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Ditch the PD Dread: How to Create a Culture of Continuous Learning

Mirko Chardin
Mirko Chardin
July 1, 2024
Ditch the PD Dread: How to Create a Culture of Continuous Learning

Here’s the deal, if you are dreading planning professional development (PD) for your staff because you “know” they’ll complain no matter what you do, I am sorry to be the one to tell you this - but you actually might be the problem. 

If you are still here, good. Stick with me. Let’s face it, we’ve all been in professional development sessions that feel like a complete waste of our time. If you are hearing frequent complaints or seeing feedback that your teachers are not into the PD they are attending, there may be some confusion about why they are there, how they will benefit, and what kind of follow-up they will receive after the session is done. It is the job of the school leader to make all of that perfectly clear to teachers to ensure that what feels like “wasted time” instead is a powerful learning experience. 

We know that professional development is essential, but for PD to be effective, all parties need to be actively involved. PD can’t simply happen once a year with no follow through, we need to ditch the one-and-done and create a culture of continuous learning. One where your teachers are fired up to learn, collaborate, and level up their skills, while being treated with both respect and dignity and feel like they have the support they need to transform their practice. And that starts with leadership. 

Numerous studies in the field of education support the notion that ongoing, job-embedded professional development is crucial for the successful adoption and integration of new instructional practices. For instance, a meta-analysis conducted by Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Gardner (2017) found that sustained professional learning opportunities, such as coaching, collaborative planning, and ongoing feedback, are instrumental in supporting new teachers with the implementation of innovative pedagogical approaches.

Here are five ways to set your teachers up for success and to make sure that your PD doesn’t, well, suck: 

Relevance is Key

Forget generic PD sessions where presenters talk at you about a topic. Instead, identify the real challenges your teachers are facing right now. Is it creating engaged learners in the classroom? Is it wrapping their heads around how to teach all students in the classroom? Make the connection crystal clear: how will this PD directly help them solve problems in their classrooms today? Think of it as giving them the tools to conquer their teaching challenges, not some dusty old textbook about abstract educational theory. Make sure that they actually have time to consume the information, chat with colleagues about it and plan how they are going to use their new knowledge and skills.

Universally Designed Professional Development

Just like we love and honor the amazing variability of our students, we should follow suit with our staff and ditch the one-size-fits-all approach. Think about the barriers your staff might face in engaging with the PD and offer a variety of formats that will help overcome those barriers while staying true to your firm goals: interactive workshops, online modules, bite-sized video tutorials – the whole kit and caboodle. This empowers your team to engage with materials in a way that best suits their needs and personal preferences and helps to ensure they enjoy the experience. Remember the goal is not simply that you’ve shared information, but that it’s actually accessible and useful for your folks.

Accessibility Matters

Life throws curveballs, and caregiver support and other commitments shouldn't be a barrier to learning. Schedule PD strategically to minimize disruptions. Record sessions for those who can't attend live, and provide materials in various formats like audio or digital. By removing these hurdles, you're sending a message: your staff's well-being is a priority.

Feedback is Your Friend

Don't let PD be a lecture with a participation trophy at the end. Open the feedback loop! Use surveys, quick polls, staff cogen groups or even anonymous feedback to gather insights on the format, content, and usefulness of the PD. Actively listen to your teachers' concerns and use their input to shape future PD experiences. This reinforces that PD is done for teachers and with them and NOT to them.

Growth Mindset, All Day Every Day

PD shouldn't be a one-shot deal. Think of it as a continuous learning feast. Encourage a culture where asking questions is encouraged, trying new things is embraced, and sharing best practices with colleagues is the norm. This kind of collaborative spirit is the secret sauce to a thriving school community where everyone, teachers and students alike, can keep growing and learning by embracing being a learning community

So ditch the PD dread! Create a culture that gets your teachers enthusiastic, addresses real-world needs, and fosters an incredible culture of growth in your school. 

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