All In A Day’s Work: Maximizing the Inservice Structure

While professional learning varies greatly in terms of quality and intensity, how do we make the most of current school or district structures? Here are two tips to maximize the impact of a one-day inservice: implement immediately and share your results. Learn more about moving a day of learning into your daily practice in this post.

Research, reports, and anecdotal evidence continues to cast doubt on the impact of both one-shot professional learning opportunities (like inservices or stand-alone workshops and conferences) and job-embedded structures like professional learning communities. Given the thousands of dollars per year large districts invest in professional development for teachers, questions tied to overall impact on practice, student learning, and professional efficacy are critical conversations for schools, districts and practitioners.

Is all of this professional learning actually making a difference? How do we know?

Like our students, we need multiple opportunities to practice (20 or more opportunities according to the Center for Public Education) before we can seamlessly and effectively integrate new skills into our daily instruction. And while we must rethink professional learning structures and align resources to maximize impact on student learning and teacher practice, in the immediate we are often stuck with making the most of the current structures available in tight master schedules and predetermined district release time.

One of these structures is the district inservice day.

Last Friday, my school district hosted this school year’s first all-day inservice. Teachers were allowed to choose two three-hour sessions (morning and afternoon) from a deep catalogue of options that spanned content areas, grade levels, and topics of interest like student engagement. All sessions were aligned to one or more of the Teacher Quality Standards, the professional practice rubric that comprises 50 percent of our current evaluation.

While a one-day cram session is less than ideal, the day itself was a success. Educators left energized. Planning sessions began prior to the first session at schools and Starbucks locations across the district, and extended well beyond the end of the afternoon session and throughout the weekend. Social media sharing indicated high levels of engagement, excitement, and collaboration. Staff chose from sessions facilitated by external experts in the field as well as more intimate, teacher-led sessions that highlighted internal expertise.

So, now what? How do we capitalize on the energy generated throughout the day and translate this energy into meaningful experiences for our students?

  • Implement immediately. Intrigued by what you read, heard, learned, planned or practiced in an in-service session? Try it with students today. Build in opportunities to practice what you learn in your daily instruction and collect feedback. What is the response over time? How might students inform the strategies you’re trying? Reflect on the results and pay it forward by facilitating your own version of the session with colleagues. Encourage them to do the same in order to increase practice and replication opportunities.

  • Share the results. Keep the conversations (and Tweets) flowing. Follow up with the session presenter or other participants to share your implementation results. Embed conversations about implementation approximations in building-based structures like PLC’s. Or invite a colleague, coach or evaluator to see your work in action and provide you with feedback.

A day of intense learning need not end at sundown. Instead, let’s leverage the choice, variety, and energy generated by a full day of inservice sessions with students and other practitioners. And spread the experience of one day of professional learning into our daily practice.

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  • Carolyn Deyo

    Professional Development

    Choice in PD topics, and structures that support follow-up analysis and conversation, are two essential elements that promote positive changes! Thank you.

    • JessicaCuthbertson


      Thanks Carolyn! I agree that choice is critical — for both youth and adult learners! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Bernadine Reid

    district wide professional learning

    My district Prince Georges County Public Schools Upper Marlboro Maryland will be conducting our 2nd district wide Professional Learning on October 2nd. This will be my 2nd time presenting at our PL. I find it very rewarding to have all of staff participate in Professional Learning at the same time. We are a large district so this is a monumental undertaking. Our teaches were allowed to select their choices in from several content areas in Event Brite. I am looking forward to presenting and learning from my colleagues.

    • JessicaCuthbertson

      Shared Learning

      I agree that choice matters and sharing experiences across large districts can be very powerful. How do you monitor implementation with respect to how what is learned in professional learning gets translated into clasroom practice? This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately…despite the positive feedback and energy surrounding our district inservice, I’m wondering about the impact on students and change/refinement in practice — how do we know that best practices learned in these settings have large scale impact? Is this simply dependent on individual practitioners or school leaders or is there something we could to ensure at the systems level that professional learning is being applied in school settings?

  • TriciaEbner

    Agree with choice, and also deeper, not wider

    Limiting the sessions to just two probably frustrated some teachers who saw several sessions of interest. Reality is, though, when I can delve deeper into something without racing through it, I’m more likely to retain it and act on it. This sounds like a great approach. Our district-wide PD day is coming up soon; ours is structured a bit differently. I’m hopeful we’ll have the same kind of energy and enthusiasm carrying over from it. 

    • JessicaCuthbertson

      Depth vs. Breadth

      I couldn’t agree more, Tricia — depth vs. breadth is more powerful for both students and adult learners. And carrying out that idea further — how do we ensure that deep learning that happens in an inservice setting results in ongoing learning, application, implementation, change in practice and ultimately and most importantly, student learning? 

      Still sussing out how to leverage the positive energy from this event into results and experiences for students…

  • Matt Weld

    Carrying the Torch Forward

    Great article! As the person in charge of our all-day District-wide inservice on Oct. 9, I am always wondering how we can get all that effort and work to be translated into real change.  I think Twitter/backchanneling DURING the experience is one way, and continuing the dialogue afterwards is another powerful too.  In addition to our choices of Break Outs, I introduced the EdCamp model into the afternoon sessions last year, and this year am trying out Speed Tables first thing as a way to energize and get people interested and aware of all the topics out there.  I'll be following the conversation here to collect ideas for extending the learning in a District with very little staff engagement outside the District. 

    • JessicaCuthbertson

      Great ideas!

      Hi Matt,

      Yes – EdCamp was one of our inservice options as well (a very popular one in fact! 🙂 and all participants were encouraged to live Tweet throughout their sessions using a district hashtag. I think your planning and ideas are solid and set up the inservice for success. One thing I noticed about our district inservice was the Twitter presence was rather small with the same folks Tweeting throughout the day. I think a “social media cafe” (either at breakfast or lunch or both) that supports teachers in signing up for Twitter and equips them with some Twitter 101 basics might have helped bolster the Twitter presence. 

      Also, I think the follow-up piece is key. Our director of professional learning sent a “nudge” email the Monday after our inservice to principals to continue the learning conversations and look for evidence of changes in practice in their buildings. I think social media could be one way to extend this follow-up and/or creating a video repository of short clips of various practices in action that is accessible to teachers across the district or some other extension of learning that could double as a resource for others. 

      Best of luck with your Oct. 9th day of learning and I hope you’ll update us on how it went, what worked, and any changes/revisions you’d make to the structure to leverage these opportunities for teachers, and ultimately, the students we serve! 🙂 

  • PhillipTaylor

    OD? Well, yeah!

    Yeah, it’s amazing to me how infrequently schools and districts apply well established Organizational Development (OD) science.  We KNOW from both education and the private sector that PD as a separate, outside event is rarely effective without: 

    1. Immediate Opportunities to Practice

    2. Follow up discussion and feedback throughout the first few months of application


    #2 has been demonstrated to be the most important.

    Glad you are bringing this information to the field of education – we are very far behind.  Can you believe that the military and many private corporations have an edge on us with regards to EDUCATING our professionals?  Horrible!  As educators, we really should be on the cutting edge of EDUCATION, I feel.  Thank you again!