Written by Leslie Draper, Executive Director-Inspire Academy
Every successful school has a strategic professional development plan built around schoolwide goals. The plan is the easy part. Figuring out how to prioritize time for professional development and ensure adequate differentiation are a little more challenging. There are no easy answers to these challenges, but I love hearing what other schools are doing in order to gather ideas, so my hope for this article is to leave you with some ideas to implement at your own school.
For the first time this year, we introduced in-house certifications as the answer to continuing momentum on our schoolwide professional development needs while ensuring teachers have the opportunity to pursue topics of interest to them. This has turned out to be a great way to listen to teacher voices and put the ball in their court to decide if and when they’re ready to pursue additional topics above and beyond schoolwide professional development.
How does this work logistically? When hiring and renewing teachers, we write into their commitment letters a commitment to work 12 professional days beyond the 180 student days and a commitment to stay until 5:30pm two days per month for staff meetings and professional development. For those of you who have not asked for this commitment from teachers, this may sound scary to consider, but our teachers value these times together and appreciate the commitment to their professional learning. We use most of our professional days to kick off our year with teachers more than a week before students. This allows us time to plan, prepare, and learn together, building a strong sense of crew amongst staff before the stress of the school year kicks in. We call this week plus a few days together “summer institute.” Then, we use the days we stay until 5:30pm to build on the work started during summer institute, which gives us uninterrupted adult learning time without students, building a sense of collective efficacy. I cannot emphasize enough the positive impact this structure has on our school.
In addition to this solidified structure, teachers can choose to go above and beyond by pursuing one of nine teacher certifications (new this year and off to a strong start!): accelerated learning teacher, antiracist educator, family-friendly teacher, green ribbon teacher, mindful teacher, STEM focused teacher, techy teacher, and trauma-informed teacher. A side bonus – you may have noticed – several of these certifications are aligned with topics that can lead to IDOE school wide credentials, such as becoming a STEM School, a Green Ribbon School, or a Family-Friendly School. During our first year of rollout, and notably this unique year during which teachers were stretched to new limits as they navigated pandemic teaching, we had two teachers successfully become certified as Inspire Academy Mindful Teachers. We can now post the certificate on their classroom door, add the label to their family newsletters, and generally celebrate this strength and success with our families and other staff, building a culture of honoring expertise within our building.
There’s no “one size fits all” plan for professional development. The key is planning topics together and implementing the plan in a way that works for your team. We are stronger together!