Commitment to professional development means more than setting aside a couple of days for meetings after the school year ends.  As we are emphasizing the importance of Principle 8 this month, we have already shared professional development resources that will allow you to engage with your staff in meaningful ways. Now, I want to highlight a 2015 National District of Character, that has excelled at prioritizing professional development. The Eastern Christian School Association (with campuses in North Haledon, Midland Park and Wyckoff, New Jersey) has devoted much of their time and resources to ensure that staff never stop learning and their efforts have yielded an impressive model that schools everywhere should consider.

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When I had the opportunity to meet with Dick Van Yperen, Director of Curriculum & Instruction, and Tom Dykhouse, Head of School, this past spring, I learned about the Eastern Christian Professional Development Academy. The academy is run by a team of teachers that first assesses the needs of the staff and then uses this information to develop courses that will address those needs. The school pays the experts in the subjects (both Eastern Christian teachers and outside instructors) to teach these courses but the courses are free for all participants to attend. Those who participate even receive equivalent graduate credit. Many of these courses, offered on a trimester basis, focus on leadership and character. Unlike traditional inservice days, these courses take place in the afternoons and evenings and run through the trimester.

Mr. Yperen explained that every teacher is required to complete two credits of continuing education per year. They also offer reimbursement for graduate credit that is completed outside of their own Professional Development Academy. The administration has designed specific pathways so that every teacher is continually advancing. Regardless of a teacher’s ultimate career goals, whether they want to take the education leadership or education specialist path, teachers have opportunities to learn and grow. They have further incentivized this growth by offering increased compensation for teachers once they reach milestones along their path. Teacher leadership is promoted as teachers become experts in an area, and then are asked to teach their peers. As Mr. Yperen said, this carefully crafted program enables teachers to “rise through the systems to the highest level of learning without spending a penny.”

If you’re looking for a way to increase your school’s professional development offerings but lack the resources to create such a large system change, consider starting with another unique program Eastern Christian implements, “Ed Talks.” An adaptation of the popular TEDtalks, EdTalks are informal afternoon sessions where a faculty member will talk about a specific topic, leading colleagues through research findings and best practices in the classroom. One EdTalk addressed weaving the 7 Mindsets, a program Eastern Christian recently adopted, into the classroom. Just like faculty book studies, EdTalks are a great way to further educate the faculty on the latest practices in education while also building unity and camaraderie amongst the community without spending a lot of time or money to set it up.