Dyan Branstetter | June 2018

Are We Meeting the PD Needs of Our Teacher Leaders?

Just a few years ago, professional development in my school district was way behind. It was a “one size fits all”, “stand and deliver” method to disseminate information from the higher level administrators to the teachers. Now, like many districts, we are working to better meet teachers’ needs. We offer choice, EdCamps, and independent studies, and teacher-led sessions. Consequently, these new practices have made professional development much more meaningful and effective for teachers.

Just like differentiating instruction is best practice in the classroom, it is necessary for teachers, too. We typically use our teacher leaders for leading sessions, or they end up being a resource during a session. It is great to tap into the knowledge and skills that our districts have. As a result, teacher leaders feel heard, and they love sharing.

However, just like we tend to use advanced students for this purpose instead of providing quality acceleration or enrichment, we have to be careful that there are advanced options for these teacher leaders as well. As Janine McKeon tweeted during a #K12ArtChat, “What makes PD meaningful is when I can envision putting it into practice in my own classroom and am excited to share it with colleagues.” This is hard for teacher-leaders to do if they are already implementing the ideas that are presented. Without these opportunities to grow professionally, advanced teachers who eagerly attend PD to learn and grow will instead start to lose their passion or become drained. Their only solution is to seek PD elsewhere.

So what if you are a teacher-leader who wants more than what you are offered? Luckily, there are tons of options to help keep your spark alive.


  1. Attend a conference! Simply spending a day full of inspiration and like-minded educators is enough to fill your needs. Register for EducationCloset’s online Arts Integration and STEAM conference here!
  2. Join Twitter and participate in some chats. This is a great place to glean nuggets of inspiration or find troves of innovative educators with links to blogs and books on every topic imaginable. It may seem overwhelming, but after scrolling and skimming, you will start to notice common topics or quotes that resonate with you. That will start to drive your learning. (And the following year, you will probably hear about it at a faculty meeting.) ResourceHow to participate in a Twitter Chat
  3. Attend a local EdCamp, or host one of your own. This type of “unconference” learning can lead to new ideas and flexible learning. Resource: What is an EdCamp?
  4. Take classes or workshops. EducationCloset has a wealth of flexible options for you, whatever your level. Check out the options here. These were my gateway into approaching PD as a mindset, not an event. Just after one online webinar, I was completely inspired and my course as an educator was forever changed for the better.

Going Deeper

Book studies can also be a great way to learn and stay inspired. If you are lucky enough to have like-minded educators in your school who are interested, set up a monthly book club to chat about a shared book. Sometimes this can count as replacement professional development for your school district requirement. Talk with your administrator to see how this could work for you.

Looking to get started with a book study? Here are some ideas for books that would be perfect for group reading, discussion, and implementation:

  1. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners by Ron Ritchhart
  2. Learner-Centered Innovation: Spark Curiosity, Ignite Passion and Unleash Genius by Dr. Katie Martin

  3. Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning by AJ Juliani and John Spencer
  4. No Permission Required: Bringing STEAM to Life in K-12 Schools by Susan M. Riley
  5. Culturize: Every Student. Every Day. Whatever It Takes. by Jimmy Casas
  6. The Wild Card: 7 Steps to an Educator’s Creative Breakthrough by Wade King
  7. Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer
  8. Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess (also Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess)
  9. From STEM to STEAM: Brain-Compatible Strategies and Lessons That Integrate the Arts (Second Edition) by David A. Sousa & Thomas J. Pilecki

Dealing with Challenges

What if you can’t find a group for a book study? Or what if YOU don’t have the flexibility to meet with a group?

This year, I stumbled upon an innovative book study group led by George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset. Participating is a fantastic opportunity to connect with “forward-thinking educators all over the world while creating and connecting your own learning.” With this community of teachers, you read and respond to a book through blogging. Every week, there is a live interview with the author and a Twitter chat to foster sharing and deeper thinking about innovation in education. 

Originally, this group focused on Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset, but the most recent round differentiated the readings. Teachers could pick from one of three books: the original Innovator’s Mindset, Learner-Centered Innovation by Katie Martin, or Empower by AJ Juliani and John Spencer. Each week after reading, participants are given a blog prompt and media creation suggestion. Participants share and respond to these in a Facebook group and on Twitter with the hashtag #IMMOOC. A quick search on Twitter for the hashtag will provide you with a plethora of examples to inspire you even if you haven’t read any of the books.

Find more information on this type of book club here.

Sign up for the next round here.

Best wishes on finding your inspiration. Once we know where to look, it is easy to fuel your fire for innovative teaching! 

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.