Planning a Strong Summer Professional Development Session

By Paul Adler


We’ve all been there. Two days before our summer professional development for teachers begins, we are scrambling to put together sessions. We jump hurriedly into creating a PowerPoint presentation that will download a “best practice” and includes some amusing analogy to the business or sports world. Sometimes we just take a session from another leader and use it directly. Or we find the latest Taxonomy PD from Uncommon Schools to plug and play. And predictably, these sessions are bland, overly process-based, and develop skills in isolation, making it hard for teachers to implement. When we take this approach, we lose a tremendous opportunity to inspire and then equip our team on a skill that will have deep impact on student achievement.

So how do we create sessions that effectively motivate and educate our people on the key skills we have deemed important? There are five strategies that leaders employ to design effective summer PD sessions:


Strategy 1. Plan your summer PD sessions during quiet and focused times.

The “where” and “when” of your planning time is crucial to planning thoughtful, rigorous sessions. I recommend planning sessions at least three weeks in advance, during a time when either students are not in session or you are off campus. Use the time of day when your brain is most awake, aware, and focused. For me, this was always from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Scheduling several days in a row for planning sessions is also a good idea, and will help you stay in the creative zone.


Strategy 2. Plan your summer PD session like you would a lesson to students.

It’s amazing how many leaders I see run PD sessions starting from a PPT, without the intentional thought and design of a lesson plan. We expect our teachers to be well planned, so we need to effectively model what we expect. Use a thorough lesson plan template to guide your thinking as you design the session. Like strong planning, start with the end in mind – “What do I want every teacher to be able to do by the end of this PD that they were not able to do before this PD?” Create your end assessment that demonstrates this skill and then craft a rigorous aim that best summarizes this. From there, you want to hit the key points of a strong lesson – hook/investment, your teacher script for modeling a new skill (if using direct instruction), experiences and question sequences to guide people towards a skill (if using guided discovery), practice time with criteria for success, and reflection time. Please see attached templates for exemplars.


Strategy 3. Do not underestimate inspiration.

Adults, even more so than children, need to know the why of the skill you are teaching. They will make up their mind about the session’s usefulness within the first three minutes of your session. Five minutes of boredom and, I hate to say it, they will check out completely. So you have a total of five minutes to capture their imagination.

Start with a bang and give your team something they’ve never experienced before. Here are some ways I’ve seen leaders do this:

  • A leader brings his team to the basketball court and teaches two non-athletes how to shoot a jump shot. He models this with vague directions for one participant and then clear directions for the next participant. The contrast in directions leads to one participant shooting effectively while the other struggles. This brief demo shows the importance of clear directions.
  • An experienced master teacher runs a Socratic seminar for the staff based on a juicy text that discusses the role of race in the classroom. The leader has one person record all the questions and asks the team to then reflect on the questions and the discussion it prompted. This serves as an introduction to questioning techniques.
  • A leader shows the development of Bruno Mars from Elvis impersonator into pop star to show the power of imitation and practice. The teacher sees the power of this translated into practicing the taxonomy.


Strategy 4. Put the heavy lifting on the team.

As you plan, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much am I talking versus the team? If you want to truly engage your audience, make sure your ratio is healthy. For a one hour PD, talk for no more than 10 minutes. Script out when you are going to talk and what you will say. Then practice this, so that you don’t slip into overtalk.
  • How much am I spoon-feeding to my team versus them discovering? For every key point of your PD, ask yourself how you can help your team “see” the key point versus you telling them. Think of questions you can ask and experiences you can immerse them in to see the light.
  • How much practice will my team get on this new skill? For a one hour taxonomy-based PD, I strive for at least 40 minutes of practice. For non-taxonomy, aim for at least 30 minutes. Like students, teachers learn best by doing.


Strategy 5. Build in opportunities for feedback.

The only way to make your sessions better for your people? Ask them for input. Make sure you incorporate a mechanism for feedback via written notes, email, or a simple survey. What works for one team may not work for another and this helps you know your team best. Often times staff are familiar with the + Δ ? format for feedback, which can be a simple way to collect feedback from the session.


Want more guidance on creating strong PD session plans?  Examples below can inform your practice:

Sample PD Plan 1

Sample PD Plan 2

PD Plan 1 PowerPoint

PD Plan 2 PowerPoint

Remember that taking the time in advance to plan these sessions will lead to less stress in your leadership life, and more impact on the ground.

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