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Using a School’s Internal Expertise for Professional Development

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Closer Than You Think” by Lauren Porosoff in Independent School, Fall 2017 (Vol. 77, #1, p. 30-36),; Porosoff can be reached at
In this article in Independent School, teacher/author Lauren Porosoff suggests four ways of tapping in-school resources for PD:
• The Workshop – A faculty member presents an idea that’s had a positive impact on students. Then, with the presenter’s guidance, colleagues try doing it themselves. For example, a math teacher at Porosoff’s school showed how he was making short explanatory videos for students to watch at home, opening up more class time for working with groups of students on challenging problems. This teacher showed colleagues how to make videos in their subject areas and deal with the inevitable challenges – students who don’t watch the video or don’t understand fundamental aspects of the content, and how to help students work together to solve problems. In Porosoff’s school, there’s been no shortage of teachers with useful ideas to share in workshops.
• The Council – Several teachers describe a classroom challenge or dilemma and ask colleagues for ideas. Some examples:
- How can I teach grammar in a way that improves student writing?
- How can I make algebra fun?
- How can I incorporate discussions of current events?
- What creative project can I assign instead of the Civil War essay?
- Why did so many of my students fail this test when it seemed they were well prepared?
- How can I include service learning in my classroom?
- How can I make best use of new technology without letting it use me?
- How can I ensure 100 percent participation?
- How can I teach compassionate behaviors?
- How can I give students brain and body breaks?
- How can I take better care of myself?
- How can I get Donny Crawford to talk in my class?
Once several questions have been posed, teachers form groups of 4-7 and serve as a “council” for each question. The presenter describes exactly what is happening in the classroom, states the desired outcome, answers clarifying questions, and then is silent while the group discusses the issue and offers insights.
Tackling the question of how to get Donny Crawford participating in class, a colleague who knows the student might tell about his interest in current events, another teacher might suggest partner discussions and writing prompts, yet another might suggest rethinking what participation looks like. “By presenting,” says Porosoff, “teachers benefit from the collective expertise of their colleagues, who in turn benefit from hearing and wrestling with a colleague’s dilemma. Even if the groups don’t solve every problem, presenters might leave feeling surprised by successes they hadn’t noticed, inspired by their colleagues’ insights, aware of new resources, and ready to try new methods… And the whole group becomes stronger by working together toward the success of one of its members.”
Porosoff suggests asking a few accomplished veteran staff members to take the lead presenting problems to overcome the fear others might have admitting classroom weaknesses and failures.
• The Toolbox Share – A school leader or department chair poses a question to colleagues and everyone contributes ideas. Some examples:
- How do we incorporate movement into our sixth-grade classes?
- How do we communicate with parents when a kid gets a bad grade?
- How do we examine math resources for bias?
- How do we use historical fiction in our classes?
On the last question, members of the history department might ponder this question before the meeting and bring books from their classroom libraries and historical fiction writing assignments they’ve given. “Rather than having one expert share a ‘best’ practice,” says Porosoff, “– and narrowing the faculty’s repertoire to include only that practice – teachers can expand and diversify their collective repertoire to include more ways to help students learn.”
• The Bring-Back – Teachers who have been to conferences share ideas they found particularly helpful. For example, a teacher went to a technology conference and attended a workshop on how game-making helps students be creative and understand how ideas interconnect. Back in her school, she showed slides from the workshop and led a discussion on how her colleagues might use the ideas in their classes. A science teacher thought about how to make games to learn the parts of a plant and a history teacher considered modifying a board game about the U.S. Constitution that he once used. “In a bring-back,” says Porosoff, “everyone explores and experiments together – in much the same way as we aim for our students to do.”
School leaders – principals, department chairs, deans, directors – can use all four of these formats to orchestrate high-quality professional development meetings. In classroom visits, team meetings, and conversations with colleagues, leaders need to keep their eyes open:
- Spotting expertise within the faculty;
- Listening for common concerns;
- Noticing teaching strengths and weaknesses;
- Keeping track of conferences teachers are attending and books they’re reading;
- Carving out time for PD;
- Observing whether ideas are being used in classrooms and are making a difference.

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