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I’m not a huge fan of most school-based professional development. It’s not that the delivery is bad, but that it is precisely that: a delivery. It’s something teachers receive rather than create. So, even when the quality is good, there is the risk that it will be . . . well . . . boring. So what are the alternatives? What are the options that educational leaders can create so that there is more personalization and ownership among teachers?
Here are a few options:

1. Mini Ed Camp: This could run like an ed camp, where teachers could engage in democratic, discussion-based groups based upon a topic of interest. I highly recommend The Edcamp Model for those of you who want to get started on this journey.

2. Semester-Long Course: Here someone who is an expert on campus can lead teachers through a longer, semester-long, independent class on a subject that teachers choose. It might be classroom management or data analysis or strategies for language acquisition among ELL students.

3. Hybrid Semester Course: Imagine the same thing above, but with a technology component. Here, teachers could work in a modified in-person and online class. They could blog about what they’re learning, curate resources and engage in discussions on social media.

4. Observation and Coaching: Part of what makes teachers reluctant to engage in coaching is that it requires classroom observation and then coaching (that often meets during prep time). Why not change the meeting time of the coaching session to be during the PD? One of the best books to make sense out of how PD actually affects learning is Guskey’s Evaluating Professional Development.

5. Personal Professional Development Plans: I know this sounds far-fetched, but allow teachers do their own sort of individual professional development where they look at where they are, set goals for where they want to be and reflect on the process.

6. Book Clubs: I’ve seen schools run with the concept of a book club. This enables people to make sense out of idea in-depth, over time, in both an individual and group setting.

7. Independent Project: Why not allow teachers to create something independent that they can then bring into their classrooms? It could be a curriculum or a content framework.

8. National Board Certification: It’s a crazy-long experience, but I wonder what it would look like if teachers could go through the NBCT process and use some of the PD time allotted each week.

9. Lab School: We have amazing lab schools in our district that include a great deal of reflection. However, I think it would be awesome if these lab school groups continued to meet and refine their instruction. They could work on planning and research through an ongoing cycle.

10. Action Research: Similar to the lab school idea, I think it would be cool to engage in action research together as a group. We could meet together and analyze what works, what doesn’t work and what trends we see. It’s a little pricey, but this book is a great primer on action research.

11. Content Classes: Kids can benefit from learning to program. Unfortunately, many K-5 teachers don’t have experience with coding. I think it would be cool to let teachers learn how to code. This would provide a practical skill for the teachers while also helping them empathize with students who face the fear and frustration with learning something new.

12. Curriculum Creation: I’m not referring to making common assessments or analyzing data. Instead, I’m thinking about making actual curriculum – not just maps, but resources; the kind of stuff teachers actually want to use in their classrooms.

Professional Growth Plans: The idea here would be for teachers to create growth plans and then use a blended approach for the twelve previous ideas. They could use data from evaluations or from student work as they think about where to improve.Feel free to add any extra ideas in the comment section.

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John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.More about me


  • John,
    Appreciate the post. We have been implementing a system that sounds similar to #5 and your "Bonus" at the bottom for the past three years. It has completely changed professional learning in our building. It has taken professional development from an event (and one that most would have preferred to avoid) to an ongoing process that does not just happen at prescribed times.

    Our staff members have said many times they cannot imagine going back. Maybe the idea is not as far fetched as it seems. 🙂

  • We had an EdCamp last year for our President's Day In-Service. It was really one of the most engaging PD days we have ever experienced. I am not sure why the district did not do it again this year but we really missed the boat on continuing a great learning experience.

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