Tuesday, May 17, 2011

“Building Experts” - Reshaping Professional Development

We are thinking of trying something new next year in terms of Professional Development for our staff.  Loosely  modeled on Google's 20% time, we are going to change how teachers engage in their own professional learning. 

 Let me summarize:

 Professional Learning that is learner driven, job embedded and meaningful to the day to day work that teachers do, will have the biggest impact on the intrinsic motivation of teachers and have the best chance of increasing student achievement


  1. Teacher choice is critical. Teachers will choose an area that they see as being important and valuable to what they are doing in their classroom. (e.g. technology integration, personalized learning, student motivation, differentiated instruction, literacy instruction, assessment for learning, planning for instruction, problem based learning, etc.) 
  2. Teachers will be placed in teams of teachers that have chosen a similar topic 
  3. Teams will formally meet monthly (we will increase our  "late start Wednesday’s" to include the 4th Wednesday of each month) 
  4. Facilitation will be decided by the group 
  5. Each team will be provided money  for resources 
  6. Each team (and individuals) will share their discoveries during various Pro D Days throughout the school year. 
  7. Teachers who wish NOT join a team can purse a topic individually. They will be expected to use the allocated time as well as share their learning with the staff. 
The Vision
We honor teachers as professionals. They are capable of choosing a learning topic they find useful and necessary to make them better practitioners. They will be given contracted to time to cultivate this learning in a collaborative setting. Teachers will be motivated and empowered to stretch their learning.

Teams of teachers will become “building experts”. Teams will have autonomy to select resources and format of the collaborative time. Each team will present and sharing their “expertise” (successes, challenges, etc.) with the staff (and parents?) at various times throughout the school year.

Your Feedback Please
We are in the draft/discussion stage of this plan and am continuing to received feedback from some of my staff.  I was also hoping to receive feedback from my extended PLN. 

 Any comments or questions would be greatly appreciated!


  1. This looks like a great start to me. As with all plans I think you have left room for adjustment as things sometimes do not work out and it is not until you start that you know where the change is needed. I look forward to reading how it is going next year ... or I hope you will follow up :)

  2. Johnny, I will be very interested to follow how this develops. I would think that teachers would be excited at the opportunity. Giving teachers autonomy and support, while demonstrating trust is so empowering. I am excited about the potential learning and I don't even work at your school. Good luck!

  3. Sounds fantastic - autonomy, purpose!

    The key thing for me, I think, to make this work is accountability to share their learning. I think your idea of having them share during Pro-D days places some pressure to accomplish something as a group.

    Some words that come to mind around this: autonomy, continuity, consistency, interest... learning.

    I look forward to hearing more about this. Thanks Johnny!

  4. I agree with Chris that there are many powerful components to this model. I would raise a question, though, about the concept of expertise. You mentioned the professionalism of your teachers. It's common practice in other professions to seek out experts in certain areas (doctors even go so far as to call them specialists). I'm wondering about the potential negative consequences of a structure devoted to building expertise that appears to be a closed-system. I wonder if, as a part of the structure, each group could be required to provide evidence of external research (i.e. text-based discussions) or interactions with experts in their field of exploration (i.e. Science teachers Skyping with a chemist; video chatting with a professor who has researched assessment design).

    Along those same lines, there's a fine line between collegiality and congeniality. Given it's a new system, I wonder if teachers might lack confidence in their facilitation skills and err on the side of "everyone getting along" versus "everyone working together toward a mutual goal." Facilitating adult learners is a challenging skill. Groups such as Communities for Learning has rubrics and schema that you may find helpful. Is their support you can provide to those facilitators to help them build their expertise in the area of facilitation?

  5. Here is our PD plan which has a lot of the same elements:


    I posted that so parents would know our plan. One of the things that I found useful was that we had planning outline that had our objectives, measurements of success, and we tied that directly into student growth. Hope that helps.

  6. Wow!Some great words of affirmation and some great advice and suggestions.

    Thanks a million!

  7. I recommend reading Helen Timperly's work on Professional learning. I am including a link to a document that will be immensely useful in your exploration of developing a solid professional learning environment in your school.


    Jennifer raised some excellent points. I would seriously consider how you will ensure that the professional learning has a focus that is centred on improved student learning. This needs to be central to everything you do.

  8. I like this, Johnny. And I think it becomes a teacher recruitment and retention strategy for y'all.

    The fact of the matter is that the most accomplished teachers are driven to study their craft. Create the kinds of structures in your building that make that collective study possible and you'll create the kind of building that more accomplished teachers seek out.

    My only question would be how will(or even if) you make sure that there is at least some connection between your school's mission and vision and the individual projects being chosen by teacher study teams?

    It's that loose-tight balance again.

    While I love the idea of independent reflection and study, I think the most successful schools find ways to pull off independent reflection and have a collective direction at that same time.

    Any of this make sense?

  9. Hi Bill,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree with what you're saying. I also agree that it's in this "loose-tight" tension that great things are created.

    Thanks again!