Over the next several weeks, school districts will have difficult decisions to make. Many districts across the country have had to cancel school because of inclement weather, and are now faced with deciding how students will make up that time. Some will extend the school year; others will seek waivers from state regulations regarding required attendance days; and others will look to substitute professional development days for student days.
As a former school board member, I understand the pros and cons of each of these options, and appreciate the challenge these school systems face. Well-planned and executed professional development days give teachers and principals the help they need to solve their immediate problems and support long-term improvements. I implore school systems to consider all reasonable alternatives to reducing their investment in educator learning.
If you are in one of those districts on the verge of substituting professional development days for student days, I have an alternative for you to consider. Remind decision makers of the direct link between the quality of teaching and student learning. Professional development is the only strategy available to districts to improve teaching. Teacher learning is as important as student learning. Rather than sacrifice teacher learning for the remainder of the year, use this challenge as an opportunity to design and deliver professional development in new and potentially more powerful ways.
Piloting early release or late start offers one solution. You can make up the snow days and still provide teachers with time for collaborative learning and problem solving. Early release or late start days allow you to implement the professional development strategies demonstrated to show the greatest impact - school-based, in team settings, extended over time, with opportunities for follow up and support, and focused on the needs of the students and teachers.
If you are successful at “selling” the solution, make sure the planning is thorough. Identify goals, timelines, support systems, and evaluation mechanisms. Work with community organizations to provide after-school care and other enrichment programs on your selected days. Communicate thoroughly with all stakeholders before, during, and after. Provide a comprehensive overview of what teachers will be learning and the positive effects it will have on their classrooms.
There is a real opportunity to leverage snow days into more learning for teachers and students, rather than less. At a minimum, share your concerns if your district casually replaces professional development days with student days. Suggest other options, and present your best ideas. Seize the opportunity, and let us know about the results of your efforts. Share your successes so others may benefit from your insights.
Executive Director, Learning Forward
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch 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.