FedEx Day: Putting Autonomy Back in Professional Learning

Several months ago I was involved in an online conversation on professional development. One of the individuals in the chat remarked that if we want to change professional development, we should change the name to professional learning. The more I contemplate this idea the more I tend to agree; but, I want to take it a step further. Professional development doesn’t just need a name change…it needs a structural change. For too long we have sat in session after session without any real learning taking place. A model of effective professional development can be found by looking at the NASSP Ignite ’13 Conference, where professionals guided, facilitated, and practiced as professional learners. At a school level, I felt it was imperative that a change needed to take place. With that in mind we introduced our first FedEx Day, modeled after the work of Daniel Pink in Drive.

Staff members were asked ahead of time to read a one-page synopsis on Pink’s work (primarily autonomy, mastery, and purpose) and to view the RSA Animate video summarizing Drive. They were encouraged to pre-plan cooperative groups and projects and I maintained a list through the opening session of the day. On the actual day staff arrived to a 10 minute kickoff celebration and organizational meeting prior to a 2 hour work session in teams. At the end of the day the staff returned for a 45 minute sharing session where teams introduced their projects and plans going forward.

So what was the outcome?

LHSFedEx Day Recap Video

Staff members collaborated on numerous projects. Projects included:

  • Creating a Structured Learning Room for Special Education
  • Collaboration between English and Biology Teachers on Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  • Integrating Fine Arts into the General Education Curriculum
  • Vertical Teaming Chemistry I through Advanced Placement Chemistry
  • Designing PARCC-Style Formative Assessments for Mathematics
  • Pedagogical Methods for Teaching Multi-Level Language Classes
  • Infographics for the Classroom and Assessment
  • Integrating Agriscience Education
  • Developing a Study Skills Program
  • Maintaining and Expanding the Advanced Placement Program
  • Developing a Lesson on Digital Law

Staff feedback was largely positive. 94% agreed that the time made them a better educator. 92% believed that it was meaningful professional development. 99% asked that we create additional opportunities such as this in our professional learning plan. In all it was an incredibly positive day, and by far, our most successful staff feedback we have seen in my two years in this position.

My Own Reflection

In the end, this day was my FedEx Day project. I am relieved that it went well, but I am ecstatic at the outcomes and collaborative moments. Five days later the conversations are still going. People have stopped by to discuss what they would like to do next. The day has not only produced collaboration, it has enhanced the culture of professional learning. It is a credit to the staff that it went so well and that it continues to do so. I look forward to fulfilling the numerous requests to do a full-day version in the Fall. As for my own learning, I have come away assured that what works in the classroom works with adults: give them the tools and they will use them to solve the problems that most affect them. In this case, a little autonomy and a willingness to take a risk has paid enormous rewards.