4 out of 5 Educators Choose Root Canal Over PD

I can’t wait for our in-service; I always learn so much! (Said no teacher… ever.)

Planning professional development (PD) days that suit ALL of our teachers is difficult. As the husband of an elementary school art teacher, an amazing elementary school art teacher, I hear often about the lack of relevance offered to her during in-service days. My wife loves her students and works hard to inspire them each day. Unfortunately though, as an art teacher she rarely grows as an educator during all-school PD days. Why? Because they’re geared toward “important” subjects like science and math? Because they focus on tested areas of the curriculum? For a variety of reasons she, like many other teachers, is expected to sit through sessions that offer very little to help her grow as an educator. For teachers, all teachers, there has to be a better way.

On the other side of this dilemma, as someone who coordinates PD for teachers, I get it. Planning for everyone is hard. We need to engage teachers, assess the effectiveness of our program, and find meaningful ways to follow-up. This is daunting, but we NEED PD. More importantly, we need GOOD professional development. We need to find ways to be innovative and engage students every day. We need to learn. We need to grow. We need others to light a spark in us. How can we incorporate and balance all of the aspects (meaningfulness, effectiveness, practicality, inspiration, accountability) of PD?

As school leaders, we must understand the adult-learner when planning PD. “The key to working successfully with adults is participation. Ideally, the learner should be an active participant in a learning activity that is a cooperative venture” (Conti, 1989, p. 5). Therefore, good PD is self-directed. Also, research shows us that it must be transformative. “The ultimate purpose of adult education is to help learners think for themselves” (Brockett, 2008). If these two characteristics are essential for adult learners, then teachers must provide input about PD topics, and school leaders must provide options and alternatives to educators (Beavers, 2008).

Here is what we tried: “Speed Professional Development

  • Five 10-minute sessions each led by a member of our school community (groups of 8-12), on the following topics:
    • Understanding by Design
    • Project/Problem Based Learning
    • Google Classroom
    • Twitter for Professional Growth and Professional Learning Networks
    • Strategies to Check for Understanding
  • After the five sessions, the faculty members completed a Google Survey with two questions:
    • 1) What will you explore this summer to encourage greater learning in your classroom?
      • Create units modeling Understanding By Design
      • Create lessons employing Problem/Project Based Learning
      • Organize your class with and employ features of Google Classroom
      • Use Twitter or other social networks to see what others in your content area are successfully doing, start a PLN
      • Gauge learning with various checks for understanding
      • Research and create learning situations for the new SAT
      • Other: _________________________________________
    • 2) How will you implement your summer PD?
      • Present to faculty via a live presentation, video, or report
      • Present to department via a live presentation, video or report
      • Create a resource for all to access through the Academics office
      • Collaborate with another faculty member(s) – PLN
      • Act as an “in-house” expert for those interested in what you have explored, coordinating this effort with the Coordinator of Pedagogy and Faculty Development
      • Other: _________________________________________

The feedback on this approach to our in-service was very positive. Our faculty felt that we valued their time, and most left with a desire to learn more about a particular topic. All of them left with a summer PD goal and a self-selected method of follow-up and accountability. This approach to PD allowed our teachers the flexibility to self-direct what they want to learn to help them grow as educators. The Google Survey option of “other” was appreciated, as it ensures and values autonomy — something of great value in our school. It also allowed teachers the freedom to explore ideas beyond those presented at this in-service. It also allowed teachers the freedom to explore other ideas. Speed PD is not the panacea for all of PD’s ailments, but it both began and ended with keeping the learner in mind… something we should always do for learners of every age.


Beavers, A 2009, ‘Teachers as learners: Implications of adult education for professional development’, Journal of College Teaching and Learning, vol. 6, no. 7, pp. 25-30.

Brockett, R. G. (2008). Ten Important Ideas About Adult Learning. Unpublished document, University of Tennessee.

Conti, G. J. (1989). Assessing Teaching Style in Continuing Education. In E. Hayes, Effective Teaching Styles (pp. 3-16). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.