Some Thoughts on Professional Development

I have, at one time or another, been a faculty member who sighed at yet another day of professional development. At worst, I found myself seated for a full day listening to a topic that was picked for me and that, after the day was over, never crossed my (or my colleagues’) thoughts again. Off to class!

It’s easy to blame the alleged randomness of a PD topic on my lack of interest. It’s also pretty human to just want to resist new ideas; after all, we have lots of other things on our minds.

But teaching and how children learn should be on our minds more often than not. It’s our life’s work, after all, and we are trusted with young people who will not only learn the content of what we teach, but will learn from our example.

Now that I’ve moved into a role where I’m thinking about what kind of professional development experiences McDonogh School will have, I am quite aware of the frailty of good PD days. They can so easily go wrong.

Last year, my colleagues and I designed a PD day that, quite simply, flopped. Our guest was bight and credentialed, our topic was timely, but the day just didn’t gel. Partly this was due to the venue (a loud, echoing room), and partly this was due to . . . well, I don’t know. We just lost our colleagues.

What happens next? We were lucky, for we had scheduled the next day as a continuation of PD. To his credit, our headmaster stood before the entire faculty on the second day, and just apologized for the dud. He acknowledged, with humility and humor, that the day had been a bust and that we would do better next time. The associate headmaster and I followed suit, and we did what we could to honor the directive to “fail fast and pivot.”

What we didn’t quite get from the actual professional day found its balance in what we learned when you own a mistake straight away: the faculty (I hope!) felt respected and trusted. Owning a mistake is so powerful. Of course no one wants mistakes like that; it cost us time and money and — at least we thought — good will. But we were okay in the end.

Make mistakes. Own them. Build trust and look forward.


About kcosta380

Kevin J. Costa is the Director of The Curiosity Shop at McDonogh School (Owings Mills, Maryland), the school's Community for Teaching & Learning. He is the founding director of the school’s Institute for Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies, an interdisciplinary program that explores the plays and history of Early Modern England through a scholar/practitioner approach. Kevin is also education director for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company in Baltimore, MD. He holds a PhD in English with a concentration in Shakespeare, Renaissance literature, and drama, and has taught at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Kevin has trained in classical theater at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, and he was the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities award to study the teaching of Shakespeare at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, where he now serves as a teaching artist for the Library’s National Teacher Corps. Active on stage and as a director with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, he is also a proud member of the Shakespeare Theatre Association, an international organization of Shakespeare theater companies.
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