Raising the Bar on Professional Development

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For a number of years, my school district (Burlington Public Schools) has started the year with three days of professional development structured in a conference format which we call BPSCon.  It has definitely been an iterative process as we have taken the feedback of staff members each year to try to strike a balance between mandatory sessions and choice options. In addition, we have worked hard to try to ensure that there are relevant offerings for specialists and teachers at all grade levels.
Not surprisingly, the thing that has made the biggest impact for us in providing more meaningful sessions for staff members has been putting structures in place that allow staff members to have a more active voice in developing the schedule. Two years ago, Burlington joined the District Capacity Project (DCP), a joint venture between labor and management that supported our district in setting up a committee comprised of educators from across our district and administrators to meet monthly to plan meaningful Professional Development.
One of the reasons this process has worked so well is that it never ends. Our District Capacity Project team will meet in September to review our staff survey from the BPSCon that took place this past week and begin to plan for next year’s conference. In addition, feedback from teachers also allows us to expand some of our PD offerings for the upcoming school year as they respond to the following questions:
  • Are there sessions that you were not able to attend that you would like to see offered during the school year?
  • Are there sessions that you did attend that you would like to see additional Professional Development time dedicated to during the school year?
Based on the responses of our teachers, we will be able to offer after-school sessions or online sessions in the evening that will allow them to pursue additional PD credits in areas in which they are most interested.
The DCP work in Burlington has created a process in which teacher voice truly shapes Professional Learning opportunities. Staff members recommend colleagues to lead sessions who have experience in a variety of areas. In addition, staff members submit names of presenters from positive PD experiences they have had outside of school.   A few of the sessions that received the most positive feedback at this year’s BPSCon came because of these recommendations by staff.  Sessions like Religions in Burlington (members of the Burlington Interfaith Clergy are pictured below), Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students, and Mindfulness came directly from staff recommendations of outside presenters.
While our work on providing meaningful PD options for all staff members is far from over, creating a process where educators have an authentic voice in the process has allowed for much greater diversity in our offerings and far greater satisfaction levels for our lead learners (teachers).

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