Supporting Coaches: Beyond the Traditional Workshop – Exploring Exciting PD Formats

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Supporting Coaches: Beyond the Traditional Workshop – Exploring Exciting PD Formats

Written by: Nicole Nelson

May 17, 2024

In my role as a technology integration specialist supporting teachers, my work does not end when the students leave for the summer. As many of you, summer consists of professional development offerings and planning for implementing the PD goals of the next year. As I reflect on this school year and begin to make plans for what next year will look like, I am reminded that the way we deliver PD to our teachers is just as important as the content itself. Whether you’re an instructional coach, technology coach, school leader, or involved in planning professional development, I’d like to share some alternatives to the traditional “sit and get” PD format that has been the standard for some time. These options can genuinely transform teacher learning experiences. By breaking away from the monotony of standard workshops, we can reignite teachers’ passion for professional growth and innovation. So, let’s embrace this shift towards alternative PD formats and reimagine how we empower educators.

“The way we deliver PD to our teachers is just as important as the content itself.”

Alternative Formats Foster Collaboration and Peer-To-Peer Learning: 

Picnic PD:

This idea combines Speed Dating with picnic food and nice weather! Gather everyone outside and have staff set up their “picnic area” with a blanket, or camp chair, and their favorite picnic snacks. Everyone should be prepared to share an instructional strategy, resource, or tech tool. The group would be divided into two teams where the first team would rotate from blanket to blanket while the second team would stay in one place to share for 20-30 minutes. Halfway through the groups shift responsibilities and team two rotates while team one shares. Remember to leave 5 minutes at the end to have participants reflect on something they learned or will take back to the classroom. 

Scavenger Hunt:

This format not only adds an element of excitement but also encourages collaboration, exploration, and the sharing of valuable resources! Not to mention a little friendly competition. There are many ways this format can be executed. One is to use QR codes linked to questions, challenges, or tasks related to educational technology, teaching strategies, or other relevant topics. Place these around the building and distribute maps, instructions or clues to participants. Teachers will scan the codes to reveal tasks or questions that prompt them to share their resource or strategy through Flip, a shared Google Doc, or social media. This summer I will be using the Goosechase app to set up this format for our new teacher orientation to promote active participation and cultivate a collaborative learning community among the group! Learn more about the Goosechase app

Chopped PD:

Three teachers standing together discussing some paperwork.
Photo courtesy Unsplash+ in collaboration with Jordan González

Many of you may have heard of the Food Network Show “Chopped” where four chefs are tasked with creating dishes from a random assortment of ingredients. If not, maybe you’ve heard of the Eduprotocol “Iron Chef” which asks students to create slides based on a particular set of criteria along with a “secret ingredient.” The idea is to get students to think on their feet, and in this PD, we are asking educators to do the same. To start we would spend about ten minutes introducing a new tool or strategy to the staff. Then we would divide the group into teams of 3-4 and give each their “Mystery Basket Card” based on a standard/topic with a list of “ingredients” (must have tools, techniques or resources). The teams would work to create a lesson that incorporates the new tool or strategy. After 15-20 minutes, invite colleagues to share their lesson ideas with the group. Leave time at the end for reflection and a discussion about what educators will take away with them. I have done something similar to this during our “Lunch and Learn PDs” and have received some great feedback from staff. 

“I have been so grateful for the technology breakout sessions we have had for teachers this year.  Learning new technology does not come naturally to me, but these sessions have been so user-friendly and have been chock-full of ideas for my high school English classroom. Mrs. Davis”  

The short ‘Break Out’ lunch sessions stimulate creativity. I can’t wait to learn more about them and implement them in my classroom.” ~ 5th Grade Teacher

Podcasts & Pedometers:

This idea I am especially excited about implementing for a couple reasons. I have a 45 minute drive to work each day and can’t do it without my podcasts! Shout out to Matt Miller and Holly Clark with the Digital Learning Podcast and Vicki Davis with the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast. We also have a Wellness Committee in my corporation who offers different activity challenges throughout the school year. We even spend 30 minutes or so during some teacher work days walking the track together. I would love to pair this idea with that! We would either choose a podcast to play over the loudspeaker during that time, or each choose an episode of a common podcast to listen to through headphones. After 15-20 minutes we would bring everyone together in a circle so that each person could take a few seconds to share a takeaway from the session. This could be followed up with a Padlet, Wakelet, or Shared Document for participants to refer back to at a later time. 

Flipped PD:

Why not apply the flipped classroom model to support our teachers’ professional development? Just as students benefit from this approach, our educators deserve the same advantages. During my research for this post, I was struck by the overwhelming feedback emphasizing the value this places on teachers’ time. I’ve noticed that my teachers appreciate whenever I am able to provide the opportunity to collaborate with their peers while I offer support and guidance. Many schools have successfully adopted this format of flipping PD using their learning management system (LMS) or platforms like Nearpod or Genially to deliver new content. After which, teachers gather to discuss, give feedback, and create content with leadership support.

“There is an under-current of fear among many English teachers today as we face a new giant:  AI tools.  Rather than forcing us to be fearful and angry or to try to fight a losing battle of just completely eliminating technology in our classroom, these breakout sessions have helped teachers find new ways to incorporate AI into our classrooms.  I have enjoyed seeing ways I can embrace the new technology instead of trying to fight against it.” ~HS Eng. Teacher

“Let’s together cultivate a culture of continuous learning and growth among educators!”

Try these innovative approaches to PD and witness firsthand how they can foster connection, learning, and growth among your teachers! Have you experimented with any alternative PD methods? These ideas and others can be found using the links below. Let’s together cultivate a culture of continuous learning and growth among educators!


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  • Nicole Nelson

    Nicole Nelson is the K-12 Technology Integration Specialist for Lewis Cass Schools in Walton, Indiana. She works to support teachers in their efforts to implement technology in meaningful ways in order to increase student engagement. In addition, she works with the elementary media specialist on planning digital citizenship and computer science curriculum. Nicole has more than 20 years of classroom experience in the primary grades as well as STEM education with middle school students. She is a Google Certified Trainer and Educator with a passion for helping teachers leverage these tools to incorporate creativity, collaboration and critical thinking within their classrooms.

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