Earlier this week, I read an article by Jim Knight on the difference between professional development and professional learning. Now, I prefer the term professional learning because it’s not my job to develop teachers, it’s my honor to learn alongside them. But Knight’s value for BOTH professional development and professional learning really had me thinking.Knight defines professional development as an experience where experts share ideas with educators hoping to grow in some capacity or understanding. In contrast, professional learning supports teachers as they bring those ideas into their everyday teaching. While we can likely all agree that professional learning is needed for lasting change, this shows that professional development actually does have a place in teacher learning and coaching.

But for me, the term ‘professional development’ conjures up memories of boring staff days, ‘sit and get’ workshops and information that didn’t seem particularly applicable to the classroom. Time spent sitting in an uncomfortable chair getting professionally developed doesn’t honor teachers’ time, professional skills and expertise or their goals and wishes.

So, how can we re-imagine it? How can we offer teachers professional development that provides useful information, meets their needs and even gives us a sense of whimsical fun?

With PD in a (fill in the blank).

Wait. What?! PD in a (fill in the blank) flips the script on professional development. Instead of sitting and getting, teachers move, grab and laugh, all while learning something new and introducing them to new ideas. Just fill in the blank with a fun method of learning, package it for busy teachers and then connect to later professional learning initiatives and classroom coaching. Here are just a few ideas to get the creative PD juices flowing:

PD in a Bookmark

You likely already know my fondness for QR Code Bookmarks to make book clubs come alive. But why not use bookmarks to introduce teachers to new ideas anytime, anywhere? That’s what PD in a Bookmark can do. Here’s how it works.

Gather a few resources on a particular topic: blog posts, lesson ideas, templates, websites and more. Link each to a QR code, paste it into a bookmark template, add a brief description and showcase for teachers. They could be presented on a table as teachers walk into a session, could be shared at the end of a session to challenge teachers to try a new resource or could even be hidden in spaces all over the school to keep the content new and fresh.

Here are ten simple bookmarks you can use to help teachers end the year #LiteracyStrong. Just print, cut and share! And here’s an even more creative version created by fellow literacy coach, Brittany Daniels!

PD in a Box

PD in a Box is just what it sounds like: coaches gather materials and resources around an instructional theme and fill the box with those materials, a simple teacher guide and a personalized note for teachers.

Based on their teaching interests and needs, teachers choose the box that speaks most to them and works through the content at their own pace in their own way with plenty of opportunities to connect with a coach along the way. And the best part? We can create boxes on ANY topic with just a bit of preparation and can easily rotate boxes among interested teachers.

Want to see an example? Take a look at this TeachBoost blog post for a few ideas. And if you’re wondering what this might look like digitally, then take a look at my Grab and Go blog post inspired by @LisaLitCoach.

PD in a Cup

Here’s a personal note about me: I have a mug collection that I love adding pieces to. So when Brittany Daniels shared her PD in a Cup idea with me, I knew it was right up my alley.

Similar to PD in a box, this method curates QR codes, printed articles, manipulatives and a personal invitation to explore the content. You might think of these as PD party favors with nuggets to explore after a session for longer-lasting learning or for anytime learning sprinkled throughout the school year.

Brittany created a PD in a Cup focused on conferring. She filled the cups with QR codes linked to videos and articles and added a card with her favorite conferring questions for teachers to try in their own conferences. You’ll find a picture of her PD in a Cup below:

PD in a Tent

Next up? PD in a Tent. Yes! A tent! Brittany Daniels (Can you tell how creative she is?!) set up a tent and comfortable chairs in her school’s cafeteria and invited teachers to browse books on teacher-selected topics. I mean, what better way to spend some time than digging into some reading? Click on this link to see the retreat for yourself. 

I love everything about this idea and with a few strategic coaching moves (like helping teachers create book stacks or offering notebook prompts to capture thinking from my newest book), we can harness this power of restorative care for teachers in our coaching. No, we do not have to actually set up a tent, but we can recreate the feel of a reading and writing retreat with just a few key moves and well-placed resources.

A PD Game Board

This idea comes from Tiffany Trevenen and I love it. She was looking for an innovative way to explore the ideas of instructional acceleration versus remediation with her teachers. She wanted to share information, yet keep it conversational and collaborative. A game board fit the bill.

Essentially, she paced teachers’ learning using a game board, rather than a Google slides presentation. She created the board, added color, text and links and published it as a web page. And the effect was instant. You can find the actual game board she used here. It’s fun, full of content AND interaction and offers a breath of fresh air within a PD session.

Well, there you have it. A few innovative ideas to maximize the effectiveness of professional development AND make connections to later professional learning. We all deserve a bit of whimsy in our learning and PD in a (Fill in the Bank) does just that! And, if you're up for more, take a look at my 5-session series on designing teacher learning experiences. You'll learn innovative ideas for PD and a whole lot more!

Which one will you try? What other ways would you fill in the blank?

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  1. Here are some pictures from our PD in a Tent!! https://bit.ly/3tzifOw

    This was such a simple thing to do...and teachers were so appreciative of the change in scenery!

    1. These are amazing! Can I embed the link right into my post? LOVE IT!

  2. The game board was super fun and I received very positive feedback from staff. The game board was just their "materials" to go with my slides and facilitation of discussions. Taking Stephanie's PD course started this ball rolling. Then the game board idea came from the Make and Take Gold EDU girls (goldedu.org)along with collaborating with my coaching bestie Jennifer Willems. It takes a village! Thank you Stephanie - and everyone else!

    1. Thanks for sharing this with everyone, Tiffany! It really does take a village and we are in this together!


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