George Lucas Educational Foundation
Administration & Leadership

Passion-Driven Professional Development

Thoughtful training for teachers can be invigorating and positively impact a school’s climate and culture.

August 1, 2023
Giselleflissak / iStock

Every year when we start end-of-year testing at our school, we flip the script on traditional professional development. Instead of meeting weekly with teams for prescribed content from our school or the district, each educator is encouraged to choose their own learning adventure in what we call iPD (independent professional development). The goal is to give time back to our staff during a hectic time and demonstrate concretely that we all truly do own our personalized learning.

The exploration of diverse educator interests results in more exposure for students to do the same for themselves. As teachers study more, they may gain more courage to try new methodologies, innovate with new interdisciplinary projects, try a new app, or more. In this way, not only do staff members grow, but everyone in the school community reaps the benefits, especially our students who are the ultimate recipients of these investments of time, energy, and effort for deeper learning.

In our busy school worlds with never-ending to-do lists, the good news is that this initiative adds capacity to our schedules so that preparation time to facilitate passion-driven professional development (PD²) can be minimal. Below are four tips for school leaders to ensure successful implementation of PD².

1. Set the Enabling Conditions

Studies indicate that when educators participate in making decisions about what they learn, how they learn, and how to apply that information, it contributes to increased ownership of their professional advancement. 

So, when launching a passion-driven professional development series or initiative at your school, prepare the educators on your team with advance notice so that they have time to think ahead about their personalized learning experiences. Do they want to join a conference that may require a fee? Do they need to purchase or borrow a select book of interest? 

Ensure that staff members have access to the resources they need and have a collection of ideas and tools to help them get started. If they’re looking for a good place to start, has several free webinars that could spark teachers’ interest on various topics. At my school, we share a categorized list of topics we believe may interest the team. We also have conversations with staff to be thought-partners as they commence their learning adventures.

Although teachers may not be meeting routinely as usual, continue to protect their calendars by forgoing unnecessary meetings as they dedicate their time to improving their craft.

These considerations will give your team the creative space to innovate with targeted success.

2. Model Passion-Driven Leadership

Lifelong learning is the constant pursuit of growth. You and your leadership team should help set the pace and stoke the fire during this open learning experience. This initiative gives permission for everyone to go down the rabbit hole of diverse ideas for deeper exploration and impact.

What excites you as an administrator? You have to walk the walk, talk the talk. Share your projects with the team so that they can draw inspiration from your enthusiasm and also learn more about your interests as a leader.

Our staff knows that I’m a financial literacy advocate. My belief that everyone should be financially well fuels my actions, and passion-driven professional development simply gives me another open platform to create and share resources.

3. Check in Periodically 

There will be new levels of activity and conversations adding to the buzz in your school. Is the topic music, social and emotional learning, or perhaps ChatGPT? During this season of individualized learning, make sure to have a pulse on how everyone is coming along. Ask questions so that staff talk about what they’re learning. Encourage your team to offer perspectives, make connections, expand their networks, and more.

Often, the best way to internalize what we learn is to teach and share. Encourage colleagues to facilitate sessions with the team about the new information they’ve acquired. What new strategies, resources, or ideas can they offer after their discoveries? Some other interesting topics explored by our staff included biliteracy development in Spanish and English, inclusive practices for autistic students, picture-book writing, and much more.

4. Prioritize Reflection

As Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral state, “The more reflective you are, the more effective you are.” Opportunities to think deeply about learning before, during, and after this experience are vital. Reflection strengthens an educator’s “why” and their purpose, while helping them to unveil and discover their evolving selves. Surveys, presentations, Q&A’s, and more can help facilitate these reflections. At the end of iPD this year, some of our teachers and support staff said the following: 

  • “I enjoyed having the option to complete professional development for what interests me most. Students are all different; therefore, teachers need to explore professional development that will help them help their students learn and grow.” 
  • “It was incredibly nice to be able to spend some time just learning and reading relevant content at my leisure. I feel more confident…”
  • “I think it feels good to have your time and choose your learning. It is more productive too.”

There are so many ways to structure passion-driven professional development. You can provide carte blanche for all staff to explore personal or professional targets. You could also outline specific guardrails and encourage the team to be creative within certain school priorities or goals.

For example, if your school is working to enhance family engagement efforts, the staff can be offered a list of short project ideas or initiatives to strengthen the home-school partnership. Along with shared leaders, you could prioritize a specific academic goal you wish to explore more in depth around literacy, conceptual math, project-based learning, or any other topic.

The goal is to emphasize substantial choice, which translates into higher levels of student achievement and investment and ownership among the staff, respecting them as lifelong learners and skilled professionals.

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