Summer PD is good for you

May 11th, 2016

In today’s guest post, literacy specialist Shawna Coppola talks about why professional development in the summer is a great way to refresh your knowledge in an authentic, sustainable, and engaging way. Shawna is hard at work on her Stenhouse book, tentatively titled “Rethink, Revise, Renew” and she is teaching a summer course at UNH. Visit her blog at:

Summer PD is good for you
By Shawna Coppola

shawnaAuthenticity. Sustainability. Engagement. While all three can be filed under educational buzzwords, they are also what we strive to provide for our students each day in our classrooms. We strive to make the learning as authentic as possible so that students find meaning in the work they do; we strive for learning to be sustainable–to transcend a particular lesson, project, course, or classroom; and–above all else–we strive to engage students in the learning process itself, to captivate their minds in a way that will lead them to fall in love with learning and become passionate, lifelong learners.

For those of us who work to support educators, our goals are (or should be) exactly the same. Rather than “develop” teachers through mandated workshop days, program trainings, or outside consultancies–most of which teachers have little to no choice in selecting–we must strive to ensure that the professional learning opportunities we offer our colleagues are authentic, sustainable, and engaging.

Simple, right?

Unfortunately, no. Such an objective is challenging, complex, and dependent on a whole host of factors that are out of our control. This is partly why so many professional learning opportunities fall short. Another, perhaps less benign, reason is what author/educator Mary Ann Reilly (2009) refers to as “doing unto others as a means of improving” professional practice. When learning is done to us, rather than something we pursue with curiosity, desire, and action, we are left with “professional development”: something that passively exists. That stagnates.

I suppose this is why I have always been intoxicated by the concept of summer learning, which to me is the very opposite of “professional development.” Summer learning is full of opportunity, choice, and possibility. (Not to mention furtive side trips to the ice cream stand….) It is authentic in that I have genuinely pursued it. It is sustainable in that I’ve chosen it (and have approximately 964 fewer things to think about on any given day during the summer, thus leading to better retention). And it is engaging in that I can do it where I want, when I want, and how I want.

Last May I posted  about ways that educators might pursue summer learning opportunities that don’t involve withdrawing large sums from the bank or filling out district reimbursement forms. However, the possibilities don’t end there. Summer can also be the perfect time to take a class at a local college or university, to chip away at your professional TBR (to-be-read) pile, or to participate in an educational webinar. Just think of the brain capacity that’ll be increased by the lunch counts you won’t have to submit! The minute-by-minute decisions you won’t have to make! The shoelaces you won’t have to tie!

The learning that won’t be done to you.

So as you begin to wrap up the learning opportunities you have painstakingly provided for students this year, consider it your chance to plan your own incredible opportunity–one that is authentic, sustainable, and engaging.

One, perhaps, like that you would wish for your own students.


Reilly, Mary Ann. 2009. “Dressing the Corpse: Professional Development and the Play of Singularities.” Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy 6(1): 79-99.

Free, Easy, & Fun Summer Learning (Sangria Not Included)

Entry Filed under: Leadership & Mentoring

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