Creating Community Through Professional Learning

In recent years, professional learning has been getting a bad rap for being ineffective and irrelevant.  Considering the amount of money spent on professional learning, this is somewhat alarming. I am lucky to be in a district where the leaders have already begun working on shifting the paradigm, offering a variety of choices during biannual district-wide professional development days.  While not perfect, this new choice system is a step in the right direction, offering teachers the ability to find a couple of sessions that are relevant to their teaching field and grade level. However, when it came to campus level professional development, we were still struggling to offer anything beyond a one-size-fits-all, generically applied PD session….until this year.

What do we need?

We need a plan that brings us together as a learning community.  We need a plan that incorporates the 5 key principles of effective professional learning. We need a plan that incorporates support for those who need it and opportunities to learn from each other. We need a plan that drives home the concept that we are all learners, all working to improve our craft thereby improving student engagement and academic achievement. We need a plan that helps us get better.  All of us. So how do we do that?

Here’s how.

Start with a team of teachers dedicated to making this work.  We call them the professional learning cadre. They volunteered and have a passion for this work. While we work on re-culturization of our campus, these people will facilitate and support professional learning around campus.  Eventually, teachers will facilitate and support each other as the spirit of the learning community takes hold. Collaboration and collegial community is a goal, but when some staff members are reluctant or negative participants that can be a challenge.  The cadre members are ready to go first, set the tone, walk the walk, all while launching a model of organizational change (like Influencer or 4DX).

Then what?

Offer choice.  The same exact thing that experts have been saying about student choice being important turns out to be true about educator’s, too.  We need choice.  When we are given the ability to choose what we learn, we are more likely to engage in the process.  We aren’t interested in just checking off boxes here; we are interested in bringing about a change in the culture of our learning environment and improving student engagement and academic achievement. If I am able to reflect upon my practice and choose the area that I need to improve, I can take an inquiry-based learning approach to my professional learning. Every teacher gets to grow where they need to… no more sitting in a session of sit-and-get PD.


Last year was our first attempt at an alternative approach to professional learning. What became obvious to me immediately was just how many teachers were satisfied to maintain their status quo, failing to see how they would benefit from ongoing learning. While working on revisions for next year, I decided we needed to do a better job establishing our “why.” Part of establishing our why will include the creation of a professional learning vision for our campus. The vision statement will allow us to level up as a group while we work together toward a goal, rather than everyone working independently toward their own arbitrary goals that may not further the vision and mission of our campus. The vision for professional learning supports the mission and vision of the district and directly supports the district Strategic Plan.

So, what does it look like?

  • Teachers create a goal tied to the vision.
  • Teachers choose activity options from a Choice Board and work toward achieving that goal.
  • Goals can be extended over time so that learning is ongoing and implementation is possible.
  • Teachers have support during implementation. The PL cadre supports teachers as they learn new strategies and practice implementing them.
  • Teachers have the flexibility to learn on their own, in workshops, from other teachers, or request PD to be brought in.
  • The PL cadre will begin the collaboration cycle by co-leading small workshops and lunch & learn sessions with teachers. Teachers will begin taking over that process.
  • Cadre members will facilitate and coordinate modeling and demonstrations of strategies in action.
  • Content chosen for study by teachers is specific to current teaching assignments and goals.
  • Professional learning and leading are related back to T-Tess evaluations.

See the Professional Learning Toolkit  for yourself.


This is how we change the culture of our school.  We build a significant learning environment that is ongoing, supported, and personally valuable while tying everything back to the vision.  The vision drives the learning. This approach empowers teachers to innovate, collaborate, and reflect on the powerful changes that created.  This is effective professional learning in action. This is how we build an academic, collegiate community of learners.



The PL Cadre began the choice board system in 2017-2018.  This version is a major revision and has not yet been accepted for use for 2018-2019. The PL Cadre ensures forms are available to all in digital format on a shared departmental drive and in hard copy format on bulletin boards near the teacher boxes.

PD Toolkit


5 Principles for Effective PD at work


Framework for 21st Century Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Gabriel, J. G., and  Farmer, P. C. (2009). Chapter 2. Developing a vision and a mission. In  How to help your school thrive without breaking the bank. (chapter 2). ASCD. Retrieved from

Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the teachers effective professional development in an era of high stakes accountability. Center for Public Education. Retrieved from

Standards for Professional Learning: Quick Reference Guide. (2011). Retrieved from




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