Designing Back-to-School Professional Development

August is basically a marathon at a sprinter’s pace for school administrators. And back-to-school staff development is the Super Bowl for principals. (Not sure where all of these sports analogies are coming from with two people who are pretty athletics apathetic.) Honestly, we spend the ENTIRE summer collecting thoughts & quotes and piece together our powerpoint slide by slide well before August 1st. We obsess over these few hours with our team, convinced it sets the entire tone for the year, even though we know that’s not true. We want this back-to-school PD to be PERFECT. Inspiring and useful. Timely and fresh. Interactive and connected. But how does a principal do that when all of the teachers are really just thinking about getting back to their rooms? Try these tips (but don’t survey our staffs in case they disagree).

1. Keep it simple.

Contrary to popular belief that we need to roll out all new initiatives and train staff on every detail in August, we suggest using August PD to set the stage for the vision for the year, announce a new initiative and just give must-know information at that time. Staff are not mentally in a place to digest a new 10-step process for number talks or the intricacies embracing literacy in content areas. Introduce number talks – the why, the basics of the how – and then plan to incorporate the details in follow-up PD later in the quarter.

2. Connect Your Vision

Who doesn’t love Simon Sinek? The man has inspired us all with The Why, and we can’t forget it when planning back-to-school PD, but be weary – while you may establish your Why in a few Google Slides, a true Why is developed over time with staff input – it’s your vision. If you’ve already done the work of establishing your vision, it must be woven into each piece of your back-to-school PD. If you haven’t established a vision with your staff, plan some time to engage in these deep conversations as a school community during these back-to-school days.

3. Be Sure to Teambuild

Regardless of whether your staff is experiencing growth in new members or zero turnover at all, it’s our jobs as leaders to create shared experiences for our staff. This improves morale and gives staff a common history to grow on, even if it is a short 10-minute activity. Consider getting-to-know you activities, classic scavenger hunts where everyone comes back sweaty, take a tour of your attendance area on a school bus, cook a meal together (make your own pizza anyone!), an off-site activity like PickleBall, or even consulting your Parks & Rec for games that can be rented and brought to school.

Forewarning from personal experience: never call them ice-breakers or you will be blinded by the whites of your team’s eyes as they roll to the back of their head. If you do more ‘traditional’ type team builders, make sure teachers can translate them into their classroom with kids. Win win! One recent tool we’ve found is from Stanford University called ‘Stokes” (click here for the link). These are intended to be used with students, but staff enjoy them also. They are written to foster design thinking and the activity is labeled as to what mindset it triggers most (morale, camaraderie, communication, creativity).

4. Include the Impact

Most staff members just want to know what impacts them, their schedule, and their planning. Get to the stuff that impacts how they do the basics of their jobs early in the course of the PD. Schedule change? Let them know asap. New discipline form? Yes, for sure. If we don’t address the things that directly impact their day early in the presentation, that’s all they’ll think about until it’s covered. When you review the handbook for the year, only review the changes to the handbook. We recommend highlighting changes in yellow and asking staff to read it on their own at a later time, signing off that they’ve read it more thoroughly. For new members, go through the remainder of the policies at a later time.

5. End Early

Yup, whether you surprise them by ending early or let them know the plan ahead of time, end early so they have some extra, unexpected time in their classrooms. This time of year is stressful for our teachers, and all of their work comes from a place of love – give them the time they need to process, plan, and create in the way that works for them before students arrive. Each district gives out days differently. A good rule of thumb for us is to balance all PD time and be sure they at minimum have a day-and-a-half to work uninterrupted in their room. Two days if you can swing it. Sometimes we have to break that time off (half day here, full day there), but that time is priceless for teachers!

There’s no right or wrong way to lead PD (well, actually, there are probz a lot of wrong ways because that’s where the memes come from). Every building is different, so trust your gut, and maybe run your plan by your building lead team to get their feedback, too.

This girl LOVES a back to school PD planning sesh! Imagine her clip art on those google slides!

Christy’s 2019 Back-to-School PD Schedule

Day 1 – full day

7:40-8:00 Optional Provided Breakfast

8:00-8:30 Welcome and Introductions

We started with Brain Smart Starts, a series of activities from Conscious Discipline I learned from EduQueen, Amanda Spight. In one of these, I had all of our posters and evidence from our vision work lying on the floor and asked staff to remind themselves of the work we have done and find one thing from our vision they hope they would find manifested in today’s PD.

We had lots of new staff, so we quickly went around and shared our name, family, and one thing they were proud of themselves for in the last year. ‘Pride’ relates to our vision. (Some people may spend more time here. My thought process is that if I have 50 staff members and give them each a minute to share, we are now at a minimum of 50 minutes just in introductions. Not my style.)

8:30-8:45 Team Building Activity

Our social worker led an activity in which everyone had a different image on a card. We had to keep the cards private and could only describe what was on the card to others and could not ask questions. The goal was to line the cards in order, and the lesson was that perspective is everything. We often make decisions and assumptions based on a little information, and we need to know there is always a bigger picture.

8:45-9:45 Vision and Goal Work

I shared my goals and priorities for the year and how they aligned to our superintendent’s. Staff then had their own time to reflect and write their own goals and priorities, of which I made a copy for myself to refer back to.

9:45-10:00 Break

10:00-11:00 Nuts n Bolts and New Schedule

We quickly went over the pertinent handbook info and 504 info. We are also trying a new schedule this year, so that took a lot of time to dive into. Fortunately, many of the staff members were integral in helping create the new schedule, so there was lots of background knowledge to speed up that process.

11:00-12:00 Lunch on Own

12:00-1:45 Procedures Work

One of my big priorities this year is fidelity to systematic procedures – in the classroom, in common areas, and within our committee work. We had some short PD and I laid out my expectations for what procedures look like. We closed by going back to the posters and completing an “exit ticket” on which pieces of our vision are going to be manifested this year, as well as an opportunity to write anything they wish had been covered today so I can cover it the next PD day. Then I gave work time in their rooms and did not monitor if they were working on procedures or other to-do list items. This gave folks a chance to digest the information, and there ended up being lots of questions, and I ran around to rooms to help clarify.

2:00-3:00 Block Party

We did “porch visits” with some of our families last year, and we got great feedback, but the most prevalent negative feedback was that we didn’t hit enough families, which is hard to do i the allotted time. So, this year, we scheduled a “Block Party” in one of our apartment complexes and invited the whole school. We had hot dogs, popsicles, games, and we gave away school supplies and backpacks. I scheduled it so that staff were required to be there for an hour of their contract time, but the block party went until 4:00.

Day 2 (half day morning)

8:00-8:30 Optional Social Emotional Curriculum Training – done by staff (Second Step is the name of the curriculum)

8:30-9:30 Positive Behavior Support Team

Our team focused on the fidelity piece, including some procedures that needed tightening. We are also trying a new Teacher-Directed Referral system this year, so they rolled that out. 9:30-10:30 ILTOur Instructional Team and Reading Coach shared some processes that were changing for the year – systems that were requested to be tightened by staff.

Ended early so staff could head to lunch on their own. In the afternoon, we hosted optional Tier 3 behavior meetings that were 10-15 minutes long to prepare teachers with previous plans.

This girl thinks her jokes are SO funny during PD. Despite the few laughs she gets, she keeps those jokes a flowin’.

Karen’s 2019 Back-to-School PD Schedule

Day 1 (Half Day following District Convocation):

12:00-1:00 Welcome back, Team Connections & Goal Overview

With the exception of classified positions, I didn’t have any additional staff this year, so we could hit the ground running from the start. Our ‘team builder’ was completing some of our bulletin boards (we have a school wide acts of kindness challenge as well as ‘kind’ words kids/adults can take on a bad day). We then showcased and spent time with our ‘Big Rocks” (our building goals) that the staff brainstormed last year and leadership spent an entire day mapping out a 4 year plan, detailing more specifically what year one would look like. Another blog can dive into those more intently, but here are our ‘Big Rocks’ for the next four years:

  • I can evaluate my impact.
  • I can maximize student engagement.
  • I focus on the language of learning & social growth.
  • I collaborate intentionally on my impact.

1:00-1:45 Housekeeping Items:

During this time, we went into those ‘must know’ items for staff. This included our one big change-moving breakfast from the cafeteria to the classrooms. I also reviewed any handbook updates and the main reminders of board policy that I need to touch on each year (confidentiality reminders, supervision expectations, etc).

1:45-3:05 Building “Big Rocks”

We only spent PD time on the goals that directly impacted the first month of school–maximizing engagement (i.e. structures, routines, morning meetings, bell to bell, etc) and focus on language of social/emotional growth (i.e. shared spaces expectations, ABCs of behavioral science, calming corners in rooms, predictable adult responses and adult ‘commitment’ statements). We have the remainder of the year to go deeper into these rocks as well as the other two we didn’t hit on.

During this time, we role played responses to typical student behaviors, spent time learning the best strategies to build relationships with our students, discussed how to structure the routines/procedures of our classrooms as well as the shared spaces. Our instructional coach and counselor co-led this part of the day.

We finished early and staff could choose what to work on next! There are always a few ‘staff pic’ projects I ask them to finish before meet the teacher night, but those are quick and fun team builders also!

Day Two (the other half day):

8:00-9:00 Pick up where we left off with “Big Rocks”

Jumping right back into our ‘Big Rocks’ the entire staff participated in a morning meeting led by our counselor. They then had time to dig into our home doc of resources and begin planning out their first month of morning meetings (an expectation as part of our ‘Maximizing Engagement’ Big Rock this year).

9:00-10:00 Adult Commitment Statements

‘We believe all students deserve time and space when dysregulated’. Staff constructed their own ‘calming space/safe space/zen zone’ (whatever they choose to call it). Our instructional coach led this section & she spent time reviewing the philosophy of these tools in the classroom (this is year 2 in our trauma informed practices).

10:00-11:00 Other Building Supports to Support Students

Staying with that same rock, we spent this time talking about how other structures throughout the building were revised to support this ‘Big Rock”. We then gave teachers time to review all of our building “Big Rocks’ & decide what routines & procedures should be included in launch units to support this work throughout the year.

11:00-12:00 Scavenger Hunt Throughout the Town

Our staff then broke into teams and went on a scavenger hunt throughout our attendance area. We haven’t done this in my 6 years here and with the recent flooding in part of our area, this seemed very relevant now. We posted these adventures to social media throughout the hour!

12:00-1:00 Lunch to Celebrate the Days Together

Luncheon at our local coffee shop! The scavenger hunt ended at our locale coffee shop, where I’d purchased a variety of bites and nibbles to celebrate our back to school. Teachers could head back to the building whenever they desired to work.

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