George Lucas Educational Foundation

What is the Ideal Back-To-School, In-House Professional Development?

What is the Ideal Back-To-School, In-House Professional Development?

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Woman speaking to an audience

I’m a San Marino High School social studies teacher with many years of teaching experience, and you can add my name to the list of those who view the typical back-to-school, in-house professional development (PD) as lacking, whether in terms of interest, information, and/or engagement.

As I have always insisted, there’s just got to be a better way, and lately I think I have found that better way in the approach employed by something called the “California Teachers Summit.”

The approach employed there features at least one fifty-five minute keynote address, at least two 10-15 minute TED-style ED-Talks, and at least three fifty-five minute Edcamp style discussion sessions . . . all led by teachers, for teachers.

The approach, if applied to a back-to-school, in-house PD, would probably look something like this.

The Keynote Address and Ted-Ed Talks
In the month leading up to the PD, school admins would invite all teachers to apply for a chance to give either the keynote address or an ED-Talk on the day of the PD.

Both the keynote address and ED-Talks are opportunities for teachers to give, in a charismatic and engaging manner, a scripted and well-formed presentation that falls under any one of the following categories:

• The big idea presentation: One that makes one or two very strong points about something having to do with education and that the teacher feels passionate about.
• The tech demo presentation: One that looks at some clever new bit of Ed-tech that the teacher has employed in the classroom.
• The small idea presentation: One that is not about one big, world-changing idea, but instead about a very engaging take on an interesting topic related to education.
• The issue presentation: One that exposes other teachers to an issue related to education and that they may not otherwise know much about.

In other words, both the keynote address and ED-Talks do not always need to focus on how to teach better.

Some of the best keynote addresses and ED-Talk topics that I can think of are listed below:

  • The New Science Standards
  • Writing in the Digital Age
  • The TED-ED Lesson
  • The World of TED (Talks, Lessons, Club, and X)
  • Poll Everywhere
  • StoryCorps
  • Project Based Learning
  • Flipped Learning
  • Twitter to Improve Teaching and Learning
  • Blogging to Get Students to Write
  • Edutopia, EducationWeek, and Education World
  • A Strategy to Teach ESL's to Write Better
  • The Senior Project
  • Senioritis and How Deal With It
  • Game Based Learning Classroom Management
  • The Common Core Project
  • A Place for Drones in Education?
  • STEM and STEAM

Teachers selected to give the keynote address and/or Ed Talks would then spend the next several weeks working on their respective presentations, with the goal to have these presentations ready by the day of the PD.

The EdCamp Discussion Sessions
Teachers on the day of the PD would arrive with no preset schedule of sessions. At the start of the PD, admins would place a big, blank sheet of paper with a grid on it at the front of the room. From that blank slate, teachers as they mingle and chat over coffee would be called upon to schedule the keynote address, ED-Talks, and discussion sessions.

The entire process is to remain positive and organic with the hope being that teachers:

  • Who have similar interests would end up running one or more discussion sessions together.
  • Would control the quality of each session via the "law of two feet," which states that teachers may leave the room during a discussion session at any time for any reason. Because leaving midstream is actually encouraged, discussion sessions with weak content or too much presenter talk often end up being sparsely populated, whereas high-quality, interactive discussion sessions are often bursting at the seams.

The Closing Activity
A PD structured along these lines would end with a "smackdown," during which any willing participant may take the floor for 30 seconds to share an idea, tool, or tip.

Smackdowns may include music, laughing, and cheering, as teachers and admins try to condense their learning into such a small time frame. PD's like this should invite teachers and admins to run back channels on Twitter during the PD, if only to encourage participants to chat virtually while the live discussions happen.

A Pat on the Back
The visionary approach described herein and used at the CA Teacher Summit was created by the Better Together California Teachers Summit Steering Committee.

In Closing, 3 Questions:

  • Have any of you ever experienced anything like this at your school?
  • If so, what was it like?
  • How well do you think this approach would work at your school if given a green light?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (10) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Over the years, I have occasionally been charged with developing and administering one or more days of PD at San Marino High School. What a challenge. Hence, I have great empathy for admins who are called upon to provide this service to teachers. To develop and administer a well-received PD is not an easy task.

Another sidenote - Throughout the years, I have in fact sat through some absolutely outstanding all-day SMHS PD's, two of which, interestingly enough, were structured along the lines of the typical "sit and git."

Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA's picture
Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA
Advocate, Lawyer, Teacher and Founder of Beyond Tutoring

I have never tried anything like this! Looks spectacular! Have you given any thought to the tech element to PD and how to implement it? Would this ease or create more burdens?

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Hi Katie:

I would think that one way to integrate tech into the
PD would be for the Ed-Talks and even the keynote address to be given via video conferencing technology . . . that way teachers need not always be on the move from session to session, session to presentation, presentation to session, etc.

Do this and teachers could in fact remain in their departments for most of the day, with the keynote address and ED-Talks to be delivered from some other location within the school . . . if this was desired.

Keynote addresses at the California Teachers Summit are routinely done via video conference. Way cool.

Another way to integrate tech would be to call upon teachers, over coffee at the start of the PD, to use their smartphones and the Poll Everywhere ranking feature to help create the schedule for the keynote address, ED-Talks, and discussion sessions. I haven't seen this yet integrated into the summit, but I have used it in class for a similar purpose. It works very well.

And certainly another way to integrate tech is for everyone to be encouraged to use twitter and other forms of social media throughout the day to create a very lively and engaging back channel of communication. This is done at the summit, though for keynote speakers and ED-Talk presenters it takes some getting used to. It's just different - to speaking to an audience that appears to be only half listening and half buried in their cell phones and Ipads.

cleitgeb616's picture
Instructional Technology Specialist/Coach within a nontraditional setting

Wow! What an amazing plan! I would love to see it played out. I feel workshop and make-and-take sessions of some type would be very worthwhile to have. The teachers I work with always want to take something with them they can use as soon as they get back to the classroom. Could Ed-Tech be used more, like video conferencing or scheduling virtually? If the goal is to engage and use technology more then maybe some small adjustments can be made. Fantastic plan!

Mr. Gonzalez's picture

One of the areas of PD interest I'd like more training on is Reader's Workshop. Last year we began implementing Reader's Workshop and I personally have seen growth in children. This model will become successful in the inclusion setting.

Mr. Gonzalez's picture

I especially like the one titled "Game Based Learning Classroom Management". What exactly is it and can you share your ideas with me? I am an inclusion 2nd grade teacher and I want to try different techniques to make learning fun for all children.

Karina Gracia's picture
Karina Gracia
High school history teacher

As far a Back-To-School, In-House PD, I think that the Ed-House Topics are diversified, engaging and balanced. I would especially love to see the green-light on the "writing in the Digital Age, so that educators can be updated with integrating and applying the latest in digital communication. I also feel that the "smackdown," is a great way to close a PD, that can definitely help supplement more enthusiasm, as well as the opportunity for educators to do a live chat!

J.Ferrer's picture

Hi Karina,

I agree with you that the "smackdown" is a great way to close the professional development and allow willing participants the opportunity to share. The Writing in a Digital Age is great to learn with so many students now a days are so into technology that they are able to use their devices to produce some good writing. I am reading a book for a graduate class and it tells a story of how a teachers implemented using mobile devices in the classroom to write and although it was difficult at first, it was beneficial on the long run.

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

Hi. Mr. Gonzalesz. As for the term Game Based Learning, I'm going to suggest that you first contact Matthew Farber on twitter @MatthewFarber. In regards to this topic, he really knows his stuff. I will actually email him in a bit to give him a heads up that you're going to reach out. (Matthew, btw, is also an Edutopia blogger). Other than that, have you yet seen all the game-based learning articles that can be found on Edutopia at Very much looking forward to hearing where you take it from here.

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