Education Opinion

Discussing Institute Days

By LeaderTalk Contributor — March 04, 2009 5 min read
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I am of the belief that the best institute days are not so much about learning, as much as a commitment to it. They are not about moments of community but a continued commitment to it. They aren’t so much about the day but what the days ahead will bring.

Those are the things I value when deciding upon and designing our institute days as was the case with our 2nd Annual Teachers Teaching Teachers Mini-Conference on March 2nd where we again tapped the shoulders of professionals in the classroom to give them a greater responsibility and a stronger voice to encourage the personalization of learning opportunities designed as a community.

Key Elements of the Day
Best Practices in Professional Development: The key to designing this day was a focus on best practices in professional development and adult learning as a microcosm for a coherent, well-designed approach to sustained, ongoing learning for all in a transparent culture of innovation and change:

• Choice
• Collaborative
• Application and collective inquiry time
• Connected to practice
• Art and science of teaching
• Teacher Driven
• Diverse
• Learning not Training
• Transparent
• Informal and Formal
• Modeling
• Networking
• Intensive, Challenging, and Thought-Provoking
• Aligned
• Internal
• External

Establishing Tone: The notion of an institute day for many brings about negative feelings and frustration over wasted time. Thus, it was critical to set a tone that this was more than just another institute day. This is why a conference approach was selected for its ease of creating an atmosphere of celebration, community, and change. Not to mention, it allowed for the selection of a keynote speaker to establish and set the tone for the day for which David Warlick did exceptionally well.

Stakeholder Involvement: It is critical that these days are not created in isolation but include the voices of those in which the day serves: teachers, administrators, and students. However, this does not mean merely a the setup of a committee. It is about that committee gathering insights, concerns, and ideas from their colleagues and sharing these together so that all voices are included. In many ways, it is about a transparent process and design.

The Next Approach: For me, I’m thinking in terms of the next 100 days: how we will extend the learning in breadth and depth, implement the proof of concepts in a systemic way, support the collaborative investigations with just-in time movements, sustain the energy to push forward for new heights during the Dip, and adjust the sails of our learning community in order to maintaina culture of change and innovation without restriction.

The Symbolic Nature of the Day
This day was important for what it represented symbolically . In fact, the value in this day was the coming together in a celebratory way as a community reflecting upon where we were, showcasing how far we’ve come, and taking first steps towards where we are going.

Does learning occur on this day? Absolutely! But the day is a celebration of community, a celebration of life long learning, and a celebration of change.

This is a strategic approach where each step is designed to reenergize batteries, assess and evaluate who we are as a learning community, and coming together in the spirit of a continued belief in growing, stretching and pushing.

Our institute day was designed with those pieces in mind, with the driving question always on how do we encapsulate the spirit of community and the celebration of change and growth past, present, and future.

This day laid out how we want to approach professional development and adult learning. But, the true test of how successful these approaches are does not come from the day but how we live up to the day: create energy, address concerns, foster risk-taking, encourage creativity, push the boundaries of innovation, promote collaboration and sharing, offer just-in time learning, focus on methodology, drive change, and stoke the passion of these professionals on a day to day basis!

Next year, we will come together again in the spirit of celebration as a community, life-long learners, and change agents in a change culture. By coming together in celebration, we will better understand where we’ve come from again: evolution of presentation to a greater degree of breadth and depth, diversified offerings, presentations exploring new heights, new innovations, and new discoveries in the spirit of teaching and learning in the 21st Century, enhancing our methodology in the spirit of best practice, and more and more voices behind heard.

What are we, as building leaders, doing to create this culture? What are we doing to avoid the “wasn’t that day great” mentality that paralyzes the community, culture, and learning if left at just that? How are we leveraging the wealth of information in NSDC’s Professional Learning in the Learning Profession report? How are we making sure our approach is not espoused theory but theory in use?

These are elements that drive our approach to professional development and adult learning.

When you look at your formal learning days or institute days, what are these meant to accomplish? What are the goals for the day and how do these build upon or lay a foundation for the daily professional development work that shapes teaching and learning? Are these days painting a picture that says this is it or does it create a sense of celebration and continuation of something much greater?

As Lao-tzu stated, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and institute days should be about those single steps and the celebration of the many steps along the miles and miles of the journey. What about your institute days?


Hammond-Darling, L., R. Chung Wei, et al. (2009).Professional Learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. National Staff Development Council.

Logo designed by Matt C., a Glenbrook North High School student
Photo of NetGen area by Rafael B. Iriarte

A big thank you to all the presenters and the GBN technology advisors, teachers, Art 4 students, instructional technology department, and administrative team for all their work on this microcosm!

Ryan Bretag

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.