Learning Never Stops: Making the Most of Professional Development During the Summer

by Lee Anne Sulzberger, M.Ed.

If education professionals are to keep pace with the knowledge needed to ensure that all students will achieve at high levels, they must be continuous learners throughout their careers (Guskey, 2000). This includes learning even after the school year ends. The more relaxed pace of summer provides an opportunity for teachers to engage in professional development activities without missing instructional time and to reflect upon their practices in preparation for the upcoming school year.

The following models of professional development, based upon the research of Sparks and Loucks-Horsley (1989) and Drago-Severson (1994) (as cited in Guskey, 2000), are especially well-suited to summer vacation.

Individually Guided Activities: Using this model of professional development educators determine their own learning goals and select the activities they believe will lead to those goals. Steps in this process include:

  • Identify a particular need or interest, such as improving access to the general curriculum for students with disabilities

  • Develop a plan to address the identified need or interest

  • Complete learning activities

  • Assess whether the learning fulfilled the identified needs or interests

This model allows a variety of options that enable educators to individualize their professional growth experiences. Activities such as professional reading, creating professional portfolios, reflective journaling, and video/audio self-assessment are examples of individually guided activities. Educators involved with this model must select challenging goals related to improving teaching and learning. They should also include plans for professional sharing.

Involvement in a Development or Improvement Process: Educators are often asked to serve on a curriculum committee or a school improvement team during the summer. Such groups can provide a valuable source of professional growth as educators work collaboratively to solve a specific problem or review relevant research in a particular content area. Individuals involved in development or improvement projects gain new knowledge and learn to appreciate different perspectives as they work with colleague teachers, administrators, parents, and community members.

Study Groups: Study groups expand upon the concept of the development and improvement process by involving school staff in finding solutions to common problems. Small groups of educators address different aspects of a problem or issue based on careful study of school data. For example, study groups may decide to focus on schoolwide discipline or character education. Groups can meet at regularly scheduled times during the summer in a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere to complete tasks that were identified by the group during the school year.

Training: This model of professional development is the one most familiar to educators. Training is typically presented in a workshop, seminar, or some other large-group format. Virginia’s High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE), as required in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, notes that institutes (i.e., training) should be “based on a minimum of 30 clock-hours duration including preparation, homework, and follow-up sessions. Shorter-duration sessions may be added together … as long as there are predefined learning objectives to describe the activity” (VDOE, 2004, p.2).

As teachers begin to consider summer professional development options, online training should also be explored since this format allows individuals to learn at their own pace and in their own homes. For example, the Association of Curriculum and Staff Development (ASCD) offers online learning opportunities. Visiting www.ascd.org and clicking on the Professional Development tab reveals activities such as Web Seminars and Online Training, as well as more traditional professional development opportunities. Another source of online training specifically designed for Virginia educators is www.ttaconline.org. Once inside the site, clicking on the Online Training tab allows review of available online web shops.

Summer learning opportunities abound, and teachers can strategically select activities that are both enjoyable and will contribute to their learning objectives. Several resources on professional development are noted below to get the summer learning started!

Additional Resources

The following resources on professional development are available for loan through the T/TAC W&M Library. Call 1-800-323-4489 and select the Library option to request materials. The
T/TAC web site at http://www.wm.edu/ttac provides a complete listing of all library materials that may be requested online. Select the Library link on the home page and enter Staff Development or Administrative Leadership/Reform as the search subject.

Call Letters

Creating a Dialogue: On Professional Development

Burello, L., Ettinger, L., & Hoffman, L.


Learning Circles: Creating Conditions for Professional Development

Collay, M., Dunlap, D., Enloe, W., & Gagnon, G.


Planning Together: Professional Development for Teachers of ALL Students

Bull, B., & Bueschler, M.


The Best of Dennis Sparks

Sparks, D.


The Dance of Change

Senge, P., et al.


Tools for Growing the NSDC Standards

Richardson, J., & Hirsh, S. (Eds.)


What Works in the Elementary Grades: Results-Based Staff Development

Killion, J.


What Works in the High School Grades: Results-Based Staff Development

Killion, J.


What Works in the Middle: Results-Based Staff Development

Killion, J.


Why Can't We Get it Right?

Speck, M., & Knipe, C.



Drago-Severson, E.E. (1994). What does “staff development” develop? How the staff development literature conceives adult growth. Unpublished qualifying paper, Harvard University.

Guskey, T. (2000). Evaluating professional development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Sparks, D., & Hirsh, S. (1997). A new vision for staff development. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Sparks, D., & Loucks-Horsley, S. (1989). Five models of staff development for teachers. Journal of Staff Development, 19(4), 40-57.

Virginia Department of Education. (2004). High-quality professional development criteria. Richmond: Author.

Date: May/June 2005