Inspiring Meaningful Reflection as Professional Development

By Jessica Schultz, B.A, M.Ed. 
Academic & Curriculum Director
San Roberto International School, Monterrey Mexico

“I really liked the cross-campus session. It was good planning together and hearing new and different ideas.”

“It was very inspiring and a great way to start the day.”

Everyone needs a little inspiration, especially mid-school year. You've felt it and know it well: that time of year when you know you have accomplished so much with students, yet you still feel incredibly busy, rushed even, to meet the ambitious goals you have set for students and yourselves. You might even let some doubt creep in at your most vulnerable moments, and ask yourself, “Am I still on track with what I had in mind for this unit? Am I certain my plans are still aligned with the original goals?” Trust me, you are not alone. 

“It was great having clear objectives since the beginning of the day... my biggest take away is always asking WHY.”

“Loved the activities because it gave an opportunity to get creative.”

It is common to feel doubtful about progress even while experiencing great moments of success. This is when it is key to take some time during that mid-year mark to intentionally pause and mentally stand back to look at the “big picture”, reminding yourself of purpose and direction. During our last Professional Development Day at San Roberto International School, we decided to try things a little differently for our February gathering. We wanted teachers to feel inspired and clear about what they are doing and how it all fits together within the greater school plan.  We started with a short welcome session that was meant to inspire the community by engaging in a collaborative task. We shared our five-year plan for learning and its two objectives (which is one of three goals within the larger strategic management plan) to set the tone for the day´s work.  We had our adult learners explore their creativity by making unique comparisons that challenged a deeper understanding of project-based learning (PBL) strategy. This welcome experience resulted in a highly engaged community who reported on the end of day anonymous survey that 98.5% agreed this session “…supported or completely supported their understanding of the 5 year plan for learning…”The additional sessions during the day reinforced the idea of moving towards this goal through creating space for thoughtful reflection by way of intentional dynamics. Teachers connected with a guided framework beginning with a 15-minute mini-lesson about one of the PBL stages to reflect on, a short video for visual modeling, then 45 minutes of uninterrupted teacher discussion using prompts.  Because our school is so deeply engaged with PBL, we wanted to give teachers time to look at the different components, one by one as if each were a lens, and build on their collective knowledge by reflecting on shared experiences. Doing this work now also meant they had time to adjust before the unit ended.

“I liked that it was all structured and in every PBL session we saw the same format of slides. It was really helpful and easier to join together and connect the whole process of revising PBL.”

“I love the reflection part; it was very interesting to listen to the different perspectives.”

The strategy we used consisted of three, one-hour sessions with a 10- minute break in between and led by different facilitators. A format was provided for optional use in each session and included question prompts and space for notes if they found it helpful, which facilitators did not collect or assess. Teacher participants checked their work against the ISR Project Design Rubric we had created and given them at the beginning of the day that was adapted from an example by so they could gauge the quality of their written unit plan.  They received peer feedback from another grade level on their work at the closing session at the end of the day. The results of these reflection and action opportunities were overwhelmingly positive. The survey showed that 86.7% of participants completely agreed that the Products workshop supported their work on this area of PBL, while 87.1% and a whopping 95.5% completely agreed that the Challenging Problem/ Sustained Inquiry workshop and the Authenticity and Student Voice workshop, respectively, supported their work in those areas.

“Very productive Professional development day. We were able to get a lot accomplished as it relates to the term 3 PBL. Both campuses shared their ideas and collaborated effectively to get the PBL outline completed.”

“This was a very productive Pro-D (professional development day), since the whole thing was based on PBL (Project based learning) and planned in separate sessions. It was easier to analyze things separately.”

“Loved the way you shared about the importance of creating meaningful experiences with our schools! The videos were great!!”

By changing up the dynamic of how our professional development day was structured, keeping the focus on purpose and reflection, and using strategies intended to inspire, teachers came away with a deeper sense of connection. This connection was not only to school´s goals, but more importantly, to each other. 

“I think this has been my favorite proD (Professional Development) day.”

“I really liked pro ds (professional development days) to reflect upon what we´re doing.”

“… everyone was able to participate and was fully engaged.”