3 PD Models to Support Teachers

One of my passions is creating new models for professional development for the teaching staff in our school.  I started down this path as a principal four years ago when I realized that a “one size fits all” approach to staff meetings and early release days was not supporting the needs of my learners.  In addition, I was not utilizing the teaching strategies and methods that I was expecting out of teachers.  Since then, I’ve implemented two of these models and am working to implement a third.  This post will share the structure of three models for targeted, small group, differentiated, professional development plan, for an individual building’s teaching staff.

My hope in sharing is there may be something that educators can take from this and apply to their work.  All of my colleagues already have thoughtful PD planned for their teaching staff throughout the year.  My goal isn’t to change that, but to float other ideas and plans out there which may impact their thinking.  I know all districts have different professional development calendars.  Principals have different amounts of independence in the PD they provide.  In some districts, a principal may have 100% discretion on the content of their staff meetings while in another, that may be entirely dictated by the district office. 

My hunch is that there are components of these models that you are already doing.  If you have ideas that could be added to my plans, please let me know!  Part of the purpose of my blog is to expand my professional learning network and learn from your ideas.  If you have questions regarding the logistics or implementation of these plans, feel free to let me know.

1. Plan #1 – My first attempt. Not perfect, a little simplistic, messy, but I knew that I had to start somewhere.

* I surveyed the staff to find the instructional areas in which they most wanted to grow.  Three areas stood out, the teacher as the facilitator of learning, adaptive schools collaborative strategies, and student talk.  I grouped individual teachers into one of those three categories.

* We had our instructional coach, the curriculum director, and myself each lead learning for a small group of teachers in and area they felt confident in leading.  In districts where those may not be options, I would choose teaching staff who volunteered to lead that learning.

* Each group chose a book, article, or author to anchor their work in.  Time was spent reading, researching, and discussing.  That allowed all group members to have a similar knowledge base regarding the content.

* I committed to using every other staff meeting or PD time to focus in their small groups.  There were other initiatives (building and district) that also required attention. Using at least half of our time was key as it would’ve been easy to push this aside completely.  The small group leaders planned reflected together. Information was shared between the 3 groups on a google doc.  We culminated the year by whole group sharing out during a final staff meeting.

* Staff feedback was that they appreciated the choice, ownership, and focus on their learning.  A challenge was getting a clear picture of what other groups were working on.

2. Plan #2 – A second year was more building-based and with greater consistency.  What was unique here is that we didn’t choose an instructional focus area.  Our goal was simply “supporting students to become better people.”

* We chose that building focus area based on instructional rounds data, teacher feedback, and some of my thinking.

* Staff received consistent feedback in this area during our three instructional rounds visits as well as teacher evaluation.  This allowed us to tie in school improvement pieces.

* I committed to devoting some amount of time (this varied from 10 minutes to 60 minutes) at each and every staff meeting to our building area of focus.

* About mid-year, we broke into small groupings to discuss, plan, and work towards our goal.  Those small groups were initiated based on teacher thinking.  Teachers led each of those small groups (positive behavior planning, student goal setting, lessons) as I worked with them to plan and develop pieces to support our goal.

* Staff appreciated having one primary focus for the entire building, but small groups branching off to work on specific pieces together.  Great collaboration and targeted work.  A challenge was not as much teacher choice or differentiation.

3. Plan #3This is where my passion, research, thinking, and most updated planning currently resides.  I’m excited about continuing to read, talk with colleagues, and refine this into something most impactful for teachers in the future.  This is a past blog post that conveys the main components of this plan that I hope to implement in the future.


My purpose is simply to offer teachers an experience similar to what they provide students in the classroom.  I hope to offer them a choice in their learning, with strategies that fit their learning style, while ensuring that it is targeted and aligned to our focus as a school.


I Can Help

Every once in a while, I stray from my normal topics of education and leadership.  Today is one of those days.  A few Sunday’s ago in church, a question was posed that I’ve been kicking around for the last couple weeks.

“From Where Will My Help Come?”

I know there are people who are out there who are suffering right now.  Some are probably even people that I know.  You likely know the quote, “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  I don’t want to go another minute without offering my help.  This post is as simple of a one as I will ever make.

That offer is extended to whoever may think they need it.  Whatever, whenever, however, for whatever reason, no questions asked.  I can help.  No judgment.  Listening, advice, coaching, intervention, you name it.  I may not be able to solve, make go away, or eliminate. But, I can help.  That doesn’t mean fix or solve, but to partner with you to offer support.

I’m not a doctor.  I’m not a counselor.  I’m not a psychiatrist.  I’m not a pastor.  I’m not a social worker.  I’m just a guy who cares.  Someone who has been through his fair share of adversity and believes part of the reason that happened was so that I could be put in a position to help others.  It doesn’t mean I can fix everything.  But everyone in a tough spot needs to take the first step and I’m willing to assist with that.  I can help.  My help might just be directing you to a support person.  Maybe it’s a pastor, a word of prayer with God, or even something you’ve never considered.  

Too many times I have seen people suffer.  Too many times I wondered if I’d have offered help or helped the situation, something bad could’ve been prevented.  Enough of that.  Enough of me thinking I’m not qualified to offer help.  If you are reading this and need help, let me know.  If you are reading this and know of someone who needs help, let me know.  I can help.

“From where will my help come?”  From me.  I can help.






Differentiated PD for Teachers in a One Year Plan

One of my passions and goals for improving in the future is the structure in which I plan for and implement professional development for teachers at our school.  By PD I mean staff meetings, data dialogues, early release times, etc.  I feel like the timing is perfect based on the implementation of new teacher evaluation laws, models, and plans. At times in the past, the instructional delivery and strategies I’ve used with staff have not matched what I expect out of them in the classroom, especially when it comes to whole group structure.  Sure, we break into small groups and I use Adaptive Schools strategies. But it’s not tailored to teacher needs as much as it should be and there is not enough teacher ownership.  While I’ve improved in this area, it has been a work in progress.  images.jpg

I had to think differently and rely less on past practice and more on what possibilities there were.  I told myself that this was the time to be innovative and creative.  Evaluation and staff meetings CAN go hand in hand, teachers CAN use those structures as a growth model, but it’s up to me to come up with an individualized plan. After working closely with the 5D+ model for a few years, great people at MASSP, talking with talented educators all over the state, and experimenting with different structures as a principal, I have what I think is a really good model moving forward.

Here is the model, with some brief details.  I will use 5D+ as the evaluation tool in this example, but I believe it could work with any of the models.  

  1. Self-Assess in 5D+Teacher completes a self-assessment to start the year
  1. Focus area/goal setting conversation in 5D+ with principalWith the self-assessment as an anchor, the teacher and building principal collaboratively decide upon areas of focus for the school year
  • At this time, the building principal would create small group cohorts, in collaboration with teaching staff, based on common focus areas.

      3. Fall “Lab Classroom” – To begin the learning in this area, the small group would observe this instructional practice in a classroom at their school hosted by a peer.  The principal would facilitate this process.  (more about lab classroom: http://bit.ly/1IT44sF)

  1. Small group reading, researching, learning in staff meetings and other PD – With support of the building principal, staff members read articles, watch videos, and research information regarding their topic that will support them as learners


  1. Mid-Year evaluation meeting with principal – Reflection on progress in the area of focus and supports/changes needed for the second half of the year
  1. Spring “Lab Classroom”A second opportunity to see a peer in your instructional focus area.  It could be the same classroom or a different one
  1. Tape a classroom video or host a peer visit in focus areaThis may be the biggest and most uncomfortable step for some.  This can happen with one partner and have no involvement from the building principal.  It is a way to show the application of all the learning from over the course of the year
  1. Reflective small group conversationThe group gets back together to share their learning over the course of the year and the impacts it has had on their practice and student learning
  1. End of the year meeting with principalSummary conversation regarding the area of focus, evidence of growth, and next steps

The emphasis of this model is on growth.  Growth through collaboration, transparency, small group and individualized learning, trust, feedback, teachers learning from teachers, research, application, and teacher ownership.  All of those components live in this plan.

I think the model can be duplicated in any school at any level. If you would like more detailed information or I can answer any questions, just let me know.  It’s a topic I’m passionate about and would love to share!

Often my blog posts say “consider this,” “think about this,” or “I have an idea.”  Not this time.  This is something I strongly believe you need to find a way to do.imgres.png


Something Education Could Improve

I’ve promoted public education on this blog, as well as my Facebook and Twitter pages.  I readily share articles such as this http://huff.to/2lcMg4G.  I am 100% sure of each and every reason that public education is better than it’s ever been and relish the opportunity to engage in a debate with others on that very topic.  However, the profession is far from perfect.

But creating, discussing, supporting, and implementing innovative ideas is not a strength of our profession.imgres.jpg

I believe there are 3 primary reasons why this is the case.

1. Lack of structure supporting innovation Networking across the country, state, districts, and even within districts is limited.  There are pockets.  You see collaborative groups at the ISD and in professional organizations such as MEMSPA and MASSP.  Twitter is an amazing place to form a professional learning network.  I’ve gained so much from all of those three structures.  However, it’s not very often that innovation is a topic.  I haven’t been in a lot of conversations about what is new, different, unique, and slightly risky that others are doing.  I’ve never been asked, “what are you doing in your school that no one else is doing?”  We are often talking about policies, teaching and learning, regulations, curriculum, evaluation, and other important topics.  I’m talking about brainstorming, building on the thinking of each other, and the creation of new and innovative ideas.  Happening, but limited.

2. Risk taking is not promoted – I have been so fortunate to work for great people during my time in education.  Great principals and mostly great superintendents.  They have shaped me into who I am, mentored me, and helped me to grow and improve as a leader. But even those fantastic educators didn’t often ask me to try something new, be cutting edge, or to think in a different way than I had thought in the past.  Since I have been an administrator, it has not been a strength of mine either.    

3. It’s not part of our fabricWith a good friend that works at Google and a brother in finance in Manhattan, I can safely say this is an area where we should follow the path of the business world.  Their livelihood is built on coming up with what is next before the company across the street does.  That innovation and creativity drive their business.  Yes, it’s comfortable to do things that have always worked.  If someone across the hall is using a certain strategy, we often use the same.  If the elementary school down the street has a certain method, the one we are using is probably similar.  Dave Burgess would say that educators have the inner spirit to innovate.  The desire to be the true educator we were meant to be.  However, we can be held back by how our peers perceive us.  Pockets of action research existing in a school is a good thing.  That doesn’t mean we throw out all that has made us successful.  That’s not the message at all.  The point is to keep doing those things while always pressing forward and creating what is next, and great, in education.

I feel like I can help with all 3 of those in my current role in education.  This is a new mission that I am on and hope others will join me.  It’s not about a shortage of talented educators with ideas.  We need to create the time and place to put talented educators into rooms for no other reason than to share innovative thinking and ideas to improve education.

My #1 Rule for Leadership

I’ve studied leadership very closely.  I’ve been a leader of some kind for many years. Throughout all of my reading and coursework, I don’t think anyone ever specifically told me what I now believe to be the #1 rule for leadership.  I’ve worked with and been around people that are just amazing leaders.  But not one ever told me this.

Be a great person.


Think about the best leaders you know.  Or the worst.  My hunch is the quality of a person they are significantly impacts their ability to lead.  Maybe we just assume leaders are good people.  Well, when I look around at many leaders right now, I’m not sure that is the correct assumption.  When I reflect on my leadership experiences, the type of person I have been has directly impacted how well I have led.

  1. For 12 years I was a varsity basketball coach.  4 of those years coaching girls at Kent City and 8 coaching boys in Cedar Springs.  I was still figuring out who I was as a person during many of those years.  One of my biggest takeaways during those years was how some kids would put their individual needs aside just to be part of the team.  I learned selflessness from kids like Jake Porter, Cannon Waite, Andrew Morrow, and Tyler Case.
  2. During my 2 years as an assistant principal at Cedar Trails Elementary, I was fortunate to be around a teaching staff with a lot of experience.  That staff probably helped me and pulled me along more than I even did for them.  I learned a lot about professionalism and how to approach my job each day.
  3. I am proud of many things we accomplished during my 4 years at Cedar View. That was a dynamic staff, with amazing strengths, and varied philosophies.  We created an environment focused on supporting students to become better people and moved instruction emphasizing the skills that students will need in the 21st century.  If I would’ve been a better person, and thus a better leader, we could’ve gone even further.
  4. Now at Jamestown Elementary, we have all the pieces.  It’s like the football team without a weakness.  We got LB’s, DB’s, and an offensive line.  Our teaching staff is the hardest working I’ve been around in 20 years.  They are talented, collaborative, focused, and invested into our school and the district.  We have a great culture that is only getting better due to the positive energy that seems to pour out of our walls.  Our support staff is smart, committed, and capable of taking on so many important roles. That doesn’t mean that we can’t get better.  There are specifics that we can and must improve upon.  We need to continue to innovate and grow as individuals and as a group with an intense thirst for greatness that possesses us each and every day.  It’s a perfect storm but in a good way, because of where this staff is and where I am.  With the support of so many people, I’ve navigated through the journey of life to become the best person I’ve ever been.  That will allow me to be the best leader I’ve ever been.  It’s so exciting to think this will be the worst year as a leader I will have at Jamestown because I’m only going to get better.  Much better.

What I’ve learned over the journey of life and of leadership...Be a great person.  That will greatly impact the ceiling of your leadership.

Be a great person.



I’m a man of many ideas…some that come to fruition and others that just vanish into thin air.  The ideas come from just about everywhere.  That inspiration comes from books, friends, family, colleagues, and often people that I’ve never met.  I’m also a dreamer.  I believe that with collaboration, innovation, and inspiration, just about anything is possible.

Today, while sitting in church, those two worlds met.  The world of ideas and dreams.  It was the word Avodah that caused the collision.  “The transliteration, Avodah, is a Hebrew word meaning both to work and to worship.”  Work and worship.  Not separate, but together.  Can you share and build faith within your work community?  Why not?imgres.jpg

Sometimes these ideas just hang out in my mind for what seems like forever.  Here are three that I’ve been kicking around for awhile now.  The overall concept is creating a team in the workplace that has a true bond built on faith, mind, and body.

  1. I once read something that John Calipari did with his basketball staff while at Memphis that intrigued me.  They had a staff workout time.  He had staff on the treadmill together, lift together, weigh-in together.  Due to the long hours and intense work coaching requires, he thought their physical fitness was important.  Sound body, sound mind.  I have since read about and seen other businesses or schools who did things like this together 
  2. I recently reached out to some colleagues about creating a collaborative group of educators focused on sharing innovative ideas.  Some of this was in connection to seeing Dave Burgess recently at a conference.  He inspired and motivated me to connect with others who are very creative and innovative.  I feel like there are so many cutting-edge and creative ideas out there in education and I’d love to have a network where those could be shared.
  3. Faith and work.  Regardless of what “faith” may mean to you or what religion you are, how can there be a further bond within the workplace centered on faith?imgres.jpg

Those three ideas existed in their own individual silo before today.  Before Avodah

After listening to the service today, I think these ideas can exist together.  They do for individuals.  Why not the team?  One of the areas I constantly am trying to improve upon is the culture, team, and sense of community within the workplace.  As a leader, I’m also obsessed with creating an environment that allows people to be their absolute best, as employees and as humans.   I think that’s why this idea is so personal to me.

I’m onto something here.  Something that allows your team, TOGETHER, to stretch your mind, keep your body fit, and connect in faith.  Avodah.  People always go outside of their work community for these things, creating an additional layer in their lives.  But what if they didn’t always have to. 

I have a lot more thinking to do on this one, this idea, but I’m excited about the possibilities. The possibility of creating a structure that allows mind, body, and spirit to be fulfilled in the workplace each and every day.  Instead of sharing completed and refined idea on the blog, this time I’m sharing an idea, an unfinished product, with the hope of making it a reality.  I’d love to hear any thinking, ideas, or possibilities you might have as it relates to this.  I’m guessing this will be other posts to follow building from this.  Avodah.   





A Label of Kids That Bothers Me

Short and simple today.  It’s a mistake I’ve made.  But it’s one I’m working really hard to not make any more.imgres.jpg

I think it is wrong to label students as “low.”  It’s not appropriate to do it in the principal’s office or the teacher’s lounge.  I don’t think it should happen in the hallways or during meetings.  Educators are really good people, salt of the earth.  They are in the greatest profession in the world and almost always for the right reasons.  I don’t think we do this for malicious reasons but instead because we get lazy with our vocabulary and it becomes part of how we talk.  This isn’t about one school or one district because I’ve heard this all over the state.  It’s wrong for many reasons, but here are the three that seem to stand out most.

  1. “Low” based on what?  Lower than others?  Lower than an expectation?  Low for that moment in time?  Low cognitively?  Low as a human?  Low for their ability to contribute to society?  They are 8.  We don’t have a crystal ball.  Drop the label.  The label really goes against all we know about children.  We know that they develop at different rates, on a different timeline, for a great number of reasons.  By labeling them as “low,” you are refuting what we know about kids and their ability to grow and develop.  Let’s say you have a 2nd grader, who in November is not yet at the grade level expectation established by the school district.  He has been labeled as “low” by school staff.  Does that help at all?  Labeling that student “low” doesn’t take into account all who that student is.  We support the whole child, right?  Let’s not simply look at that reading score, but the type of work habits they have.  There should be a focus on their personal characteristics.  Maybe that student is showing a great ability in music, art, athletics, science, or something else.  Whole child, whole child, whole child.  Let’s not use a label that gives us such a narrow perspective on who that student is.
  2. Do you remember what you got on that 2nd-grade reading assessment?  How about the 4th grade MEAP?  The Algebra test your freshmen year of high school?  In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that important.  Maybe it’s because there is more to life than that.  Maybe it’s because those are not accurate predictors about the type of person or professional you may become.  All of us as educators are under pressure to improve test scores, but this isn’t about that at all.  At that moment in time, that test score may be the best the student is capable of.  That can change significantly in 5 weeks, 5 months, or 5 years.  Or, maybe that test score is on par with how they may score throughout their school career, but the focus on improving their work habits, personal characteristics, and an area of interest will be the keys to success for that student.  Let’s not use a label that is really a useless predictor of the type of contributor to society that student may become. 
  1. We should always talk about kids as if they or their parents were in the room sitting right next to us.  That requires a professionalism that we should mandate of ourselves and others.  We have to advocate for students when no one else will.  One way to do that is to give them that level of respect.  Let’s not use a label that diminishes the integrity of each student. 

Instead of using that label, try some other approaches that are more appropriate.

  • Not yet proficient as a reader
  • Needs additional support in math
  • Point out their strengths and how building upon them will be imperative to their school success
  • Find areas that are under their control and emphasize growth in those areas
  • Pay special attention to the growth they are making and not just their proficiency level

I guess we all have our pet peeves.  Mine just so happens to be one that I’ve been too guilty of in the past.  I’m excited to start 2017 knowing this of myself and making improvements in this area.