5 Ideas for Improving Professional Learning Experiences

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It has been and always is, a blessing to be a part of district professional learning days.  These past two weeks, I have been so caught up in the passion of so many teachers who are on “summer break,” that are excitedly taking part in their professional learning.  Their enthusiasm has been contagious and has it has been such an invigorating experience, which I feel puts my learning and excitement into another gear.

As I can see so many ways that different districts deliver professional learning, I wanted to share some of the ideas that have inspired me this past summer, as well as from other conferences.  None of these ideas are mine, and really, none of them are mind-blowing ideas, which is excellent because some simple ideas can make the most significant difference. You might do all of these ideas currently or none of them at all, but I think they are compelling opportunities for professional learning.

Here are four that have stood out to me:

  1. Having students and parents participate in your professional learning day.

    I have been a huge advocate of bringing parents and students to professional learning days as I believe it creates different accountability to the communities we serve while involving them in on the conversations we have about learning.  We often talk about what we should do with and for students, but we do not collaborate WITH students on their viewpoints enough.

    This past week, I had the pleasure to join Meghan Lawson and her team in Cincinnati, Ohio, and was able to facilitate a student panel on education. To listen to these students was both mind-blowing and humbling.  The things they know about education reminds me how much more intelligent students are than I was when I was the same age.  Their responses were thoughtful while challenging to the educators in the room, including myself.  What I loved about the panel was that it was a conversation, not a lecture to one group or the other. I felt that the students and the educators in the room were talking about ways to make education better for those that are involved.

    To bring students into professional learning days is a MUST for me. That being said, it has to go beyond giving students a voice, but acting on what they share.  Otherwise, it is all cosmetic.

  2. Ensuring staff leads sessions (students as well).

    Although I am blessed to come in as an outside facilitator for professional learning, I do not think learning days should be limited to bringing in outsiders.  I always share with the audiences that I speak to that the expert is not standing in front of them, but sitting to their left and right. Having your staff lead sessions not only taps into the strength of your organization but debunks the “you can’t be a prophet in your land” myth. I believe that there should always be a balance between looking outside and within to push learning, so empowering your staff to be leaders really can accelerate your school and district.
  3. Giving staff time to NOT attend sessions and collaborate with one another.

    One of my biggest pet peeves of professional learning days is the belief that sessions have to be offered non-stop to be truly valuable.  Short breaks after sessions and overly packed days take away from the powerful learning that happens through informal conversations with colleagues.  Think about large conferences…How many times have people come back to say that the best part of the conference was talking in hallways with other teachers?  So if we know that is valuable, is it possible to plan it within our professional learning days? I have recently seen a few conferences find rooms for people to go and reflect and collaborate and NOT attend a formal session.  I know that after I hear one keynote, I want to have time to blog about what I have learned. This may take away from my breadth of learning, but it allows me to dig deep.  As I write this, would creating a session for teachers to blog on their own throughout the day create an opportunity for participants to not only dig deep but model their learning to others?Overpacking the day with the sessions isn’t helpful if everyone is checked out by the end of the day. Creating reflection and collaboration time can be valuable to any professional learning day.

  4. Look at different learning environments so teachers can try them out as learners, not only as teachers.

    As schools focus on creating spaces that are conducive to powerful learning, is there a way to have teachers experience these spaces on those professional learning days?  I have seen schools get sponsorships from furniture companies to test out different furniture on learning days to see what they look like from the perspective of a learner.  This allows teachers to experience this as learners, not only as teachers, which gives them a better perspective of what the students are feeling within a day.
  5. Give time for health and well-being.

    Physical and mental health have an influence on learning, and I’ve seen many schools start off days with opportunities for Yoga, lunchtime sports, or a plethora of other wellness activities. The chance to play, exercise, meditate, or a myriad of different options for mental and physical health is not only good for teachers, but it helps them see the difference it can make (again) for students.  I have noticed that in many of the professional learning days that started with some physical activity in the morning, led to much more energy throughout the day.

These ideas are just a few things that I have seen in professional learning days that are not necessarily groundbreaking but have an impact.  I would love to collect more ideas, so please leave any comments on what you have seen to be effective in your professional learning.  If it seems simple, but it worked, I encourage you to share it.  The simplest ideas often have the biggest impact.

Source: George Couros


  1. Eileen Wolpert said:

    We are an K-8 school. We have a student Tech Team. They assist other students and teachers with technology hardware, operating systems, and software problems. At one of our Professional Development days this year, some of the Tech Team members organized and facilitated a breakout session (escape the room session) for groups of teachers. So great to have students be in charge of something for teachers – and so much fun!

    June 6, 2018
    • Eileen Wolpert said:

      We are an elementary K-8 school.

      June 6, 2018

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