Power to your People

People are your school. People are the system. People make things happen.George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset

Just as each leaf, each branch, each root and piece of bark contributes to the beauty of this tree, so does each member contribute to making a school what it is. Great schools not only draw out the best from their people, but celebrate their talents and encourage growth.

Intertwined By Nature

Schools are full of teacher-experts: experts in their fields, experts in pedagogy, experts in collaboration or organization, even experts in some activity or hobby. Here are some thoughts as to how you can nurture those experts and their talents to create a great school.

In-source your Professional development

Of course outside workshops and expensive consultants have a place within education, but don’t forget that your in-house experts would love to have an opportunity to share their knowledge and passions. If they’re like me, though, they don’t always know what they have to offer. Take notice when you see talents and ask your staff to lead a workshop on your next in-service day.

One size does not fit all. Teachers have different interests and different experience levels. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) foster collaborative learning among like-minded colleagues within a particular field and can be formed around any topic or purpose. Our school has about 10 PLCs (bloggers, change-makers, communicators, service-oriented, etc), which meet approximately once a month to discuss ways that we can improve our own teaching, the kids’ learning experiences and our schools. Though the process can be slow, there’s a beauty in meeting with people across departments and curricula to talk about those things that we are passionate about.

Got a tip you want to share? A cool web-site or tool you found? Why not make a short video to share with your colleagues. We call it “Two-Minute PD“, two minute videos which we show once a week during staff meetings and share on Twitter and our website. Check it out under the hashtag #2MinPD.


Move away from teacher evaluation and toward teacher mentorship. Why not pair teachers with similar yearly goals and support opportunities for them to observe and grow together? Or pair a new teacher with one with more experience? 

build trust

The staff that plays together, stays together. A supportive staff doesn’t happen by accident; they have to like and respect each other. Support collegiality with great coffee in the staff room and the occasional happy hour.

Stagnation doesn’t just come from boredom. If teachers are afraid, they will never try new things. They need the freedom to experiment with ideas; the freedom to fail and reflect before they succeed. A supportive, collegial environment is so important for new ideas to flourish. If something went well, offer a high five. If a lesson flopped, offer a hug and help your colleague talk through ways to improve it next time.

I hire people brighter than me and then I get out of their way — Lee Iacocca, former Chairman of The Chrysler Corporation

Trust that you’ve hired professionals and that those professionals will do their jobs. Teachers will be in class when they need to be and they will be prepared–20 teenaged judges ensure that on a daily basis. You know they’re working nights and weekends, so it’s okay if they come in a bit late or leave mid-day to go for a walk or take an extra coffee break. The freedom to be human goes a long way toward establishing a contented, dedicated staff.

287:365 – Joyful Girls


And don’t forget to celebrate greatness whenever you see it. High fives and specific, positive praise go along way toward honoring your most important asset: People.

Thank you to George Couros for the inspiration: People Are Always Your Best Resource

Thank you to flickr! and creative commons for the incredible images:

midway by Niki Chan

287:365 – Joyful Girls by charamelody



5 thoughts on “Power to your People

  1. Hi Valerie,
    What a great post! Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. I especially love the Two-Minute PD you mentioned. I’m fortunate to work in a department (HS English) where we are all constantly sharing and collaborating with one another, and yet I feel that something is missing. I don’t often get a chance to work alongside other departments or colleagues, and I wonder what hidden talents or ideas might be out there. Do you have a suggestion as to how I could get something like this started at our school? Thanks for your time. Looking forward to reading your future posts! 🙂


    1. Dear Uzay,

      I am with you on having a great department to work with and feel lucky to have that. We share an office and so ideas bouncing around is part of the norm. I also feel quite lucky to have cross-curricular sharing. This wasn’t necessarily the norm at my school in previous years. I suppose it’s been a confluence ideas that we now have PLCs and the 2minPD.

      PLCs were really facilitated by our administration giving us time. We have late starts scheduled throughout the year–about once a month or so and our PLCs meet during that time. All that gets cancelled is the weekly assembly/tutor time, and kids get to sleep an extra hour. Teachers were given choice to put forth ideas and also to join groups that spoke to them. We have groups as large as 10 and some as small as 4. But honestly, without administrative support, this wouldn’t have happened.

      2MinPD started with the staff. Somebody went to a conference and brought the idea. Our tech coach jumped onto the idea and has made sure it lives. If someone makes a video, she shares that at our once a week informational lunch meeting. If no one has made a video, she makes one of her own.

      Good luck Uzay,


  2. Ciao Valerie! I had so many thoughts and connections as I was reading your post! Many ideas that I already think about regularly and some new things I can’t wait to check out, like #2minPD

    I’ve been working at my current school for 6 years now and the people are the reason I’ve stayed so long. They are the reason that I hesitate every time I consider “exploring my options.” I have a pretty large soapbox I’ve been standing on recently regarding the idea of teacher evaluation ( https://www.coetail.com/carriezimmer/2016/05/24/changing-up-teacher-evaluations/ ) and completely agree that most schools need to shift this process to an ongoing cycle of mentorship.

    I also have been utilizing our in-house talent (AKA: teachers) to run speedgeeking sessions for our tech focused PD. They know what is relevant to their classrooms and how a different tool might be best used given all the factors that influence a classroom. I’m proud of the fact that teachers acknowledge this PD to be the best PD and use of their time that we have.

    Lastly, I love (and want to shout from the rooftops) your statement, “trust that you’ve hired professionals.” Earlier this year I had the privilege of spending two days at ISAmsterdam. I was shocked when I arrived and saw nearly every teacher dressed very casually. But after spending time there, I realized that the casual dress was related to the idea that the teachers were simply trusted to show up and do their job and that there was a culture in the school that recognized that what you were wearing didn’t impact your ability to do your job. I believe that a great teacher can and will be a great teacher no matter the circumstances, but the freedom “to be human” can go a long way.


  3. Oh Carrie, you have no idea how much I want our dress code to change. We’ve got new admin coming in next year and this is one of the things that some of us are pushing hard. I think especially for primary school teachers, who are on the floor and outside all the time, we should be letting them dress for the job, but also I don’t think I’m less of a teacher in jeans than I am in “work” clothes.

    I so love the idea of getting teachers to share/run PD sessions. Be they speedgeeking (cool title!) or longer workshops, there’s so much ownership from sharing with each other. It’s also a nice way to differentiate–put the newbies in one group, more advanced in another, or just let the more advance run their own.

    2MinPD–not hard to get started. Just get a few people together to kick it off and it seems to take on a life of its own.

    Thanks so much for your thoughts and kind words and for keeping the convo going. This is how we affect change.



  4. I worked in a High School in Mexico for 5 years and PD existed in a very organic way We had it, but I don’t think we ever acknowledged it as PD. Shocking, but the first time I heard the word was when I moved to Singapore. And all of a sudden I felt constrained by it. It almost felt like it needed to have certain characteristics and results in order to exist and be meaningful.

    And don’t get me wrong I do understand the importance of setting expectations and limits so that we get the most out of it, so that time and money are not wasted in vain.
    But in my opinion, that is the problem with PD. I have less time here than in Mexico and things cost 5,10 times more. So in my opinion, these two conditions turn PD into something more mechanic. We then need to justify it and it doesn’t feel that genuine.

    So what you are proposing is completely refreshing as it not only recognises the value of your own people but it also allows the school to save money, which then allows the PD to be more natural, less formal and more cyclical. For me, fewer experts from the other side of the world and more experts from the classroom next door could be more relevant and significant to your current needs.

    Can I join the hashtag #2MinPD?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s