Considerations for Online Summer PD from BES Middle School Leaders

The dedication and resilience our leaders demonstrate daily has become even more clear during the current pandemic. We have set up weekly calls among BES leaders so that they can share best practices and learn from each other as we collectively navigate the seemingly endless set of challenges brought on by school closures and uncertainty around reopening.

Recently, a group of middle school leaders discussed adapting summer professional development to a virtual environment. We’ve codified their advice so leaders across the country can benefit from their insights. Here’s our list of best practices on how to structure a remote summer PD day, organize content, and effectively build adult culture.

Structure of Day

‘Zoom fatigue’ is real. To combat this, organize PD days in ways that keep staff fresh and engaged. How do you do this?

Stay away from planning full-day virtual sessions from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Consider holding all sessions in the morning, followed by accountable work time in the afternoon with an end-of-day huddle. Another option is to hold one session, provide accountable work time, check on work together, then repeat for another session.

Model dynamic virtual facilitation for staff so they are able to see how to make remote teaching engaging and effective. Leverage strategies such as cold calling, ratio, visual modeling, polling and voting, turn and talks in breakout rooms, and “everybody writes” in the chat box.


While the content you need to cover may generally be the same as what you would cover in person, consider ways to make PD stickier in a remote setting.

Start with a session where you model best practices for remote learning. Utilize resources like your online learning handbook, best practices shared out from your own teachers, and the Teach Like a Champion blog. Hold smaller group sessions where teachers are able to practice delivering online instruction with their peers.

Embed Teach Like a Champion training throughout your sessions. Utilize the blog for guidance on which teaching techniques are most crucial for online learning. We recommend leveraging concise, bite-sized feedback over video, where the teacher practices a small part of a lesson and receives one piece of feedback. The teacher then views an exemplar video on the technique, and re-teaches that part of the lesson, incorporating feedback and what they learned.

Adult Culture

Adult culture is rightly a big concern for leaders, as building a team begins with building strong relationships and in-person experiences. Here are two ways to translate this online:

Get creative with team building. You may not be able to build in a lot of movement, but can lean on storytelling and sharing to develop authentic relationships in a virtual environment. Model sharing your ‘why.’ Consider holding book study groups on mission-aligned topics for your staff. Leverage Zoom breakout rooms for more intimate conversations and mix up small groups so that new staff gets time to integrate with current staff. Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of video; many of our schools have put together videos highlighting class in action, student and parent testimonials, and building walk-throughs. This can help staff get a sensory feel for space, culture, and community without entering the school building. Check out these examples from BES Fellow-founded Bloom Academy (TX) and University Prep (CO).

Work with your leadership team to develop clear systems for adult accountability. While you will need to give grace to staff balancing family responsibilities and potential health risks, you still need to set basic expectations to develop a healthy staff culture. Set clear expectations for attendance, Zoom etiquette, and engagement. Consider developing a tracker to record and follow up on any professionalism issues that should be addressed before the school year begins, such as timeliness and quality of work product.

Thank you to all who contributed their ideas and best practices to this list. You are some of the most hard-working people that we know, and no matter the format of summer PD or what the near future holds for re-opening schools, we’re confident that each of you and your teams will continue to be all-in for your staff, students, and families.

by Paul Adler