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How I Handled...

Planning a Motivating
Professional Development Day

Each week, members of Education World's Principal Problem Solvers team share how they handled actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. This week, learn how one of our Principal Problem Solvers handled this year's first-day-of-school professional development session.

The Problem:

Each year our opening workshop day with the teachers is dedicated to professional development; like most of you, I begin to panic weeks in advance. I want to present something motivational, inspiring, and useful. I also want it to be a fun and memorable day; it should mark the start of a wonderful school year.

The Solution:

Fortunately, last year I came across two great books quite by accident. If you have not yet read Fish! and Whale Done, set aside 90 minutes some day and treat yourself to both of these books. Those two books ended up being the solution to my yearly problem and setting the tone for a great school year. In the months leading up to that opening-day professional development session, I began collecting all kinds of fish and whale items. Most were bought at party shops or from catalogs featuring those cheap prizes we often use to stock treasure chests. My assistant and I decorated the meeting room with large fish and put out those yummy goldfish and gummy fish for teachers to munch on during the presentation. We purchased 30 copies of each book as well as the manual and video to accompany Fish! After a brief overview of the books, the teachers were told to choose a book for this semester's faculty book study. (We will swap books at semester break, thus doubling our staff development dollars.) After a break, teachers were grouped according to the book they chose and given a final challenge, which I adapted from the Fish! manual. Each team was given the following guidelines:

  • You have six weeks to meet, talk about your book, collect additional information, and put together a presentation that will be made as a group at a faculty meeting.
  • You will be responsible for setting your own meeting times.
  • Each presentation must include action items that we can consider for implementation.

We ended the day with the Fish! video.

The Reflection:

We couldn't possibly have foreseen how the fish/whale theme has ended up driving this school year. The librarian reports that the books are "swimming" in and out of the library at an amazing pace. Many of the teachers already have read both books; and we find teachers quoting from the books and encouraging one another as the books suggest. Many staff members have extended the theme in their bulletin board displays and classroom décor. We are delighted with the results!


About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Six principals comprise our problem-solving team. This team of hard-working and reflective principals remains anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day. The series also illustrates the wide range of skills today's principals are required to possess. Two members of the team are elementary school principals, two work at the middle level, and two are high school principals.