teachers. Knowing this, you begin to see how word of mouth takes on a very important role in marketing your class. For more ways you can promote your class, read this post.

The process begins with a well-branded, timely topic, which enrolls a few brave souls. Those brave souls, if they liked the course, become influencers. They tell their fellow teachers about your class, what they learned, and why those teachers should also take the class. In future offerings of your class, you continue to build your influencer group and as a result, you may continue to see your enrollment grow.

However, the biggest mistake a new professional development instructor can make is to cancel the first offering of their class because the student enrollment is not what they expected. I will better explain why canceling the first offering of a class is so detrimental to the brand of your class in another blog post, which I will link to here when it is posted.

  1. Target Audience Size

looking glass on target audience


Every class has a target audience. Some of our largest classes have a target audience consisting of any general classroom teacher, of any grade-level. Which can mean there are dozens to hundreds of teachers per school per district.

Some of our smaller classes may have a target audience consisting of only biology teachers. These classes are expected to be smaller because of its smaller target audience size. Each district has fewer middle schools and high schools and fewer biology teachers in each school, creating a smaller pool of teachers from which to draw.

Make sure your ideal class size fits the number of available teachers in your target audience. You may have to restructure your class for 5 to 10 students each offering. Marketing efforts can only reach so far when your target audience pool is limited. In an upcoming post, I will address ways you can expand your target audience, while still keeping the content valuable for your main audience. I will link to that post when it is active.

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…it is unrealistic to think the first offering of your class will be a smashing success with a waiting list for participants.


When I worked in event planning, there was a concept that involved planning new annual events and how to determine whether or not the event was successful enough to continue offering it. I mention the concept here because it is really applicable to determining the success of a new K-12 professional development offering. The simple version of the concept goes like this. For any new event, you should be committed to offering it three times. The first offering may have great attendance or it may have low attendance. You take the feedback from that event, evaluate it, make changes, and offer the event again. The second time the event is offered you evaluate its performance against the previously made changes, make new changes, and offer the event again. After the third offering of the event, if it is still not meeting performance expectations or the changes you made were unsuccessful, then you should consider dropping the event. There was no shame in dropping an event that didn’t succeed, it simply meant the event was unable to sustain itself.

This is a very simplistic view of the concept as each event has its own key performance indicators. Your class will also have its own unique key performance indicators. These indicators might be the number of students enrolled, the level of interaction among teachers, how well the topic was received, the urgency of the information to be distributed, how much a student perceived they gained from the class, or even income generated. You have to decide what your performance indicators are and it doesn’t always need to be reflected in the number of enrolled students.

Part of growing your class size involves patience and a desire to improve with each offering. Know that it is unrealistic to think the first offering of your class will be a smashing success with a waiting list for participants. I have only seen a few classes be a smashing success in terms of enrollment in its first offering. Those classes each had one thing in common; they all had a grant that paid the professional development fee for each participant.

I wish you success in planning your class and patience to endure while you build your influencers and enrollment. If you are reading this and are considering offering a class I would suggest you read about how to get your professional development class approved.

Are there subjects you can think of, besides biology, that has a smaller target audience but has a real need for professional development offerings? We can work to find instructors for those types of classes. Let us know in the comments below.



About the Author

Connie JadrnyConnie Jadrny, is the marketing and public relations coordinator for NDSU Distance and Continuing Education, a program of the Office of Teaching and Learning.

In more than 16 years at NDSU, Jadrny has learned a lot about the professional development needs of K-12 teachers.

In this series of posts, she intends to pass along bits of wisdom from the professional development industry.

Let’s learn together!

How to Blend Teaching and Research

Pedagogical research and I met serendipitously on a pontoon motoring around Little Floyd Lake on a warm summer afternoon two decades ago. A young man sitting across from me, who I had only met that morning, recognized me as the instructor of his online introductory economics class. As it turns out, this young man would play a pivotal role in my introduction to pedagogical research. I will explain in a moment how this student drew me to pedagogical research, but first let’s look at what pedagogical research is, then continue reading to learn how to seamlessly blend pedagogical research and teaching. Continue reading “How to Blend Teaching and Research”

Celebrating the Good

child jumping for joy with balloons

“This is why our children find video games so enjoyable and even addictive,” said the instructor of the Nurtured Heart parenting class I enrolled in as a means to transition back into the role of mother after a year-long deployment.

“Think about it”, she said, “they are offered a hands-on experience with an achievable goal that has regular rewards as they make progress. And the cost of failure is negligible, so they are not afraid to push the boundaries of their previous success.”

Mario Kart


I went home that night and really watched the kids playing Mario Kart. They concentrated and shared some competitive verbiage with one another, but I noticed for the first time that they were happy and motivated to try again, regardless of the outcome. When they won, a large trophy appeared on the screen, and they seemed to glow in their sense of accomplishment. If they drove off the road during the game and their car went into the abyss, the only cost imposed was a short delay before they rejoined the race. They didn’t hesitate to attempt the same move again. Regardless of their final place in the race, the costs of failure were small, and they were ready to give it another try.

Watching them prompted me to think about my teaching and how these strategies might work there as well. Continue reading “Celebrating the Good”

Gathering Teaching Solutions

Gathering Teaching Solutions

In a previous blog post I wrote about the reasons for opening up your school or district’s professional development to all K-12 teachers nationwide. One of the reasons mentioned stayed with me for a long time. That reason was, “What if a teacher in your school is struggling to find a solution to an issue in their classroom or with their student? And, what if the solution to that issue is held by another teacher, in another district?”

Basically, what I was suggesting was offering your professional development classes as an outlet for teachers from all backgrounds and school systems to share their ideas for unique or difficult situations. As I was thinking about this concept, I realized that there are more opportunities in which teachers can learn from each other. Continue reading to learn about other ways to gather teachers. Continue reading “Gathering Teaching Solutions”

STEM @ NDSU – Our New YouTube Playlist

STEM @ NDSU - Our New YouTube Playlist

The greatest thing about planning ahead is that you always know what is coming, right?

Errrr… then a random pandemic comes along and all of a sudden, your well-made plans are no longer viable.

At this point, you can either bang your head on your desk and lament about the unfairness of all that wasted planning (not recommended).

Or, you can do what our office did and rethink and retool the activities you had planned (Highly recommended and I will tell you why.)

Continue reading “STEM @ NDSU – Our New YouTube Playlist”

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle

Burnout: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle

About halfway through the fall semester, I learned about a book called “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski. I was fortunate that the podcast I was listening to (Brene Brown’s “Unlocking Us” podcast) gave me the basics I needed to at least start to apply some of the concepts to help me overcome completely losing it during the insane semester that was Fall 2020. But I wanted to be sure I followed up and got the whole picture, so during winter break I finally cracked “Burnout” open.

Continue reading “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle”

Addressing Student Stress At The End Of The Semester

Health Promotion: Addressing Student Stress at the End of the Semester

This blog post is the second in a series of posts from NDSU Health Promotion. With the understanding that students’ health and well-being affect every facet of their lives, including their academic performance, we have created a series of posts with information and practical tips for faculty to promote health and well-being in their classroom. For each topic in the series, we asked our peer educators—the Body Project, Healthy Herd Champions, and Violence Prevention Educators—to provide us with their point of view as students, and we have incorporated their feedback throughout each post.

This post focuses on addressing student stress at the end of the semester, while a future post will focus on addressing student stress at the beginning of the semester.

Student Stress During Dead Week and Finals
As we head into the end of the semester, we know that student stress often rises as we move closer to dead week and finals week. This semester students report that they are feeling more stress than ever due to the challenges of attending college while surviving a global pandemic, and we know that will only intensify in the coming weeks. Continue reading “Addressing Student Stress At The End Of The Semester”

Alternative Assessments: Thinking Beyond the Test

Alternative Assessments: Thinking Beyond the Test

Alternative Assessments: Thinking Beyond the Test



In this presentation, Lori Sweeney offers important considerations about different kinds of assessments. When we first think of assessment, we tend to think of tests, but there are many different ways we can assess student learning. Many of these other options may also be more conducive to the HyFlex model we are currently working in, as well. Continue reading “Alternative Assessments: Thinking Beyond the Test”

Burnout: How To Avoid It, How To Overcome It.

burnout: how to avoid it, how to overcome it.

In the past, I have written here about how to take care of yourself during the pandemic.  As co-chairs of the mental health committee of the President’s Council for Campus Well-being, Emily Fraizer and I have shared information with the campus-community about surge capacity and how to deal with your surge capacity being challenged.

Today, I want to talk about what happens when these areas of stress continue for a length of time and intensity that they begin to overwhelm.  In other words, what is burnout, how can you avoid it, and how can you best deal with it if it happens to you? Continue reading “Burnout: How To Avoid It, How To Overcome It.”

How do we promote health and well-being in the classroom?

girl resting with hot beverage

This series of blog posts from NDSU Health Promotion will explore how faculty can promote health and well-being from the classroom. Before we begin, we want to give a brief overview of NDSU Health Promotion’s mission and values. NDSU Health Promotion, within Student Health Service, engages the broader campus community to inform, educate and empower students to make healthy decisions that enhance their success and well-being. We understand the reciprocal relationship between health and learning, and we partner with other NDSU services and resources to foster a campus climate that supports health and well-being.

Health Promotion Peer Education Groups

One of the many ways we do this is through our peer education groups. Peer educators are students who serve as leaders and role models to fellow students and encourage others to make responsible and healthy lifestyle choices. There are three peer education groups in Health Promotion, each with their own focus on specific aspects of well-being.

Continue reading “How do we promote health and well-being in the classroom?”