Run the world (Teachers) aka #TeacherDirectedPD

We just held the Best. In-service. Ever.  And all it took was a little love & empathy.

Some in-service professional development days are better than others.  Sometimes, we get to be active learners and receive just-in-time instruction (and maybe even the gift of time to apply that learning for the benefit of our students).

Other times, we find ourselves really far down that Facebook feed as a well-intentioned presenter discusses best practices with us while simultaneously killing us by PowerPoint.  (That can’t be best practice, right?)

And sometimes, it’s the Best. In-service. Ever.

"Adam, Friday's in-service was the most productive and meaningful of any I have attended in my 6 years here @ RTS. Thank you for providing us with the gift of time to not only work with our team partners on our yearly goals, but also to do things that will promote the academic success of our kids! We greatly appreciate it."

The best in-service doesn’t happen by accident.  It happens with careful consideration of the needs of the humans whose professional skills we are developing.

So we did that.

I am fortunate to be part of a stellar team of Innovation Coaches in the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union (GRCSU).  The coaching team has taken on the role of planning in-service for the 8 schools in the supervisory union.

How we did it

This fall, we planned what turned out to be a sublime day of learning & growth for our teachers.

And they loved it.  I mean really loved it.

Do you want to know why?  Because we asked them what they wanted and then we gave it to them.  It wasn’t rocket science! (But there was a 3D printer.)

We made it relevant

We’ve all sat through that PD session that was completely irrelevant to our practice. Perhaps it covered things we’re already doing, or maybe it was completely impractical to implement.  To avoid this #PDfail, we began the planning process by surveying staff to ask what their needs were. Questions like:

  • What outside expertise would be most helpful?
  • Who do you most want to collaborate with?
  • What topics or themes would you like to see addressed?
  • Is there a workshop you would like to offer?
  • What do you hope to get out of the day?

They also asked staff to rank the importance of the following in-service activities:

  • sharing & celebration
  • collaborative work time
  • expert input/workshops
  • individual work time
  • cross-school sharing
  • tech help

Kind of Captain Obvious, right? Who better to identify the learning needs than the learners!

Then, we used that data to design a self-directed day of professional learning. We created workshops and fireside chats (or invited in-house or outside experts to come to facilitate).  We also arranged a pop-up for Makerspace, and set up an “Innovation Hub” where teachers could come for tech help or to find a thinking partner. And there were cookies, but I’ll get to that later.

It was all about community & collaboration

One of the best parts about in-service is usually the coffee hour and socializing.  Why?  Because we rarely get to spend time with the other adults we do this work with.  Many a brilliant collaboration has emerged from that chance encounter by the muffin platter.

So we designed the day to offer plenty of opportunities for folks to connect and collaborate.

Teachers began the day with breakfast.  Fortified by caffeine, sugar, and carbs, they then headed off to homerooms which were facilitated by a teacher-leader from their school.  Homerooms provided an orientation to the day, an opportunity to set learning goals, and time to plan a choose-your-own-adventure agenda with teammates.

Some teachers spent the day in their homeroom working with colleagues, others ventured out to workshops and fireside chats, still others found cross-school partners to collaborate with. After a day of learning, teams met back in homeroom to close the day with reflection and offer feedback on the day.

And perhaps most importantly, we let teachers be the professionals they are…and showed them some love

Ultimately what made this day most successful was the gift of autonomy.  In most cases, teachers know what they need to do.  They just need the time to do it.

This day allowed teachers to build their own agenda, anticipated their needs, and provided the resources to meet those needs. Teachers had the choice of whether to attend workshops or spend their time learning and collaborating in other ways. There were also cookies.

And the cookies were important. You really must read those lovely signs that accompanied the apples and cookies. You won’t be sorry.

Left sheet of paper: "You know what they say, 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away.' Well, that's a bag of bull if you ask me, but no one ever asks me. However, an apple will give you enough fuel to avoid getting hangry (Barb) so you can maintain healthy professional relationships with your colleagues." Righthand sheet of paper: "Here take a cookie. A cookie is for those moments where the apple falls short. Are you struggling meeting your goal? Have a cookie. Have you been in close quarters for too long with your colleagues that you're starting to wonder how they make it through their daily lives? Have a cookie. Are you about to lose your marbles the next time someone mentions Learn-Centered Model or Proficiency-Based grading? Have a cookie. We understand it's not your fault. You just need a break and some sugar. *Contains everything you're allergic to: nuts, gluten, eggs, dairy."


And check out the mood lighting in the fireside chats!   This created a lovely ambiance for rich and invigorating conversations. And there was sa nack & coffee bar that was open all day- because humans who work all day need sustenance.  And chocolate.  Lots of chocolate.

A group of women sit chatting in a circle of chairs in a darkened classroom. Behind them, a video of a roaring fireplace is projected onto a whiteboard from a laptop.

The coaches took care of the teachers so that the teachers could do their work.  And it was a rousing success.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Here are a few highlights from the exit ticket:

“Really liked the format of in-service. I felt that it was the perfect blend of structure versus self-direction. I went to the WeVideo and LGBTQ fireside chats. Both were exceptional! My only wish was more time to attend different fireside chats.”

“I loved that people could actually work with the people they need to collaborate with to get work done that they needed to get done.”

“I really loved the self-directed setup. I was able to go to things that I specifically needed, rather than being fed a bunch of information that does not pertain to me.”

“Time to just work and collaborate was AMAZING! I feel like I was able to get so much accomplished, and was able to collaborate with folks I usually don’t get to work with. Please, please, please let’s do this again!!!!!!!!”

“I really enjoyed having the flexibility to work on my needs, and having multiple schools in the building to work with various people across the district.”

“Loved that it was self-directed! I also loved the TLC in the library (cookies, snacks, drinks, etc. very thoughtful!).”

“I really enjoyed how flexible today was. I feel like today was the most beneficial in-service we’ve had in a long time. I was able to be very productive. I spoke with a lot of people that I normally would not be able to collaborate with.”


What was the best in-service you’ve ever attended? What made it so special?


What do you think?