Teachers Leading the Way: Home-grown Professional Development

Eva Boster

By Eva Boster

Teachers at Dyersburg Primary School are raving about their home-grown professional development. This northwest Tennessee school taps their own teachers to lead professional development sessions on issues with which teachers say they need the most support. The result is professional development that is “devoted to what we need,” says one kindergarten teacher.

Principal Linda DeBerry says Dyersburg’s director of schools Neel Durbin planted the seed for the idea of building on teacher expertise within your own school.

“Mr. Durbin recognized the talent that our teachers bring to our system and challenged us to implement a plan that utilized their strengths to improve instruction for all students,” DeBerry said.

The secret sauce to Dyersburg Primary’s success includes three key ideas: (1) ask teachers what they need, (2) utilize the teaching talent at your school and (3) tailor professional development to what teachers said they needed.

1.     Ask teachers what they need

Dyersburg Primary’s professional development model begins with a survey that Principal DeBerry sends to teachers.  The survey asks teachers for the areas with which they need the most support. Principal DeBerry synthesizes teachers’ feedback and identifies three to four courses tailored to the areas of growth identified by teachers.

Past professional development topics have included:

  • Writing instruction
  • Math tasks and centers
  • Differentiating instruction
  • “The Daily 5” classroom literacy system
  • Technology in the classroom
  • Questioning
  • Thinking and problem solving
  • Assessment

 2.     Utilize the teaching talent at your school

DeBerry next approaches teachers who excel in the areas where teachers requested more support. Teachers have the opportunity to build a session around the topic. These “Teaching Peers” then lead four sessions in one semester (one per month). The sessions take place after school on campus. The Teaching Peers are compensated for planning and leading the sessions.

3.     Tailor professional development to what teachers said they needed

Staff at Dyersburg Primary have the opportunity to sign up for the session of their choice. Teacher attendees to the sessions are also compensated for their time. Teachers report that the sessions are interactive – they discuss what they are learning, practice new strategies, and create materials or lessons for classroom use. One first-grade teacher says the professional development is “something you can put in place in your classroom right away.”

Teachers across all grade levels at Dyersburg Primary say they love where they work, and that they feel very supported by both their colleagues and administration. Principal DeBerry attributes this strong culture in part to their unique teacher-led professional development.