12 Ways to Get Started

Post-pandemic: Teachers have a heavy lift with student achievement, executive function, and social and emotional learning. The one-shot PD offered on PD days and after school no longer meets their needs. They need answers — lots of them — on a continual basis. The more we learn about students’ needs, and the more we learn about learning, the more we need to find new approaches to supporting teachers in ways that resonate with them. Meanwhile, most teachers do not want to spend a lot of time in conventional PD situations, and few people want to take on substitute teacher roles, so release-time PD isn’t much of an option either.

Solutions: School leaders need to create an ongoing, pervasive Culture of Professional Learning. Professional learning needs to be a priority all day, every day. It needs to be a part of the overall school atmosphere, conversation, language, action, and physical environment. I remember speaking with a teacher new to one of our schools that had been engaging in designing Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms for several years. She shared that “they speak a different language around here; I’m constantly learning.” Create a language of innovation for your school or district and immerse teachers in learning it.

How: Here are 12 ways to get started in shifting your current school culture to a Culture of Professional Learning. I’ve organized these through 3 overarching categories:

structures, people, and inspiration
Creating a Culture of Professional Learning


  1. Design Physical & Virtual Spaces with Intent:
    • – Engage teachers in defining what a physically or virtually welcoming and affirming classroom environment “looks like.”
    • – Engage teachers in defining what a differentiated classroom environment “looks like.”
    • – Create a Professional Learning Center for teachers to spend time when they are not teaching that is filled with comfortable furniture, books, resources, AI goggles, and any other new tech gadgets that will promote exploration and innovation. (Better yet, let the teachers design it.)
    • – Create a virtual space for continued collaboration. At IDE Corp., we use gather.town as our remote office. We have desks, conference rooms, a cafeteria, a beach, a castle, a forest, a Zen garden, and on and on. We engage with one another as avatars whose cameras and mics activate when we’re near one another. We even had the Wall Street Journal write an article about us!
  2. Build Purposeful Resource Collections:
    • – Buy or gather books for a professional library; have teachers share book reviews or favorite quotes. Obviously, I recommend my books. 😉 You can access the opening chapter of each at www.idecorp.com/books.
    • – Identify podcasts that will help teachers, and create a list, asking teachers to add any powerful podcasts they find.
    • – Identify online resources that would offer teachers support in their instructional planning. EdQuiddity Inc offers two that we’ve designed for this purpose: MyQPortal is an online collection of PBL units and instructional planning tools; on-demand, Professional Learning Experiences offer a login for every teacher and administrator in a school or district and can be used to support faculty and team meetings, PLCs, PD days, post-observation conferences, and daily work.
    • – Collect and create a gallery of sample units and lesson plans among the staff and, if possible, across schools.
    • – As teachers and students create “how-to videos” on different apps, tips, and techniques, create a collection available to the entire staff.
  3. Connect, Connect, Connect!
    • – Connect teachers to one another within the school. That can be as easy as mentioning something another teacher accomplished and suggesting they check it out.
    • – Connect teachers across schools within a district or network, and with other schools throughout the world. As you meet other administrators at conferences and professional meetings, start to make connections for your faculty.
    • – Find ways to connect parents, teachers, students, and support staff. That could be through conversations over coffee, brown-bag lunch discussions, or other venues to open up discussions about innovation. Develop protocols with clear norms and procedures for the discussion.
  4. Tech, Tech, Tech!
    • – Move from using technology to infusing it as a necessary component of a rich instructional environment. You might look back at an article I wrote in 1999 in which I talked about “the power of technology to transform the teaching and learning process.”
    • – Don’t fear AI apps like ChatGPT; let students use them to generate information on a topic and then have them analyze and synthesize what they found. And use it yourself to design lesson plans on topics. It can be very helpful in generating PBL tasks and rubrics!
    • – Use technology to generate instructional videos, building in ENL supports.
    • – Use technology to build a variety of ways to learn or practice the same skill or concept so that students have greater choice in their own learning.


  1. Honor the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator:
    • – Though you should never use the MBTI to make employment decisions or judge people, it can be very useful to help understand the best ways to engage with and group people.
    • – Use this online tool to allow you and your staff to gain some insights into yourselves. For example, Introverted energy seekers thrive in their inner world of ideas, so they tend to think more before they speak, whereas Extroverted energy seekers thrive in a world of human interaction, so they tend to “think with their mouths.” An E can easily think an I doesn’t agree with them or is judging them, rather than merely thinking through their response. Meanwhile, an I might think an E is arrogant and uninterested in others’ viewpoints. The more you know about the MBTI, the more you can engage in ways that make the most of each individual’s personality type.
    • – Teachers have used the MBTI to encourage students to design their own work groups by including a diversity of personality types.
  2. Find Innovation and Acknowledge It:
    • – Lead from the classrooms and halls . . . not the office. The more you are in the midst of the action, the more you can identify how your professional learning goals are blossoming.
    • – Be an ethnographer! Like anthropologists, ethnographers immerse themselves in the culture they are studying. They base their conclusions on triangulation: observation, interviews, and artifacts. Be careful not to build assumptions on any one conversation or observation. Use what you find to uncover more data to determine what is and isn’t working in your Culture of Professional Learning.
    • – Find the good and shout it out! Acknowledge what is working and ask questions that will lead to next steps. Share the structures and strategies you see in one classroom as you engage with others, being careful not to establish favorites or create competition. Ask teachers to share their successes with one another, or suggest that one teacher see another to find out more about a strategy they’re using. (Again, avoid setting up favorites and competition.)
  3. Foster Collective Dissemination:
    • – Establish shared online spaces to post strategies, structures, and ideas for others to put into practice.
    • – Develop an internal Q&A blog for teachers to pose questions and offer answers to others. Be sure to encourage risk-taking and “not knowing,” and be careful to never, even jokingly, make any statements that would appear critical of people who are asking questions.
    • – Create an online “Dashboard” to start the day. At IDE Corp., our culture is to visit our dashboard first thing in the morning. It is updated daily (anyone can add information) and provides us all with important news about our work, team members’ birthdays and anniversaries with the company, and more.
  4. Personalize:
    • – Be sure to ask individuals what they need to succeed in achieving their own professional learning goals.
    • – When offering or having others offer professional learning, be sure to emphasize differentiation so each participant can learn in their own way and pursue their own goals.
    • – Likewise, ensure that participants are designing practical materials and plans that can be implemented in the classroom immediately or in the near future. PD can no longer be about “nice to know” topics; teachers need practical, immediate solutions.
    • – Don’t be afraid to invest in the few! If you have a few teachers who are interested in learning a new strategy or pursuing innovative goals, get them the support they need. Individual innovators can become influencers.


  1. Inspire:
    • – Record a “Morning Message Video” — a 1- to 2-minute welcome to the day. (This models one of the five types of videos we recommend teachers use in the classroom; more about this in my book Reinventing the Classroom Experience.
    • – Use inspirational quotes in your emails, memos, and presentations.
    • – Take advantage of the power of music! Have music playing when teachers enter the building. In our workshops, we often ask teachers to offer up a song title for how they are feeling right now; sometimes, we turn the song suggestions into playlists.
    • – Have some metaphorical fun! One middle school principal with whom we worked provided snacks at meetings that somehow referenced the “middle” being where it’s all at! The filled donuts were my favorite. 😉 I’ve used a metaphor in keynotes for differentiation that references the power of an ice-cream sundae to create a flavor synergy — and some leaders run with my idea to offer an ice-cream break right after the keynote to solidify the messaging. Have fun!
  2. Empower:
    • – Listen for those innovative ideas and get behind them. For example, a group of teachers wanted to run their Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms (LATIC) together, since all three taught the same students. Two of the rooms were separated by a moveable divider, so they opened it. The other classroom was separated by a cinder-block wall. The teachers wrote a proposal and gave it to their consultant, who gave it to me. I shared it with the superintendent. He brought in the buildings and grounds supervisor, who determined it was not a weight-bearing wall, and within weeks, that wall came down. The teachers worked all summer to design their new and innovative fifth-grade “big room” classroom.
    • – Create a “Peer Expert Board” (another LATIC structure) so that teachers can see who among them has mastered a new piece of technology, app, strategy, etc., and be able to turn to them for assistance.
    • – Provide options where options are possible. One district had a curriculum grid for when specific topics would be taught across the year. The LATIC teachers were creating problem-based units and saw that the topics didn’t always align well to identify real-world problems to use to engage students. So the district agreed to have us provide them with scissors and tape to rearrange the grid to meet their team needs. The teachers felt empowered for sure!
  3. Foster Positivity:
    • – Watch your words! Words matter. While you’re at it, eliminate sarcasm and “just kidding” moments. Use your words to create a positive culture of professional learning and risk-taking for the good of the students.
    • – Watch your body language! The way you stand or sit, the expression on your face, folding your arms . . . they all send messages that can be interpreted correctly or incorrectly. Leave nothing to anyone else’s interpretation other than positivity in your physical stance.
    • – Did I say watch your words? And watch your body language? LOL. Leadership comes with the unfortunate reality that everyone is watching you. The words you choose and the way you sit or stand, especially when someone else is talking, sends a message.
  4. Fail Forward:
    • – You’ve seen the posters, but do you and your team practice it? Failing forward means to purposefully use moments of failure to learn from them and take new actions toward success. Acknowledging and embracing failure allows one to become creative and develop new ideas.
    • – Unfortunately, the world of education, with its “research-based” mantra, does not leave a lot of room for innovation or failure, so you’ll have to create it. Start small! Encourage teachers to try a new strategy. If it doesn’t work, they can decide what they could do differently to achieve the results they want.
    • – Consider a “Try It Tuesday” where you ask teachers to try something different each Tuesday and then decide if it worked or if they are failing forward.

Creating a Culture of Professional Learning encourages continual learning and innovation, as opposed to one-shot workshops and PD days that may or may not translate into classroom practice. IDE Corp. works with schools to develop a Culture of Professional Learning to design new approaches to education for new times. For more information, reach out: solutions@idecorp.com.