Designing Teacher Centered Professional Learning- Part 2

“Research shows that teachers-not books, not technology, not buildings, and not even class size-are the single most powerful driver of student performance.” AJ Juliani,  Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom.

detective-152085_960_720In a recent L.E.A.P. meeting during which we were discussing how to continue to improve professional learning in the district, one of our teachers shared the chapter from AJ’s book that included this quote.  She used this as a, “if this is something we believe, then let’s continue to work to make our professional learning the very best it can be for our staff” type of motivator.  It was a GREAT way to refocus and contextualize the work we were doing, and felt it appropriate to frame this post.

In Part 1 of Designing Teacher Centered Professional Learning, I focused on why we need to make teacher voice and teacher choice in professional learning a priority, as well as where are, today, in terms of the numbers related to our professional learning at Garnet Valley.  

This post will focus on the stages of the Process we used to get here (including our L.E.A.P. Professional Learning Committee), what we have found our Key Ingredients to be that have supported this work, and how we are using teacher and technology Resources to create systems to manage all of these components.


Beginning in October 2013, Garnet Valley formed our L.E.A.P. Committee (League of Educational Advancement and Professional Learning).  This group is co-facilitated by or District Administration and members of our Association Leadership.  The committee is comprised of curriculum coordinators (teacher leaders) from each building, building and district administrators, and  parents; the purpose of L.E.A.P. has been to formulate a vision and a plan for professional learning in the district, and to build structures and processes for continuous feedback and improvement around professional Learning.  

One of the first tasks we took on was developing a our Mission and Vision for the Committee and around professional learning in our district.  Below is a ‘look’ at our district professional learning site, mission and vision:

Once this was set, the committee has tackled everything from collecting data, comparing our current practices to research in order to clearly define where we wanted to go, to figuring out ways to open lines of communication to easily collect feedback from our staff, to addressing more concrete issues around scheduling, travel time between buildings, and maximizing our time around lunch.  

As I shared in Part 1, one of our early staff surveys provided us with some telling data on the current state of our professional learning.  Two of our more telling questions and teacher responses are below:

  • I am satisfied with the District’s support and follow-up with professional development = 56% of our responses were showing teachers were Satisfied with our current model.
  • My building’s professional learning reflects my needs as a teacher= 56% of our responses were showing teachers were Satisfied with our current model.

Obviously we had a huge challenge ahead of us.  We realized that for us to improve and for this to work, we have to have  a number of different layers working together:

Our L.E.A.P Committee has been meeting a few times a year to continue to discuss inservice feedback, successes, challenges, and any other issues related to the professional learning that has been happening. They also work to communicate all of this to their buildings.

Our Curriculum Office, Technology Director, and Special Education Department work on everything from meeting with our department teacher leaders to discuss topics, needs and scheduling, to establishing timelines for planning in-services (the official timeline starts about 5 weeks out from an inservice day, however we have found this tends to be a constant, ongoing pursuit), to keeping our resources and communication lines current, open, and transparent.

Our Curriculum Coordinators (teachers leaders in our departments) are having ongoing conversations with our teachers on what they need and how they would like the next round of professional learning to look, as well as reaching out to speakers and consultants that they hope to bring in, or to organizations they hope to visit off campus.

After our first year or so, our numbers came back showing:

  • I am satisfied with the District’s support and follow-up with professional development = teacher Satisfaction moved from 56% to 76%.
  • My building’s professional learning reflects my needs as a teacher= teacher Satisfaction moved from 56% to 71%.

Obviously this is not where we want to be yet, however we made progress. As we continue to meet, review the ongoing feedback we are collecting and look to adjust to empower all stakeholders, this year has seen a number of different ‘looks’.  

Again, as I shared in Part 1, so far this year, our first round of Professional Learning days have looked, on average, like:

  • We have been supporting 17 Departments, approximately 300 teachers and 200 paraprofessionals.
  • Each day was broken into 4 sessions, 1.5 hours each. Depending on how a teacher’s schedule worked out, he/she could have had everything from 4 separate sessions/topics to 1 full day of a topic or learning focus.
  • An average of 123 sessions were scheduled each inservice day.  These ranged from technology use…to off-site visits…to outside consultants coming in…to workshops at local museums…to department specific curriculum, assessment and instruction work.
  • Across our departments and grade levels, we addressed, on average, 72 different sub-groups. Sessions were differentiated for content, grade level, and/or interest specific groups such as 6-8 Family Consumer Sciences, Elementary Math Specialists, Special Education Non-Resource Room teachers, HS APUSH teachers, and K-12 ELA Curriculum writers.

To give a clearer picture, a few sample department schedules are below:

Sample Sessions

In both cases, our departments had a mix of assigned sessions that interested them, as well as room for sessions which they could choose from a district menu (focused on other initiatives related to technology, design thinking, STEAM Education, etc…that we have going on in the district).

Based on this current year’s feedback, we made a few adjustments for our last 2 in-services:

  • Instead of 4 sessions at 1.5 hours each, we are running 3 sessions that are 2 hours each.  We are hoping this will cut down on lost time due to travel and allow for more in session ‘application’ time  for teachers to plan to implement what they have learned.
  • Instead of a mix of ‘assigned’ sessions and ‘choice’ sessions, we are making our April day all assigned sessions (departments still are able to provide feedback and frame out their day), and our May day will be a pure ‘menu’ day of choices. We found that certain departments had less choice than others, specifically our ELA Teachers, who are going through a K-12 Curriculum rewrite.
  • We are looking to bring in Food trucks to our campus to help cut down on the challenges around teachers getting to lunch and getting back to our sessions in a efficient manner.


As we have been working towards improving our professional learning, here are a few ‘key ingredients’ that have jumped out:

  • Mission & Vision: in order to continue to shift culture, look to create an ‘all in’ mentality that both communicates and supports the importance of professional learning, we created a Vision & Mission for professional learning that is tied to our district’s Strategic Plan, as well as current Standards for Best Practice in PD. (see Learning Forward’s Professional Learning Standards)
  • Teacher Input & Feedback: Empowering our teachers has probably been the most impactful ingredient in the mix.  Through the variety of feedback mechanisms in place, our staff have really started to take control of the sessions–helping to decide topics, find speakers or places to visit, provide us with critical feedback, etc.  Our teachers have an expertise in and network related to their areas that we (administrators), depending our backgrounds, may not have.  Transferring ownership to our teachers allows us to maximize their expertise, and therefore their time and learning as well.
  • Choice/Variety: Put simply this is about differentiation.  The variety in our teaching staff is no different than the variety in our classrooms.  There are different needs for our different departments, grade levels, and content areas. By meeting them where they are we need to continue to make their time meaningful and worthwhile.
  • Systems for Collaboration: It is no secret that building professional learning in this manner takes a lot of work and includes multiple stakeholders.  Finding the time to collaborate and communicate on an ongoing basis is tough.  This past year, we have spent a lot of time working to build structures and systems, from our use of various aspects of the Google Suite to establishing timelines, forms, and routines, to help facilitate all these processes. A few examples are below.

LEAP Resources

  • Administrative Planning Timeline. Please use this timeline to make sure we are able to take care of all of the tasks we need to effectively deliver professional learning.
  • Please click the following link to our Professional Learning Interest Form.  Please use the following form to suggest topics that you are interested in for potential Professional Learning opportunities.  *note- this is a screenshot of part of the Google Form we use; for full access please contact me.
  • Please click the following link to the Participant Planning Guide. This is an optional form that you may find useful for your planning purposes.

Facilitator Resources

A facilitator is a person who facilitates collaborative conversations or work around a topic of interest to the grade level or department. The focus of the session may not necessarily be new learning, and little to no preparation is involved.

Presenter Resources

A presenter is a person who plans and delivers a professional learning session in which new knowledge or information around a topic of interest to the grade level or department is shared.

As mentioned earlier in this post, Education is changing…constantly, rapidly. Whether the myriad of these changes require us to shift our thinking in pedagogy, literacy, technology, scheduling, curriculum practices or interdisciplinary learning opportunities, we have to continue to find ways move away from the one size fits all model of professional learning to one that allows for teacher ownership and that honors their intellect, expertise and experience.  While we, here at Garnet Valley, are not where we need to be yet…believe me this is all a constant work in progress, we are confident that our continued work with our LEAP Committee, and our continued work to empower our all stakeholders in this process will help us better meet our teachers needs for professional learning and growth.

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