#IMMOOC: 8 Things to Look for in Today’s PD

In his book, the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros takes the “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” and tweaks it to align with professional development instead.


Words by George Couros, illustrations by Sylvia Duckworth

I’m sure we can think of classrooms that are working toward infusing these ideas, and classrooms where these ideas are the furthest thoughts away from the teachers. Professional development is the same way, and there needs to be a shift in how it is given to staff members.

In my own district, I am of the minority when it comes to learning and expanding my knowledge as needed, especially when I start using Twitter. In fact, I recently received notifications from my administration alerting me to the professional development they would like to have provided to staff members for the upcoming beginning days sessions. I will work with another ITRT to present on these topics. The change in how PD was being provided at the beginning of the year was decided on by administration after we ITRTs had left for summer obligations, so we had no say.

What is wrong with this kind of PD? Easy. It is often a one time thing. The beginning of the year professional development is required so the staff must attend. Even if we offer follow up sessions throughout the year (which we do), they are not well attended. The staff that like the initial PD will use it, the rest will ignore it, especially if it’s not watched for by administration. Since the PD is mandatory, it’s made to be a one-size-fits-all session. This whole setup is a setup for failure, and one I don’t like because it wastes my time, and it wastes the staff time.

So how might this type of PD change in my district in the future? That’s where the 8 things comes into play. See a problem, find a solution to the problem, right? Here’s how I see the 8 things being used to change professional development in Fluvanna County:

  1. Voice- Educators want students to own their learning. The same should be expected of them at PD sessions. Just because the presenter is at the front of the room does not mean that they are the only expert in the room. Share thoughts and ideas. Use tools that can get others involved throughout the sessions.If you’ve ever been to an edcamp, you know that sessions are led by everyone in the room. If someone has something to share, they speak up and share. It’s a gathering of ideas, resources, and stories. There is no one leader. There is no one expert. Everyone has a voice and everyone has a say. Lecture has its place in the world, but it shouldn’t be at every PD session ever held.
  2. Choice- When is the last time that you had a say in your professional development? Never? Typically, there are two reasons why- You only let your district provide your PD options OR your district doesn’t count your own learning methods as PD.If you are the first reason, then it’s time for you to take control of your learning. Not every district is ready for choice just yet, though this is not a conversation we should be having in this day and age. If you want something, ask! From my own viewpoint, I love when teachers ask me for professional development. I am willing and able to make it fit their needs and wants. I believe I need to make that even clearer this year though. Last year was my learning year…this year there’s not an excuse.

    If you find yourself falling into reason number 2, it’s time to reevaluate your feelings on professional development. Are you only doing it to earn recertification points, or are you doing it to better yourself and your students? If you want the points, it’s time to turn that extrinsic motivation into intrinsic motivation. Yes, we cannot be motivated by every PD session we attend, but do we need someone dangling a reward in our faces? If that’s the case, then why do we act baffled when students do the same? “Is this a grade?” is to students on an assignment what “How many points will I get?” is to educators on professional development. We don’t like our students doing this, so why is it okay for us as educators to do the same?

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  3. Time for Reflection-  This ties in heavily with self-assessment later, but how many times does a professional development session allow for reflection on knowledge learned? Do you find this is often on an evaluation sheet about the session itself? “Gee, let me just BS this answer here so I can be done and out the door.” We’ve all been there before. This kind of reflection helps no one.Instead, PD can and should provide times throughout the session to reflect and connect with others, and not just through written word. Use pictures and video to shake things up a bit. Give attendees time to think and then let them respond. A good video tool for this process would be Flipgrid. Twitter can be used, and so can Padlet. Want to have a back channel chat running? Then TodaysMeet might be more your style. Each tool lets users reflect beyond traditional responses.
  4. Opportunities for Innovation- Teachers cannot learn everything there is to know about a product, tool, or method in one PD session. It doesn’t matter how long the session is, or how many interesting tips are shared, we are not sponges that automatically absorb everything. These beginning sessions only help us scratch the surface of what we can do with the tool.Instead, teachers need time to come together and create. They need time to work with the information given to them to see how it can be adapted to their own classrooms and needs. This time should not be provided during the initial session itself. Teachers are just starting to absorb the information. They have not had time to reflect and think about the learning that took place. However, time given in a few weeks to create and come together would be more beneficial. During this time, educators can create and share their work with their colleagues so that more ideas and creativity can be sparked.
  5. Critical Thinkers- Time and time again, we tell our students to critically think and evaluate information. They have 24 hour access (for many) and must be able to evaluate on the fly. Educators must be able to do the same. They need to feel that they have a space to push the boundaries of thinking, and to suggest new ideas. They need a space to question and challenge others, and where others can do the same to them.Educators should be able to challenge the way things “have always been done”. It doesn’t have to be that way, and it doesn’t have to be only administration who tries to change the status quo. Of course, to be able to do this requires a good relationship between administration and staff, and the willingness to look beyond titles and rank for the good of the school community.
  6. Problem Solvers/Finders- One of the marks of an innovator is the ability to find problems and find solutions to them. Ever been in the teacher’s lounge during lunch? It’s a nightmare to those who are above the negativity. I have dealt with this because my office at the high school is tied to the teacher lunch area. The negativity is overwhelming, and so I often escape to the library to get away from it. Those folks can certainly FIND problems, but they have no interest in solving them. Thus, the cycle continues daily.Instead of simply complaining, recognize there is a problem and then begin working on ways to solve it. This can be done through PD, though it may not be traditional to many. Research. Find literature and books that can help with new methods. We can create a better environment for our students, if we are willing to try to solve the issues that arise in front of us. Ask questions, learn new knowledge, try new solutions, reflection, and keep trying. You can improve the opportunities for students if only you are willing to try.
  7. Self-Assessment- Do you only rely evaluations from your superior or administration to tell you how you’re doing? Stop that! I get one evaluation per year. Just 1! Truly that could make or break me (thankfully I do well typically).Relying on only that one or few times a year evaluation doesn’t provide a full snap-shot of who one is as an educator. Think about the year state exams we put students through. We don’t let that define our students, so why define ourselves that way.

    Professional development should allow time for attendees to reflect. This reflection doesn’t have to occur right away, but it should occur shortly after the presentation. An easy way to do this is by keeping a digital portfolio. There are many ways to do this. One can use a Twitter account to share snippets or short videos. Over time, these snippets build up, and give a better look at any educator than an evaluation could. Another way is through blogging. A blog could host longer videos, resources, ideas, etc. The posts don’t have to be long, but they showcase the sharing and reflection process the educator goes through while learning.

  8. Connected Learning- Learning alone is fun, but learning together with others can have an even bigger impact. Twitter is an amazing way to connect with other educators on the topics and ideas one is most passionate about. Resources are shared, ideas gathered and discussed, and learning reflected upon. It may be hard to get into the habit at first, but in time, it pays off. Teachers can share ideas they’ve learned at PD sessions and get feedback from others who may not have been there at all. Discussions can be prompted by the simplest of ideas on Twitter.Got a question to ask Google? Ask it on your Twitter feed as well, and use tags to get input from certain groups of people. Share snapshots of things you are doing. Use it to take notes at a conference that get shared with the world (These are great to refer back to later on). It may seem like you are small and have very few connections at first, but if you work hard to give and share ideas, your network slowly grows. I’ve been dedicated to growing mine for about 3 years now, and it has paid off.

How would your district stack up? What are some of the things you would change about PD where you are?

Teacher Resource:

There has been a bit of an epidemic of sorts going around at my middle school. We recently had the OEPA team to visit, and one of the team members had a terrible cough that he had caught from his own students. Wednesday was calm…but Thursday found the school with 10 teachers/staff out sick. Yesterday was even worse, with 17 staff out total. We had all kinds of issues getting coverage from classes. The superintendent got involved, and had HR pull me from my TIS job to act as a sub that day. It was the English classes that needed a lot of coverage, so I picked a fellow colleague that I often collaborate with. I would cover the second half of her first block, all of 2nd block, and both ½ block afternoon classes. Her plans were very simple to follow. Since I had often worked with this teacher’s classes, I decided to try something new with technology that I had been wanting to test out. Cue my resource for this post:

This website acts as a chatroom. It’s great for back channel discussion, or hosting discussions in the classroom when the teacher wants to try something different. It is meant for educators, but anyone can use it. An account is free, and necessary so that the teacher can delete comments that do not contribute to the conversation, grab a transcript of the chat, and keep the chatroom open for up to one year. The teacher can also password protect the room, or require that anyone joining the room also has an account.

This website can be used when the teacher wants to mix up discussions, or get everyone involved and engaged at one time. It will cut down on one person always speaking out when questions are asked, and give more students a voice. It can be added to any lesson plan. I wouldn’t recommend it all of the time, as oral discussions are important in a classroom, but when students need something a little bit different, this works perfectly.

First, materials:

1 laptop or tablet for every group (no more than 5 to a group)
1 piece of literature (preferably readable in the span of 20 minutes)
1 set of discussion questions for the literature
1 laptop or tablet for the teacher
1 teacher account on

When it comes to materials, laptops are preferable for students, as they may not be proficient at typing with fingers on a tablet screen keyboard. A laptop would also be preferable for a teacher if they have this same issue.

Teacher should have logged into prior to class and created a room for the class. For example, I created one called ELA45. Then just input the web address with the name of the room onto each computer. Groups will need a nickname or name for the chat. It only accepts names without any spaces. I used Group1, Group2, etc. to get around this.

Next, students should read the text that is going to be used for the classroom discussion. Teacher may also have had the students read the text prior to class. Teacher should have the list of discussion questions ready to input in the computer when the activity is ready to begin

Divide students into groups. No more than 5 to a group, as more than that would most likely find students not as engaged. Groups should be spread out in the classroom, and each group receives a laptop. Make sure all groups are aware of each group’s nickname for the room. That way, during the chat they’ll know who they are responding to for the questions.

Now, you are ready to begin. First things first- the first item the teacher should post in the room is for all groups to list the members of each group. This makes it easier to read the transcript later on so that the teacher can identify participants.

Once all group member names are shared, then the teacher types in the first question, and groups watch the screen. They read the question and then respond. If they don’t provide evidence, teacher can post in the room asking for evidence. I would often ask why in response to student answers. As groups were participating in the room, this left me free to listen and watch their conversations. I noticed all group members participating, and chatting back and forth. They would even go and review the text, and show members what they meant. It was nice to observe.

Once it seemed like the students had discussed a question thoroughly, I would move on and post the next question. I would also make sure to announce it to the room, so that they were aware and looked at the screen. They would refocus and then move on to that one.

Here are some examples from the transcript for 4th and 5th period. The class read “Stolen Day” by Sherwood Anderson. It came from one of the textbooks, and for this chat, I used the analysis questions that the teacher wanted, as well as asked a few questions based on the students’ responses.


This particular class finished discussing this story, and then had to read “A Day’s Wait” by Ernest Hemingway. The goal was to compare and contrast the two texts, which they did.

The class period flew by. At the very end of the chat in both classes that I did this activity, I asked students what they thought of it. Here are the responses from both groups:

4th/5th period:


7th period:


Overall, it was very successful. As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s not an activity to do with every literature discussion. However, it’s a great way to shake things up a little bit, and get every student engaged in the discussion. If you have a 1:1 classroom, it would work nicely individually, but do keep in mind that with many students replying at once, the chat will move very quickly, and it may be hard for some students to keep up.

I emailed the teacher about all of the activities, and how they had gone, along with the transcripts. She now wants to try the activity again in a couple of weeks so that she can see it in action and see how the students respond and work together. I can’t wait!