Choosing Professional Learning

There are many approved providers, but how do you know which opportunities are aligned with the Administrative Rules of Montana (ARMs), your licensure requirements, and your professional learning goals?
We have created some guidance to help you choose the professional learning that meets your needs.

Professional Learning Considerations for Montana Educators


Guidelines and Standards for Professional Learning

Professional learning for educators in the state of Montana should follow certain guidelines and standards.  The guidance and standards below can help educators understand professional learning requirements. 

Federal Definition of Professional Learning

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) § 8101(42) defines "professional development," specifically noting that professional development activities are to be "sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, or short term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom-focused..." (ESEA § 8101(42), pg. 401).

Administrative Rules of Montana

There are a number of Administrative Rules of Montana (ARMs) that guide professional learning for education-related personnel, including:


  • ARM 10.16.3135 Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPDs) - CSPD is a regionalized structure that provides special education-related professional learning for pre-service and in-service educators, administrators, and paraprofessionals.

  • ARM 10.55.601 Accreditation Standards: Procedures - Continuous School Improvement Plans (CSIPs) are developed, implemented, and evaluated yearly by school districts and schools.  The CSIPs include a professional development planning component.

  • ARM 10.55.714 Professional Development - The Professional Development ARM specifies the standards that professional development opportunities must meet.

  • ARM 10.57.215 Renewal Requirements - The activities that are eligible for renewal units are professional development activities and college credits that are of a planned and structured experience and an activity that provides "exposure to a new idea or skill or an extension of an existing idea or skill."

  • ARM 10.57.216 Approved Renewal Activity - Approved renewal unit providers must offer activities that are "deemed appropriate for professional development of licensees in compliance with ARM 10.55.714 and 10.57.215."

Other ARMs address professional learning requirements for specific licenses and endorsements. Additional resources related to licensure can be found on the Montana Educator Licensing website.


Learning Forward's Standards for Professional Learning "outline the characteristics of professional learning that leads to effective teaching practice, supportive leadership, and improved student results" (2017).  The standards include:


  • Learning Communities - "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment."

  • Leadership - "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires skillful leaders who develop capacity, advocate, and create support systems for professional learning."

  • Resources - "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students requires prioritizing, monitoring, and coordinating resources for educator learning."

  • Data - "Professional Learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students uses a variety of sources and types of student, educator, and system data to plan, assess, and evaluate professional learning."

  • Learning Designs - "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students integrates theories, research, and models of human learning to achieve its intended outcomes."

  • Implementation - "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students applies research on change and sustains support for implementation of professional learning for long term change."

  • Outcomes - "Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards."

Micro-Credentials Defined

Micro-credentials are based upon skills and/or competencies outlined by the micro-credentialing issuer. The micro-credential is awarded upon verification that the participant has demonstrated the skills and/or competencies necessary to earn the micro-credential. The micro-credential is "micro" because it generally takes less time and money to earn a micro-credential when compared to the time and money it takes to earn a traditional degree. Educators who engage in micro-credentialing often provide the micro-credential issuer with artifacts, such as student work samples, lesson plans, and videos, that demonstrate their competencies and skills related to the micro-credential topic.

It's More Than a Badge

Digital badges have been awarded for many years upon completion of an activity. For example, people who have engaged in online learning may be familiar with the concept of earning a badge after completing a module of learning. While micro-credentials often use digital badges, the badges are not simply provided upon completion of a unit of study or after a certain amount of time has passed; instead, the digital badge is awarded after the participant has demonstrated their ability to perform the skills and/or competencies required of the micro-credential. The digital badge can then become a part of the participant's "learner record," similar to a visual resume, that provides specific information regarding the micro-credential, the issuer of the micro-credential, and other important metadata. Therefore, the digital badge is more than an image, and the participant's credentials can be easily verified through the metadata stored within the badge.

Consider Your District's Policies

Districts are able to develop policies related to micro-credentials and how they factor into salary negotiation and collective bargaining agreements. The Office of Public Instruction does not presently accept micro-credentials as renewal units for re-licensure.  However, individual professional development opportunities that are built within micro-credential frameworks may be eligible for renewal units if the provider is an approved renewal unit provider and the event aligns with the Administrative Rules of Montana.


The National Education Association (NEA) has published Micro-credential Guidance to provide considerations for collective bargaining agreements.  In addition, Digital Promise has developed a Micro-credential Policy Map that examines micro-credentials for educators at various levels: higher education, state-level, district-level, and the educator level.



There are numerous micro-credential providers. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, and educators should always work with district personnel regarding any approval processes related to micro-credentials.


  • BloomBoard - BloomBoard is a platform used for micro-credentials and micro-certification.  BloomBoard’s competencies have been aligned with InTASC and PSEL standards. BloomBoard also offers a pre-candidacy support program for educators seeking National Board Certification. Other categories include Classroom Management, School Climate, Student Engagement, and 21st-Century Skills.

  • Digital Promise - Digital Promise, an independent, bipartisan nonprofit, is working to close the digital learning gap.  They have developed micro-credentials for educators by partnering with well-known educational experts.  Micro-credentials are available in nearly 100 categories, including Collective Leadership, Service Learning, and Teaching Rural Students from Poverty.  Some micro-credentials are free, and some are not.

  • National Education Association Micro-Credentials (NEA) - The NEA has developed personalized, flexible, and job-embedded competencies in many categories, such as Bully Free Schools, Educators Ethics, Effective Paraeducator-Teacher Teams, Instructional Coaching, Restorative Practices, and ESSA, just to name a few.  The micro-credentials are free.

  • PBS Media Literacy Educator Certification - PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) has developed a media literacy micro-credential that is free for educators.  Earning the eight micro-credentials allows educators to become PBS Certified Media Literacy Educators. 

National Board Teacher Stipend Program

Montana provides a state stipend to teachers who receive National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). The current program was enacted into law by the 2017 Montana legislature. 

Since the legislation was partially aimed at helping the recruitment and retention of teachers at impacted schools, the stipend amount is higher for teachers at schools with critical educator shortages and those schools who qualify for school wide free and reduced lunch. 

More information about the National Board Teacher Stipend Program can be found on the Educator Recruitment & Retention website.

OPI Learning Opportunities Portal

The OPI Learning Opportunities Portal shares information about professional learning opportunities happening across the state from the OPI and Montana's many other professional learning providers.  The OPI Learning Opportunities Portal contains a calendar of already scheduled events and a catalog of professional learning available online or by contacting the provider directly.

OPI Learning Opportunities Portal


Pre-Approval for OPI Professional Development Unit Certificate 

(formerly Renewal Unit Provider Certificate)

On occasion, educators may need to receive professional development unit approval from the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) for a professional learning opportunity. The professional development unit activity must meet the requirements as outlined in the Administrative Rules of Montana 10.57.215. Seeking professional development unit approval directly from the OPI is rare as numerous organizations and schools are approved professional development unit providers. Please follow the process below to determine if you should seek approval for professional development unit activities:

1. Are you a licensed (current or seeking reinstatement) Montana educator looking for OPI professional development unit certificate approval?

(Note: This procedure is strictly for OPI professional development unit certificate approval. The OPI does not approve PIR or salary lane change requests - these processes are determined at your local school district per Administrative Rules of Montana 10.55.714 Professional development (2) and your school district's Collective Bargaining Agreements. Please see FAQ "How do I get approved for PIR, salary lane changes, or "Step-Up" credits?" below for more information.)  

  • Yes - Proceed to Step 2.
  • No - This process is only for licensed Montana educators. 

2. Is the provider listed in the approved OPI Professional Development Unit Provider Directory?

  • Yes – The Montana professional development unit certificate should come from the provider. Please contact the provider for additional information.
  • No - Proceed to Step 3.

3. Are you employed by a school/district listed in the approved OPI Professional Development Unit Provider Directory?

  • Yes - Schools/Districts are allowed to issue Montana professional development unit certificates on behalf of non-approved providers. Please contact an approved provider within your school for assistance.
  • No - Proceed to Step 4.

4. Please submit the Pre-Approval for OPI Professional Development Unit Certificate Form. This form should be submitted prior to attending the professional development unit activity to be considered for OPI Professional development units. (Note: We are retroactively approving some requests due to COVID-19 - please see the directions on the form linked above for more information).

Once the form is submitted, the OPI professional learning staff will process your request within seven business days, and we will email you regarding the status of your request. If your pre-approval request is approved, you will need to submit proof of the completion of the Professional development unit opportunity by following the directions provided to you in the approval email.

Teacher Learning Hub

The primary purpose of the OPI Teacher Learning Hub has been to address the challenges of cost, distance, time, and equity of access to high-quality professional development for Montana educators. 

There are two types of courses available:

Facilitated Courses

  • These courses are typically 3-5 weeks. There are deadlines for each activity or assignment and a facilitator will be online to guide you through the course and provide feedback. These courses are typically capped between 20 and 30 participants and run 2-3 times throughout the year.

Self-paced Courses

  • These courses do not have a start or end date, but are continuously open. Complete at your own pace and on your own schedule. There is a facilitator listed in case you have questions. They also monitor the course, and you will also see the facilitator interacting frequently with participants in the forums.


With over 145 courses, you are sure to find courses that meet your professional learning needs.

Teacher Learning Hub

Additional OPI Resources

We make every attempt to list all professional learning opportunities for educators on the OPI Learning Opportunities Portal. The following webpages also contain additional professional learning opportunities that you may be interested in!

Frequently Asked Questions


We're here to help!

For questions related to professional learning, please contact: