A rich knowledge base exists on the benefits of thoughtful, multi-year professional development activities for schools, districts, and dioceses, inspired in large part by federally funded research on school improvement, organizational change, and adult learning styles. Effective educational leaders are familiar with insights gleaned from this knowledge base, and typically plan professional development activities that are tied to a school’s strategic plan, embraced by a majority of the faculty, and conducted and evaluated over the course of several years. The activities can include everything from webinars and simulations to mentoring and coaching. Well-designed and executed professional development for faculty is a hallmark of effective schools.
“While in-service certainly aims at the transmission of knowledge, changing or shaping behavior is best accomplished through professional development programs.”
In-service days, in comparison to professional development activities, are often chosen by administrators to introduce an emerging concern or bring some important new information to light. In-service days are opportunities to share expertise and quickly offer an overview of recent developments of interest to the faculty. While in-service certainly aims at the transmission of knowledge, changing or shaping behavior is best accomplished through professional development programs.
The Value of In-Service Days
These broad generalizations can easily create a school culture that prizes and invests in professional development activities while eschewing in-service opportunities. This is regrettable. A well-timed in-service day that may include a relevant or timely workshop can be just the impetus teachers need to consider a new approach to their professional practice, or the perfect shot in the arm for a faculty out of energy and ideas. While a quick morning or afternoon workshop may not be sufficient to provide a blueprint for a renaissance in classroom pedagogy, it may offer up just enough insight to provoke reflection and self-assessment, thereby preparing the way for more deliberate and tactical professional development activities.
The Timing of In-Service Days
Some school leaders wonder about the overall effectiveness of in-service days. Others avoid any such experiences any where near the end of the school year or immediately after the end of the year, arguing that faculty are tired, exhausted, and therefore not intellectually available. Nothing could be further from the truth. That satisfying exhaustion that accompanies a job well done and a year well spent provides an opening, a psychological and emotional space that has been emptied and cleared of all distractions.
A well-timed in-service day at the year’s end—one that peaks teachers’ intellectual curiosities—can tap into that space, plant the seeds of renewal, and help prepare teachers’ minds and hearts for the process of reflection, self-assessment, and change. This is an important consideration every spring in the academic calendar as school leaders look to the end of the year and many find themselves with Title IIA funds to encumber.
Professional development activities are clearly the gold standard in faculty growth and improvement, but educational leaders are wise to provide engaging in-service opportunities for teachers too as a way to keep the needs of students forefront in their minds and to support the ongoing cycle of continuous improvement called for in the research on effective schools.
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Written By Father Ron Nuzzi, Ph.D.
Ordained in 1984, Father Ron Nuzzi has served as a parish priest, teacher, school administrator, university professor, and retreat leader. Through various professional development activities such as workshops, retreats, and seminars, he has provided guidance, formation and education to leaders of Catholic schools in all 50 states, Canada, Ireland, and Australia and his work in the private, faith-based sector has given him a unique perspective on the moral, ethical, and religious dimensions of education. With the goal of ensuring the success of all students, Nuzzi helps develop robust programming for the continuous growth and improvement of teachers and school leaders.