Designing Immersive Professional Development

As we progress, there is a continued push in education to “meet students where they are.” Teachers are aiming at creating a student-centered learning experience that immerses students by creating an environment in which the experiences are real, personal, and engaging. And hopefully, by submerging students head under stimuli, we can better hone their skills and make learning an experience they never want to leave, coming up for air only when necessary rather than drowning in content.

This is great, and the push to “meet students where they are” makes for another possible blog post to come. But what about the teachers and staff? Oftentimes they are the ones left drowning in a Professional Development format that we would shake our head at if it were the students in our classrooms. So how do we change this? How do we “meet teachers where they are” and build immersive PD?

Having recently transitioned from teaching high school students to “teaching teachers”, it has been my goal to continue to design and develop PD that immerses teachers and staff in the learning. That builds upon what they have taken and experienced, offers hands-on learning and collaboration, and can be had online, in person, or during a workshop, to make it as personal as possible. The goal→ anytime/anywhere professional development about the things THEY want to learn. Nothing is worse than attending professional development that is outdated, that does NOT offer time to build/make/and try, that does NOT include tech in some way, that does NOT offer time for collaboration, and that does NOT apply to our classrooms.

Step 1: Create a one-stop-shop for everything PD-related in your district. My first task when designing professional development was to build a space that housed everything the staff in my district would need. A place in which they would find valuable resources, links to often used district programs such as Genesis, Schooldude, Schoology, and MyLearningPlan, and a place to connect. But to make it personal, it needed to be organic. Grown and built from within– like coral. I wanted this website to be a substrate; a place where my teachers can go to grow and build professionally. So I built a district Instructional Technology and Staff Development website.  To make it organic, I continually ask for staff collaboration and submissions. I want teachers telling me the apps they use, what they are doing in their classrooms, project they have conducted, and articles/videos they come across. I continually add each of these things so that it is personal and organic. So that my teachers OWN their professional development. I embed programs like Padlet into my site so that teachers can collaborate and share resources. I embedded a calendar for staff to book me using I’ve had teachers create flipped videos that they share with me and that I embed on the site. Remember this: Teachers HATE being inundated with email. They need one place they can go, to get whatever they need, whenever they need. If they have to search for it or check their inbox, then it becomes a waste of time.

Step 2: Make sure it really is anytime, anywhere, anyway. This is important, and I want you to understand this.


Everyone learns differently. Just as we expect with our students, the same should be accounted for with our teachers and staff. Not everyone has time to attend a workshop after school or likes learning online. You need to make sure professional development becomes truly immersive. I offer a schedule of workshops throughout the year that teachers and staff can attend after school or as Lunch and Learns. I then created a Professional Development course in Schoology that follows a mastery learning/gamification model. This course has every module I create available to teachers, that they can complete anytime, anywhere, and anyway. Teachers earn a “badge” upon completion of the module and in turn, earn the respective number of PD hours. To take it a step further, I wanted my teachers to have a choice and learn the way they learn best (isn’t that what we are trying to do with our students). Most of my online modules can be completed online, as a workshop with others, or they can request to complete a 1:1 meeting with me by filling out a Google Form.

Here’s what my online Schoology course looks like:

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Notice that there are multiple online modules available at the same time to offer choice, and the due dates aren’t until the end of the year. Teachers can work at their own pace, completing when have they time. What is great about this setup is that it affords teachers an opportunity to reflect and reinforce. They can take a physical workshop, extend their learning at a later date by completing the online module, and then if need be, reinforce it again with a 1:1 meeting with me! Or vice versa! Pro tip: Offer a variety of choices. Don’t just make it about tech tools. As you can see, I offer both pedagogical modules such as Genius Hour, tech tool related such as using Plickers and Thinglink, as well as lesson design with Using Technology in the Classroom.” Hit on the topics THEY want. Which brings me to the next step…

Step 3: Make it Personal. Nothing is worse than being stuck completing PD on topics you haven’t selected or that are inapplicable to your classroom. I know all too well what an entire day’s worth of pre-planned professional development looks like (yawn). You need to make it personal. Just offering a variety of courses doesn’t cut it. Differentiate! Since everyone is at different levels, tier your workshops by offering basic, intermediate, and advanced levels. How do you get to this level? Survey staff to find out what they want! I survey my staff twice a year. Once at the end of the school year (prior to leaving for summer as it gives me time to design) and once again half-way through the year, to evaluate, modify, and hit on those things I may have missed. I also find ways of merging my building/district goals to my teachers. Be broad in nature but specific in scope! For example: one of my district goals is to “build a community of engaged learners.” With that in mind, I develop PD that connects to teacher wants, like “enhancing tech use in the classroom” and gear it specifically toward apps/programs for enhanced student engagement. This gives you flexibility in making it work for your administration and your teachers.

Step 4: Make it collaborative. Teachers WANT time to collaborate. Time to sit, speak, and share with other teachers is invaluable, but all too often, schools find it difficult to build this time in. I made it my personal goal this year to make it collaborative and build in specific times where the professional development wasn’t about some app or tech tool, but about collaborating and listening to each other. I decided to steal an idea from Alice Keeler, and took the #CoffeeEDU idea and brought it to my district. For 1 hour once a month, teachers and staff meet with other teachers and I at a local coffee shop and just chat. There’s no predetermined topic and no set agenda. They come with what is on their mind and share in an informal way. I am just there to help moderate the discussion and sometimes bring a cool tech gizmo or idea. I also offer Tech Playdates and times in which staff can come just to play, connect, and try collaboratively.

But don’t just do this at scattered times. Make it immersive! Create an online discussion. Open up TwitterChats or meet with teachers and staff using Google Hangouts and/or For me, since I use Schoology for a lot of my professional development, I created blog posts in which teachers share and discuss with each other. I moderate the discussion and chime in when I feel I have something to share. Check out the following discussion from one of my online modules:


That’s just a snippet of one discussion about the tools they use in their classrooms. But I think you get the drift. Give them opportunities to collaborate and share with each other and they will be thrilled.

Step 5: Let them take something away. None of my workshops are sit-and-get lectures. Is there time in which I lecture? Absolutely. But that is the only time. I run my professional development how I taught- blended learning with a skills based mastery program. I always say, “teach as you preach!” I want my workshop to be an experience. I want it to be fun. I want my teachers interacting, trying, collaborating, and creating. Here’s what I do: I run my workshops in spurts. I use direct instruction as an overview to show them, then I make it applicable by modeling what I would do or how it applies to various subjects, then I set them off “into the wild” so to speak, and give them time to work together and try it out. I want my teachers to walk away with something. I want them to have even the bare bones of something started. This makes it easier for me to take what they started, and get them moving forward with it. Make it hands-on. Make it dirty. Remember playing with paper mache as a child? That’s how learning and professional development should be.

We need to give them opportunities to explore as the professionals they are and design professional development that hits them like a tidal wave and leaves them dripping wet with new experiences. The best professional development never ends- it is a process. A method of immersing them until they come up for air, but aren’t left drowning without a life vest.

If you would like to talk more about professional development, or need help in designing an online course for your teachers, feel free to reach out!



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