What I would like from school development day

Like many of my colleagues working in NSW public schools, Term 3 is about to begin. For many of us this means school development day (SDD). SDD is a day where teachers, staff and parents engage in professional learning to further enhance student learning. SDD occurs at the start of Term 1, 2 and 3 and then on the last two days of Term 4. I value SDDs because it is a day where I can solely focus on my learning in order to better teach my students. Students do not come to school on SDDs so teachers can focus all of their efforts on learning. There are no relief work to set, no guilt over not being able to teach your classes due to attending professional learning and no classroom issues to follow-up from a day of being absent from your classes.

I greatly value the effort and commitment from the teachers who put together SDDs. It is a tough gig. I know so because I have coordinated SDDs in the past. It is extremely challenging to put together over 5 hours of professional learning that is relevant and engaging to ALL teachers. However, I have always felt something is missing from SDDs.

I guess I have always been an active learner in my professional learning. I don’t like to wait for someone to tell me what I should know. I am constantly reviewing what I need to learn and when a learning need arises, I seek out that learning almost immediately. This does mean a lot of hours spent searching and seeking help from my professional learning networks in my own time. This in turn also means I have explored a lot of things that are presented in SDD. For example, my school’s SDD last term was on literacy. I was presented with ideas and resources that I have known and used for several years. While many teachers at the school found the SDD useful, I was left feeling I wasted 5 hours of my time. I don’t want this to make me sound unappreciative. The SDD coordinators did and always do an awesome job.

What I would like from SDD is a more personalised experience. In NSW public schools, there are five SDDs in a year. It would be so awesome if just one of those SDDs allowed teachers to propose a professional learning experience that they would like to do. This could be visiting other schools, other educational institutions, collaborating with other teachers, reading educational literature, the list is endless. I visited the University of NSW during the school holidays to connect with university academics that I know can contribute to the learning of students at my school. I visited the Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences and learnt so many new practical activities that I can do with my students. These site visits are perfect examples of personalised professional learning activities for SDD. I recently learnt about a book called “Independent science challenges: fascinating science projects to challenge and extend able students“. I would love to spend a SDD reading parts of the book and putting together a plan together to implement the strategies in the book.

Some people might say that all schools have professional learning funds to release teachers to do personalised professional learning like attending subject-specific conferences, etc. However, this is during teaching time and many teachers do not like to miss out on teaching time. SDD is different. It is a time where every teacher is learning. There are no students. Your learning is not distracted by a casual teacher calling you to help with your class. I might be the only teacher who feels this way, but it seems that if teachers can differentiate and create personalised learning experiences for students, why can’t teachers themselves have personalised professional learning experiences. Just one SDD.

11 thoughts on “What I would like from school development day

  1. There needs to be an expectation of all teachers that their leaders are clear in moving staff and the school on a journey of continual improvement. Deadly many of the SDD are based around compliance. When all staff are expected to be avid learners, and have demonstrated as such, perhaps our personalised professional learning plans can be better acted upon by principals and such.

    There also seems to be a general acceptance that primary teachers need not be the experts of all KLA’s either. We mu post be seen as experts in fields. Some are proficient leaders in IBL and PBL design. Others are excellent curriculum interpreters and programmers. We need to facilitate an environment that nurtures and grows these areas of expertise, and also allow time for staff to personally reflect, plan, enact upon, and evaluate, their own professional growth.

    • Great points, Simon. I am very fortunate that SDDs at my school do not involve compliance training. Like you indicated, every teacher has different strengths and different areas for further improvement. It will be great to have one SDD for each teacher to do whatever they need to do for their own professional learning.

  2. Staff can have what ever they want on SDD as long as it is approved by the school and it is professional learning & not administrative. Often a more effective approach is choice within a day. It requires more organisation but allows teachers to tailor the day to their needs.

    • Yes, SDDs often have choices in workshops but it would be interesting to see what would happen if teachers were allowed to put together a proposal for how they would like to spend one SDD. Of course what they propose needs to be aligned to school goals. Like I said, just one SDD. Not all.

      • We have a subject day each year. All teachers from 13 high schools in subject areas at different schools. Day is designed by head teachers in each curriculum network. Usually whole group presentation followed by workshops asked for by staff. If us very powerful and feedback from teachers is very positive.

  3. Nice post Alice. We killed staff days this year, except in January. The time from the other days is now shared across alternate Monday mornings. Students arrive for period 2, staff get 75 minutes of collaborative team learning time. The program is co-constructed by each subject team. Providing this dedicated team learning time is a commitment to our collaborative learning. We still have lots to learn about how to do this well. Despite what we might think about being good collaborators, teachers tend to prefer working in isolation and we are trying to buck this dynamic. Learning how to lead team learning is the first step.

  4. Some great points here Alice, and some that I will definitely take on board as a PL Coordinator with the responsibility of planning SDDs. I am introducing my staff to the concept of an in-school TeachMeet at my SDD tomorrow and that alone took weeks to organise as many staff were not familiar with them even though they have been run in this region, though infrequently. I can imagine that with plenty of time I could perhaps plan for staff to propose their own professional learning endeavour. Would they all go for it? I hope so! It’s a fantastic idea.

    Unfortunately, in regional areas we don’t necessarily have the option, the funds or travel time for visiting relevant educational institutions or for having outside experts visit the school so this is something that must be considered also. Staff are also at varying levels of being comfortable forming professional networks and conducting research that heavily involves technology. The range of skills and learning preferences is the biggest driver of what can be run on a SDD. And time. I am still utterly baffled as to why we only have 5 days per year… with almost half the year between tomorrow’s SDD and those at the end of the year when everyone is often understandably too exhausted or pre-occupied to participate in the kind of PD that a two-day block allows for.

    I’m learning as I go 6 months into my PL role, so I gained a lot of insight from reading and reflecting on your post and the responses from everybody. Thanks y’all!

    • Hi Gemma. People like you who have to coordinate school developments days do an extremely awesome job. I’ve done technology-themed SDDs and I know how challenging the job is. It is hard to make sure every teacher’s needs are met. Like you said, some teacher may not have a professional learning network to seek out their own personalised professional learning. It will be interesting to see what will happen if for one SDD, each teacher had to put forward a proposal (at least 5 weeks beforehand) and then present afterwards. It’ll be sort of like genius hour (but day) for teachers.

  5. Pingback: How does teacher professional learning impact on student learning? | Alice Leung

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