Making PD Days work

Sunday 13 August 2017

How do we make sure that our professional development days at the beginning of a new school year have maximum impact?

What should be my focus?

Professional development is essentially about professional learning. So how do we ensure that professional development days/opportunities really do focus on professional learning where learning is about a permanent change in thinking or behaviour?

In their book Intentional Interruption Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack provide the following top tips:

  • Be student learning focussed. What do our students need to learn more effectively? Professional learning needs to be focussed on identified student needs. If (specific) students are not learning effectively it raises questions about the efficacy of the teaching practices, and thus the learning needs of the professionals involved. What do our teachers need to learn to support what our students need to learn?
  • Frame professional inquiries. Identify deep questions / problems about student learning you need to answer / solve and frame these in the form of professional inquiries / questions. Such an investigative approach to problems teachers have is engaging, meaningful and authentic learning.
  • Collaborate: professionals working together to investigate the inquiries, challenging each other to think and practice in a different way. So what activities / protocols are we going to use to develop collaboration and joint inquiry?

A key aspect of your role as a school leader is to help teachers grow professionally and for a specific reason – namely, to influence the academic outcome for students.

Many schools use specific professional development days at the beginning and throughout the school year to develop and enhance professional practice.  However, what about turning every staff meeting into a professional development opportunity?

For further thoughts you might like to read Professional Learning (Development) where I look at how professional development can become professional learning and provide a list of top tips.

How do I structure the development?

  • Take into account how adults learn: It is important to design professional development activities in ways which address how adults learn. For example, we know that adults learn best when professional development focuses on what is important and relevant to them, builds on their experience of what they already know, and is problem-centred. You may find it helpful to read the page on this website on Adult Learning - this page can be used as training workshop in itself with all your senior and middle leaders introducing them to the principles of adult learning. You may also find it helpful to read about the IB approach to adult learning in order to review what the IB principles of professional development, namely: it is built on constructivist principles, collaborative, inquiry based, differentiated, authentic and reflective.
  • Facilitation is key: if you are the person helping to design and deliver the professional development days you may find it helpful to reflect on How to facilitate adult learning which looks at the core skills of a facilitator of adult learning.
  • Plan carefully: The same way in which we know that careful lesson preparation is essential to meet the differentiated needs of students in our classes the same applies to planning professional development days. How do you plan professional development? provides you with both an approach and a template to help your planning.
  • Evaluate the impact: Time is valuable to all people. Both you and your teachers know how important it is to use time well and get the most of the professional development opportunities you have. Therefore it is important to evaluate the impact the professional development has had. Use Evaluating Professional Learning as a scaffolding tool for doing this.

What activities can I use?

This site contains a Leadership Toolkit which contains many strategies, protocols and activities for making your professional development days collaborative.Each of the tools contained in this toolkit contains suggestions on what the tool can be used (e.g. to ignite discussion, to create alignment, to envision etc.) as well as how it can be used.

This site also contains suggestions on some Digital technologies for collaborative learning - each are easy to use and are an excellent way of enabling staff to work collaboratively on join projects.

If you want to build up your own toolkit of activities - for example, for  an internal school professional development intranet site - the Resources section of this website provides you with links to many other professional development activities you and your team could use.


The following quote is a good definition of the process of adult learning in professional development. How will the professional learning opportunities you are planning measure up?

“Professional development is often not about learning at all. Learning that changes what people think and how they behave requires conceptual change. Conceptual change happens when people make their current beliefs explicit, subject them to scrutiny from themselves and others, consider how new information either fits or challenges their existing beliefs, and then make permanent changes to what they know and do. It is rarely the case that professional development activities encourage this kind of deep thinking and change, but this is how new learning happens, and new learning is required to change classroom practice.” (Katz, S. & Dack, L A., Intentional Interruption, Corwin, 2013, pp 6-7).

  • What are the (deep) professional inquiries (questions) your professional development/learning is attempting to explore? What are your current problems of practice and why?
  • How are your teachers going to think, behave and teach differently as a result of your professional development days?
  • Can you visualize it? If you can start with the big picture in mind and share it with all staff. Professional development is part of growing into your vision.

Tags: professional development, professional development days, CPD


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