Summer is a time to take a breather and decompress after a long school year. However, that doesn’t mean the learning and growing stops. During this break from students, leaders and teachers can begin to think about how they can improve their school and make next year better than the last. But let’s be honest, summer professional development is not something most staff enthusiastically embrace when it’s 80 degrees outside and the school conference room doesn’t have windows. When designing summer PD, school leaders might consider the following guidelines to help them make the most out of this time with their staff.
1. Differentiate activities.
One size does not fit all, especially in the summer. Some of your faculty might be motivated by experiences and tasks that span several days. Others will thrive when the tasks are diverse. Not everyone will want to redesign the entire seventh grade math curriculum, but you absolutely want to support those who do.
Similarly, some staff might want to learn new technology right before school starts. Whether they’re getting acquainted with Google Drive or learning to use iMovie, build in time to meet your staff’s needs. The key to successful differentiation is knowing your faculty and asking them directly about what they’d like their experiences to look like. You can then weigh this with what you deem to be essential for summer professional development.
2. Choice is everything.
Once you’ve decided that you’d like to offer differentiated summer opportunities for your faculty, it’s time to ask how they’d like to spend their time. If you want this time to be productive, you have to commit to fueling faculty interest, not forcing your agenda on them. Use a poll (try Google Forms) to ask what they are interested in learning about. Do they want to know more about using design thinking in the classroom? What about allowing faculty to take a deeper dive into learning the ins and outs of your LMS? Throw some ideas out there to get the thinking started and then see what else they come up with. If you are just starting out with offering occasional summer professional development, start small. Give yourself a year to figure out what works best for your faculty and then use that knowledge to build a more robust program.
3. Schedule time to solve ongoing issues.
Your school probably has issues that have been around for a while that need scheduled time to address. Is your dismissal process a source of consternation? Is lunchroom duty impossible to orchestrate? Could the format for parent-teacher conferences be improved? Consider convening a two-hour summer meeting of the minds to sort out the issue. Let faculty take the lead in addressing this issue at a moment when the conversation feels less pressing. If you give them ownership to create a solution around a vexing problem, they will likely be eager ambassadors as you integrate the new process next year.
4. Read a professional development book together.
Consider buying some copies of a single title for anyone who wants to read a great book that advances important discussions in your school community. There are many fantastic titles that inspire big thinking about teaching and learning. Offer to host an informal gathering to talk about the book. Book discussions require low-stakes engagement and encourage staff members to unplug during the summer.
5. Summer PD does not have to go all day.
Entire days of summer professional development are a lot to ask from teachers, and productivity almost always goes down after lunch. Consider hosting morning gatherings that give people time to enjoy their morning but also don’t monopolize the entire day. When you get faculty to come in during the summer, less can often mean more. To have an impact, keep each session no longer than three hours. Finally, stay flexible. You likely have many teachers who are parents who will appreciate the opportunity to suggest meeting times that are conducive with their schedules.
6. Break bread together.
If your budget can accommodate it, offering generous mid-morning snacks or lunches can add value to a teacher’s investment in summer professional development. Food makes people feel cared for, and opportunities to eat together solidify bonds. Rather than having faculty do tired icebreakers, eating together is an authentic way to create the relational magic that makes your school a community.
7. Thank your staff for their time.
Thank teachers for their work time in the summer with a handwritten note. Your gesture doesn’t have to be big, but acknowledging time they’ve spent to grow into a stronger teacher and team member must be a priority. Showing gratitude now is an investment that could reap greater returns later on down the line.
Principals have the power to design thoughtful, faculty-centered experiences. With careful planning, they have the unique opportunity to rebrand summer professional development. If you can stay nimble and responsive to your faculty, you will see huge benefits in the school year to come. You’ll get to know your faculty as learners and have the chance to build a strong culture as you do it.
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