Choice in Professional Development

choice (1)In college, I distinctly remember a professor reading me PowerPoint slides about how students don’t actually learn when teachers just read slideshow presentations. I wish I was making it up, but it’s absolutely true.

Though much of that class was incredibly frustrating for me, it turns out she was wrong about one thing that day. This day, yes the diligent reading of PowerPoint slides, might be the clearest lesson I remember from my education classes, but not because of anything she set out to do. I remember what she said because of the experience it brought me into (unfortunately for her, that was me staring blankly at my classmates wondering silently why we were paying college tuition for this).

Fast forward a few years with me.

I’m an assistant principal now, and I’m a big believer in the idea that giving students choices and providing them with a “just right” challenge makes learning relevant and accessible for all learners (no matter what age). As much as I’ve circled around those ideas, it was time to model that for the staff.

The goal I set was simple: create a memorable experience that demonstrates the power of choice in learning. For the day to be a success, that has to happen. In addition, I hope the their learning experience serves a model that could be easily transferred to the classroom (all of it or the parts of it that fit well).

We do our teachers a disservice when our

With a bit of trepidation, I’d like to share how I hope to make that happen (at least as it is right now). This is what our morning on the Thursday before school will look like:

Everyone will attend three sessions of their choosing. We’ll follow that with a break and a debrief and discussion time. The whole process will take three hours.

Sessions will be classified as presentations (traditional delivery), conversations (flat leadership, plan to participate), and maker sessions (just what it sounds like). We’ll likely have about 20% presentations, 50% conversations, and 30% maker sessions. Teachers will choose three sessions to attend (mix and match however the schedule allows) over the first two hours.

Admittedly, this is not as wide open as choice gets. There are great ways to push the bounds of open choice further with a genius hour or an EdCamp for campus PD, but those aren’t exactly what I’m looking for. Choice is a familiar idea, and the timing isn’t right to drop something brand new on the staff.

Here’s a tentative schedule of the sessions. We’ll have inspirational videos, tips from our social emotional learning team, conversations on topics all teachers struggle with, time to make thank you or You Matter cards, and I’ve even toyed around with having an open gym for a session. I’m probably most excited about three student led sessions that I expect to be quite popular. Overall, the hope is to have every session focus on knowledge, skills, or motivation that will help teachers on the first day or during the first week (though a few might not be realized until later in the first month).

After teachers complete their sessions, we’ll have a short break before coming back together to debrief and discuss their experience. During that time, we’ll reflect on these questions:

  • How was this morning like your students’ learning experience? How was it different?
  • What impact does the timing of this PD have on you? How does that impact your concern for pressures students face? (This is currently scheduled for the Thursday before school begins on a Monday.)
  • What ways did your choices this morning differentiate for your interests? Your ability level? Your sense of urgency about outside concerns?
  • What did you end up learning that you can share with your colleagues?

My hope is that the morning creates a time where teachers have a chance to really choose what they need. Maybe they’ve been presenting all week and what they need is to be on the receiving end of some PD. Maybe they don’t need anyone to tell them what to do, but they do have some questions they need help with. Maybe they need to hear from those students in the student led sessions before they start the year. Maybe they need the uplifting, inspirational shot in the arm. Maybe they’re all thought out by Thursday morning and they need to do something with their hands that will still impact students positively.

I don’t know exactly what they need, but they certainly don’t all need the same things.

I also hope this honors the challenges we put on our teachers throughout the year. Be engaging. Differentiate for all students. Make sure your students are writing in class. Keep up with all your paperwork. And the list goes on…

We do our teachers a disservice when our PD fails to model best practices. (tweet this)

My challenge to you isn’t to make PD sessions on choice.

Your people all need something different. The challenge is to figure out what the teachers need on your campus and try something new (even something that might fail) in front of the staff at the beginning of the year that will stretch you and them. Be willing to ask this question: what sort of learning would keep teachers from looking at the time wondering, When can I get into my room to work?

Before it’s too late, share what you create. Don’t wait until you can revise it based on what you know worked (or so you can leave it as a draft if the whole things blows up).

Your work can serve as both inspiration to others and a point of departure as we explore how to serve teachers well through professional development.

10 Replies to “Choice in Professional Development”

  1. Sanee Bell says:


    This is exactly where I am on my journey right now! I am at ISTE and I focused all my learning on personalized learning for teachers. I am full of info to help me start this journey! Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    1. Be sure to share what you create! I’d love to see it!

  2. This is wonderful! As a verteran teacher I would welcome pd like this. Question: Other than the student-led sessions, who is leading the sessions?

    1. A few will have leaders (mostly teachers), but most will be led by the people who choose to show up there.

      I feel for teachers who have to sit through a “just do these three things and your students will never misuse cellphones or act up in the hallway” presentation. There’s certainly risk involved in having less defined leadership in each conversation, but it’s one worth taking in my opinion.

      1. Okay, almost an ed camp feel for some sessions. I bet teachers will be more engaged and prepared for these sessions since 1) They get to choose and in the choosing they must reflect on their own needs and pratices, and 2) The sessions can’t run without their participation; no sit and get. I also love that you involved students. Thanks so much for posting your ideas!

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  5. Aaron,
    I realize this post is a year old, and perhaps you are beginning to utilize something a little different than what you describe in this post, but you exactly right in differentiating PD. I worked with a school two years ago, and we developed this model ( It worked very well. I now work with several schools in my region that wish to utilize my model of Personalized PD, and we seeing very positive feedback from teachers. Their journeys are really making a difference. Here’s another site of school I work with (
    I’d be happy to chat more about it if you’re interested. I presented at ISTE this summer on it, and I’m finishing up my book. I also participate in the chat #personalizedPD on Tuesdays at 8PM CST.
    Let me know if you have continued to use the PD described above or want to talk more.

  6. Aaron,
    This is exactly what I’m hoping to model as I prepare to begin as an Instructional Technology Coach. I realize this post is a year old but how did it go? I’m a fan of the EdCamp model but I like the sound of this, too. I would also like to try an Appmazing Race type PD similar to iPadpalooza.
    Thanks for sharing! I always enjoy your posts.
    Erin Gerdes

    1. aaronhogan says:

      Circumstances didn’t allow for implementation, but it’s still an idea I think would work well. I hope to test it sooner than later!

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