In 2004, Oprah Winfrey created one of TV Guide’s 100 Biggest Moments in Television when she infamously gave away cars to her entire studio audience.  One of the biggest quotes to come out of the show has even been turned into a meme, “You get a car!  You get a car!  Everyone gets a car!”  There were tears, there was joy, there was happiness (there was even a hidden tax bill for every one of these winners!)

What if the way we did PD was like this?  Hordes of teachers jumping around, crying tears of joy as you hand them little boxes with the keys to their professional development…You could even summon your own inner Oprah and run around the staff room shouting…


Even if you are not running out right now to buy a new red suit for your next staff meeting, the reality is, the way we do professional development has to change.  The days of all-day, sit-and-get, one-size-fits-all PD MUST change, and it must change right now.

 If we want our students to be innovative thinkers and doers, we must first allow our teachers to do the same…and you can do it starting right now at your own sites!

surviveThe first question that often gets asked is “where do we find the time?”  Well, at Harbor View Elementary (@harborviewelem), we took a long look at our meeting schedule and realized something…

…We could revamp our entire weekly staff meeting schedule to focus on professional development.  So, we went from a weekly staff meeting to a monthly whole-staff meeting.  We utilized email and  Google tools like Calendar, Docs, and Forms to keep staff informed and involved in upcoming events as well as any input gathering and decision making.  This then freed up three weekly meetings a month (on average) to focus on professional development.

Once we had the time issue resolved, it was time to release teachers to their passion projects and watch them soar…then reality set in.  Several of my teachers were uncomfortable with this much freedom and were unsure of what to pursue.  Working with my lead team, we decided to dial things back a bit and revamp the offerings.  We came up with three options for staff based off of their comfort level.  These options were then given names based off of food and restaurant options:

Prix Fixe Menu – The first level, like a restaurant, had a preset menu.  Led by teacher-leaders, staff who chose this option could partake in a semester-long cohort on a specific topic that related to innovative practices that could be implemented in the classroom.  Recent offerings included “iPads as Teaching Tools,” “Project-Based Learning in the Elementary Classroom,” and “Design Thinking: Using the LAUNCH Cycle” (based off of John Spencer and AJ Juliani’s book, LAUNCH).  Each week, cohorts would meet to discuss best practices, share resources and successes, and work to overcome obstacles and problems that arose.  Cohort-leaders were also given release time to go into classrooms to work with participants on incorporating best practices into their classrooms.

Salad Bar Option – With this option, like a salad bar, there was a little more freedom to choose what you wanted, but you still create your experience with exactly what is offered. This was the best option for teachers who wanted to take an online course with a predetermined curriculum.  For example, teachers might take the online coursework for becoming a Level 1 or 2 Google Certified Educator or they might take an iTunes U course to enhance their content knowledge.  The key component of this level was that teachers who chose this had to either (A) take the test for Google certification (I would pay for the test for them) or (B) demonstrate how they used the information and ideas from the online course in their classrooms.  We also created a dedicated space where teachers could bring their laptops and headphones and work in peace!  Many of these courses were free, but if one of my teachers found one that had a cost, I paid for the course if it was something the teacher was really interested in pursuing.

“When Harry Met Sally” Model – Like the main character from the movie from which it is named, this was the option for the teachers who “want it the way they want it.”  This was the level for the few teachers who were ready to explore their own passion projects.  These teachers met with me on a periodic basis to determine how I could support them.  For some, it meant us going on to Twitter to find experts who could help or mentor my teacher.  For others, it meant finding a great conference that delved deeper into the topic.  In addition to meeting with me from time to time to check in, the only other requirements that I expected was a student showcase or a teacher-led PD at one of our monthly staff meetings, and they needed to share their journey in some way (social media like Twitter or Facebook was preferred)

Armed with these different options, we presented to the staff.  Most chose the Prix Fixe option and a few went with the Salad Bar, but I had three teachers decide to take on When Harry Met Sally.  The three topics they chose were (1) Flexible Learning Environments; (2) Literature Circles for Primary Students; and (3) Character Education.  Each of these projects came with their own challenges whether it be funding, finding others who were currently doing it, or convincing colleagues that what they were doing was not “fluff.”

Was our first year a success?  Yes, in many ways.  Some of the cohorts were more successful than others and a few of our “salad bar” teachers chose to join the cohort after realizing how much work it would take to become Google-certified.  But, the “passion-based PD” teachers were the biggest success.

Not only did each teacher have a deep impact on their students, but each of them has inspired other teachers on our campus to adopt some of these practices in their own classrooms.

What’s even more special is that each teacher has also (or will in the near future) present their passion project at a regional or state-level conference.  One of them, Kimberly Wells (@hv6th)  just recently wrote a blog post on her character education project which you can read here:

Finally, I have had folks ask if Oprah-fying our PD has made an impact on our campus.  I will leave with this quote from one of my teachers who pursued her own passion project:


SchmittyLead Innovator . Proud husband, father to 2 beautiful girls  ; Ed.D- USC (Fight On!). Faculty-. Phil 4:13 Follow Todd on Twitter: @tsschmidty Read Todd’s Blog:


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