Summer Professional Development

Ten Possibilities for Summer Professional Development

Ongoing professional development is critical in today’s world, with its new technologies, new practices for teaching and learning, the need for students to learn new skills and the importance of continuous curriculum development and renewal.  As never before, all students need to be highly educated for college, career, and citizenship, and teachers need to continually improve on how they can help students get there. 

Given the need for continuous improvement and lifelong professional growth, it is unfortunate that “summers off” is still thought of as sacrosanct in most school districts and by most teachers. Most school contracts still call for teachers to have the entire summer off. Extra pay incentives seem like the only way to get teachers to be part of a professional development program in the summer, but extra pay for summer work becomes less and less likely in today’s fiscal climate. Yet the summer is the only period of time during the year when teachers can explore new ideas, new approaches, and new practices without interruption. 

In Philadelphia, where I live, many schools have serious problems, issues and challenges that require rethinking of teaching strategies, new approaches to motivating students to learn, and new ways to use technology. Yet the teachers’ contract calls for no professional development during the summer! 

So I would like to call for a profound change in thinking about the summer, and hope that, sometime in the near future, as part of their regular contract, all teachers will agree to devote several weeks of professional development during the summer in order to help them to be better teachers during the school year. The several weeks need not be firmly fixed in time and place. Teachers might commit to two-three weeks of professional development during the summer and fulfill their commitment in many different ways.

Here are ten powerful ways that teachers might devote time in the summer in order to improve teaching and learning: 

1.    The entire staff works on one or more district goals. Let’s say that the district, in concert with its teachers, decides that improving thinking is a worthy district goal. Or in-depth learning in each subject area. Or project based learning. The entire staff then works together to find the best ways to develop the goal at all levels, to develop a plan for realistic implementation.

2.    Teach summer school using new approaches and strategies. When I was teaching middle school social studies, we had an experimental summer school for students who needed extra support. We team-taught, more experienced and less experienced teachers together, using literature, field experiences, everyday reflective writing, and project based learning to provide students with more motivating learning experiences to help them improve their learning. This “experimentation” helped to improve my teaching, supported young teachers, and led to new instructional approaches shared with many teachers.

3.    Examine student work. Teachers might spend time examining the work that students did during the school year, along with other teachers at the same grade level or who teach the same subjects. What were models of excellent student work? Poor student work? What fell in between? And how can you improve the level of student work?

4.    Bring new ideas back to the district. Interested in new curriculum design models? New instructional approaches? New ways to use technology? New ideas for urban schools? Some teachers might attend a variety of professional development sessions and be asked to present these new ideas to fellow teachers. The goal is not to provide all teachers with the level of professional development that they attended (an impossible task), but rather to briefly share the essential features of the new ideas and make a recommendation as to whether or not the district should pursue these ideas further.

5.    Redesign lessons and units from the past year. Improving on what was done in previous years is always challenging and worthwhile. Part of this redesign might be to use new lesson and unit design approaches, such as curriculum mapping and Understanding by Design, and lesson study.[i]

6.   Examine technology. Technology is always changing, and what is available as part of technology is always expanding. Finding new ways to use technology, new technology resources, and new technology approaches (such as “flipping”) is a useful summer exercise.

7.   Read and discuss books and articles, watch and discuss videos in small groups. There are a large number of wonderful books, articles, videos that can be examined and explored in small groups. There are many excellent education books, but some books can be selected that relate to a teacher’s discipline. For examples of books and articles that might be selected, see my website Other websites, such as, also have examples of readings that might be used for professional development in small groups. Videos from “The Great Courses”, a company that records lectures from college professors in various fields of study, can be purchased at reasonable prices and shown to teachers in a specific discipline to update them in their subject areas.

8.   Take part in a curriculum renewal process. Summer is a good time to go through the stages of curriculum renewal: conducting research, formulating goals, reviewing a variety of curricula programs, evaluating the current curriculum. Some teachers might also examine a specific curriculum model, such as one that is developed through National standards[ii], or the P21 model[iii], for new curricular ideas.

9.   Hone in on one specific instructional strategy. Some teachers might want to examine a specific type of instructional strategy or program, such as graphic organizers, project or problem based learning, creative problem solving, History Day. The results might be shared with the rest of the faculty.

10. View and discuss instructional videos from the previous year. Videos from volunteer teachers can be collected from the previous year. The videos can be analyzed by small groups of teachers for strengths, and suggestions made for improvement. Because volunteering for this might be considered “risky”, volunteers for this can be rewarded with extra pay incentives and special kudos from administrators.


These are just some ideas of activities that might be including in summer professional development.  Let’s hope that, sometime in the near future, summer professional development will be the norm, not the exception.




(Elliott Seif is an educational consultant, author, member of the Understanding by Design cadre and the ASCD faculty, and a contributor to Educational Leadership. You can find this blog and others, along with numerous resources and weblinks that promote a forward looking, 21st century educational approach, at:




[i] Lesson study is a professional development process designed to systematically examine and improve teaching practice. Teachers work collaboratively on a small number of "study lessons" in order to plan, teach, observe, and critique the lessons. For more information, go to:

[ii] For example, see A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Cocepts, and Core Ideas, available through the National Academies Press, at

[iii] For more information on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) model, go to: