Prehistoric PD

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

Professional Development (PD) is one of the most important undertakings a school leader can invest in.  The learning experiences we offer our staff should exemplify current-best-practice.  However, the predominant approach to PD remains systemically prehistoric; a pedagogical relic that is frozen in time.

Can we really expect our schools to help students become #FutureReady if we continue to rely upon prehistoric PD? The following five facets of PD have helped our school move to a more effective PD model that supports staff learning in a digital age:

Choice and Voice.  Each year our school plans a series of monthly PD breakout sessions that empower staff with choice and voice.

Pretending that we unilaterally understand the needs of all teachers through obligatory attendance seems antiquated.  This year our PD Chairperson and I talked about making attendance at our monthly PD breakout sessions optional.  In doing so, we are holding ourselves to the highest standard while remaining steadfastly committed to offering responsive PD.  If a staff member elects to participate in an alternate learning activity their professional discernment is honored.  While this is a relatively new endeavor for us, Twitter chats, graduate classes, EdCamps, or blog reading/writing are all fair game.

Power to the People.  Ask your all-star teachers WHAT they want to learn about and HOW they want to learn about it…then make it happen.  Our school collected staff input using an online forum titled, “Empowered Learning.” Staff feedback and forum responses are driving our PD planning this school year.

We occasionally invite outside presenters to facilitate PD sessions, but the truth of the matter is that our teachers possess a wealth of experience and I’d trust them to present on anything they are passionate about.

Make it Count.  Educators are very busy people, and teachers make great sacrifices outside of work to ensure their students are put first.  Aside from the intrinsic value of learning, we strive to offer credit for all PD sessions.  Attendees can register online to receive continuing re-licensure credits through the Minnesota Department of Education.

Never Stop Learning.  If you are comfortable with your approach to planning/leading PD it may be a sign that you need to make some changes.  This can be done by connecting using Web 2.0 tools and investing in digital connections.  It also means that some of the BEST learning an educator can do is literally a click away.  Harness the collaborative potential of Google Hangouts and connect with other experts.  Leverage Twitter to glean new insights and access a plethora of resources and cutting-edge ideas that will ultimately benefit students.  Never stop learning!

Monitor and Adjust. If a staff member approaches me or any other member of our PD team with feedback we listen.  Period.  Last year we offered some asynchronous PD using Moodle forums and research.  We continue to integrate flipped PD when the approach supports essential outcomes.  However, when I miss the mark and plan PD that is too cumbersome or “techie,” I rely on our staff to let me know.

I recently had a teacher approach me and share how impactful some of our PD and collective new learning has been thus far.  She also shared some mild frustration because she was longing for more time to process, collaborate, and share with cross grade-level colleagues about their collective new learning.  She wanted to go deeper into some of the previous PD we’d planned and this required time.  It also required a change of course, so we are now planning to repurpose an upcoming staff meeting to make it 100% collegial collaboration….a deeper dive into previous PD.  Note: I did not schedule an additional meeting…instead we’re altering the agenda for a January staff meeting to be more responsive to staff needs.

Additional Resources:

The PDF below is a dynamic document that reflects the work our PD team has done to create conditions for teachers to collaborate and learn in a more personalized manner.  You can click on the image to download our 2015 PD flyer.

Personalized PD Flyer 2015

Personalized PD Flyer 2015

About Dr. Brad Gustafson

I am an elementary principal and author in Minnesota. You can connect with me at or on Twitter via @GustafsonBrad

Posted on December 31, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Nicely done Brad- you have inspired me here and have given me ideas about how I can better serve our staff and their PD needs! BRAVO!

    • Thanks, Tony. I’m sure you noticed that your inspiration was present in our school’s PD practices as well. We’ve got a great team, and I’m proud to say that your work as positively influenced us. Thank you friend.

  2. I am so impressed by how you’re empowering teachers to be leaders, designers and facilitators of professional development opportunities. The Personalized PD Series looks like there are some amazing offerings. I am curious as to how many individuals elect to choose a different type of learning during this time?

    I am going to push your thinking to consider using the term professional learning rather than professional development. Language is everything! Take a look at these blogs:

    Love what you have to say Brad, you’re an amazing and inspiring leader! Thanks for #beingthechange

    • Michelle,
      The two articles you shared were fabulous. The concept of professional learning feels more learner-centric. This is the first year we’ve made breakout session attendance optional, so the structure is in its infancy. I’ll share reflections/data as time progresses.
      Thanks for pushing my thinking on the language (PD versus Professional Learning)…I agree that semantics matter.

  3. I really appreciate this approach to Personalized PD from a school leader perspective. This is something that we are starting to work on as an approach for our whole district, to varying levels of success. The one thing that caught my attention more than anything else was the idea that by making PD “optional”, you were actually increasing accountability rather than lowering it. I find this idea fascinating as it is entirely contrary to the narrative that is being created around most professional learning opportunities.

    The traditional narrative is that in order to set high expectations for teachers, you have to require the PD that supports those expectations. You are offering up that because you are making PD optional, you are setting the expectations higher for yourselves as leaders of the professional learning experiences and higher for teachers who can make their own choices for how to achieve the goals that you have set for them. I believe you are also encouraging growth and reflection conversations much more frequently because the teachers have to make choices that are in their own best interest. They cannot blame anyone else if they do not achieve what they hoped for.

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here:

    • Thanks, Ben. We have an amazing staff and the expectations they have of themselves are inspiring. We are still on the “journey” with regard to personalized PD and making our breakout sessions optional, but I have no doubt that we will continue to collaborate so that our approach to professional learning is responsive to what our teachers need to make a difference for kids.

      Be well my friend, Brad

  1. Pingback: #C4C15: Prehistoric PD | Adjusting Course | Learning is Change

  2. Pingback: Prehistoric PD – Brad Gustafson | THE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

In Kids' Shoes

Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators

Adjusting Course

Responding to the Needs of the 21st Century Student

On The Leaders Edge

A Reflection of Life, Learning and Leadership

Digital Eyes

Looking at Education Through the Lens of 21st Century Skills

Shelley Burgess

Reflections of an educational learner and leader

The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.


True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

Engaged and Relevant

Just another site

Pernille Ripp

Teacher. Author. Creator. Speaker. Mom.

The Thesis Whisperer

Just like the horse whisperer - but with more pages

%d bloggers like this: