1 | Go on (adult) field trips.
Why should kids have all the fun? (And wouldn’t you like to take a field trip that doesn’t involve yelling, herding, or getting gum out of someone’s hair?) Get a group of teachers together and hit up the history museum, a learning farm, an art exhibit, or even a trek to a legislative session to watch government in action—anything to give you fresh perspective on a topic or something to buzz about to your students. Going with other teachers is not only social, but it is likely to lead to many new lesson ideas—and maybe some cross-curricular collaborations with other classes.
2 | Let students take the stage.
Miller’s best professional development idea started as a prank. When it was her turn to present a new strategy at a faculty meeting, she pretended to have technical difficulties—and suddenly her students burst from their hiding places and acted out the strategy.
“I modeled with my students while instructing my peers each step of the way. My students were amazing!” says Miller. “After the lesson, I had them answer the staff questions to prove how trained and routine this was for them. All of the staff members thanked me for such an impactful learning opportunity and said it was the best learning experience they’d ever had!”
To recreate the experience, plan to take turns visiting colleagues’ classrooms as their students act out lessons, behaviors, or strategies. You can read about how Miller set it up and watch her kids in action here.
3 | Make tech work for you, not vice versa.
Do you break into a sweat when you see all the technology and social media tools available (and subsequently hide under a desk with a quill pen and papyrus)? So do we, sometimes. But instead of becoming paralyzed by choices, just pick something and give it a deadline, suggests Scibienski.
“Try something for two weeks, and pay attention to how much time you put in and the value you are getting out. Is it just entertaining or are you extracting value?” Or, he suggests, try two tools for a limited time. “See which tool feels more intuitive and offers you more value, then ditch the other one.”
4 | Reimagine staff meetings.
In 20 years of teaching, Andrea Hernandez (now cofounder of amplifiEDucation) of Jacksonville, Florida, sat through a lot of long staff meetings. These often involved “impassioned debates over whether to have a water cooler in the staff lounge,” she recalls. When her principal vowed to do away with “admis-trivia” at the meetings and devote the time to the practices of teaching and learning, Hernandez was thrilled.
“It seems obvious and simple,” Hernandez says, but the decision was “game-changing.”
With the newly freed-up time at their disposal, teachers began hosting meetings in their classrooms; giving “Ignite” talks (in which they present a topic of interest for five minutes while slides auto-advance every 15 seconds); discussing TED talks (like Temple Grandin’s “The World Needs All Kinds of Minds”); inviting guests to speak; and holding workshops to help one another create professional development timelines.
5 | Start a book club.
“I’m always amazed at the way books can spark deep conversations about important topics. This has especially been true when I use them with teachers,” says Susan Dee, a K–5 literacy strategist at Mast Landing School in Freeport, Maine. To launch professional development conversations, she uses picture books such as If You Hold a Seed, by Elly MacKay, to discuss the need for patience, skill, and perseverance in getting little seeds to grow; The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires, to remind teachers that sometimes it’s okay to step away, refocus, and try again; and Courage, by Bernard Waber, to encourage her peers to talk about all the things that take courage in their teaching practice.
Dee says books “create a non-threatening way to have important conversations, without them becoming personal.” Also consider forming a club to discuss the latest teaching memoir, pop-psychology book, or education documentary—and enjoy the fruitful conversations that result.