Could A “Sneaky Approach” To Professional Development Actually Be Best?

My summer camp position is a really interesting one. You can find me …

  • stuffing hamburgers and hot dogs;
  • signing for food orders;
  • setting up tech equipment in the gym;
  • completing and uploading the daily slideshows;
  • sitting down with a child in the hallway, in the library, or in the classroom, who may just need some extra time or additional support;
  • documenting learning around the school;
  • planning for PD sessions;
  • and/or working with instructors and kids.

In different ways and for different reasons, I love each and every one of these jobs … despite a few texture and scent issues. 🙂

That said, without a doubt, my time spent in the classroom continues to be my favourite! I had a very special — and unexpected — moment today thanks to this time. And surprisingly, this moment didn’t happen in the classroom, but instead, at our after camp PD session. 

We meet twice a week after camp for professional development, and today, we were discussing documentation. As part of this session, I asked every instructor to bring along a piece of documentation to discuss. The goal was to look closely at this documentation, talk about the child, and try to determine some possible next steps together.

As I listened in on these conversations today, a couple of people spoke about things that they’ve tried in the classroom. Here’s what surprised me.

  • One instructor mentioned using an alphabet chart with one of the campers, after she saw me introduce this strategy to him. She said that this child was starting to use it independently, and now she’s using the chart with another camper.
  • Another instructor mentioned that she saw what I did with the alphabet chart — and this would have been through Twitter — and she decided to try it with one of her campers. It worked!

The amazing thing about both of these points is that in neither case did I actually directly talk to the instructors about this strategy. By going into the classroom and working with kids alongside the instructors, they were able to see this strategy in action. They were able to see and hear how children responded, and then figure out, what might work for them. Also, by using social media and sharing what I did in different classrooms, other instructors were able to implement similar approaches that might work for their campers. I think about what Lisa Noble has said before about visual learning, and the value in educators, consultants, and administrators, sharing their thinking and learning visibly. 

I’m not an expert here. For 10 months of the year, I happily get to live and breathe the classroom experience, and it’s this experience that I bring into my Camp Power role. I can’t help but think about the some staff members that I’ve worked with in a school setting over the years, including,

  • curriculum consultants,
  • Early Years consultants,
  • instructional coaches,
  • learning resource teachers,
  • and reading specialist teachers,

and how I’ve often hoped to have these individuals pull out students or provide me with PD in-services. Maybe there was something better — something more — that I could have looked for instead. What if we worked together in the classroom to support students? Could the best professional development happen when we actually work alongside each other? I can’t help but think about how we use documentation in the classroom for kids, and the benefits of observing children closely, and using these observations to plan next steps. Maybe when we work in the same space, together, educators do the same thing, and figure out new approaches and how to use them based on what they see and hear. Might a “sneaky approach” to professional development actually be the most effective one?


8 thoughts on “Could A “Sneaky Approach” To Professional Development Actually Be Best?

  1. This is so cool, Aviva. I think being able to watch a colleague work with students we’re also working with is a huge gift. We all bring different strategies to the table, and getting to watch someone use theirs with kids we know can often create an “aha”. I wish our #plc models could allow this more often. I also wish we were braver sometimes about saying, “I’m really kind of stuck here, with this particular learner/group of learners/concept . Is there some release time around so I can watch so-and-so?”. One of the best things I did for my practice on my self-funded leave was hanging out in some of my mentors’ classrooms (yes, I’ve been teaching since ‘92, yes, some of my mentors have not been teaching as long as I have).
    Your choice to share what’s working via your blog and social media also allows people who will never get the chance to see your classroom “live” to have a window into your learning about what works and what doesn’t. It’s a powerful thing.
    A friend had chemo this year. Her blogs (starting here: about the process and her own learning about what was going on taught me so much, and demystified much of what was happening. I knew far more about what was going on, and it allowed me to ask more questions than I was able to when I had a family member going through this. Making our learning visible requires a lot of vulnerability, but we can never know who we’re reaching, and how it might help.

    Thanks so much for the post, and tagging me in it.

    • Thanks Lisa for your comment and your incredibly kind words! My summer experience continues to make me realize how much we can all learn from each other. I’ve had some great conversations lately with staff around some of their ideas that I want to take back to our classroom. This summertime camp experience really does provide the time for this kind of PD, and I wonder how we might get more of this time throughout the year. I love how you used some of your self-funded leave for this, and how open you are with sharing just how much you’re learning from educators that may even have less teaching experience than you. I bet that many learn a lot from you as well!

      I also appreciate how you shared your friend’s blog. It’s incredible how open we can be in so many different areas of our lives. Social media really does flatten the walls of our world. Sometimes the hard part is just putting ourselves out there. It’s about that first step!


  2. Aviva,
    What is it about the camp experience, do you think, that makes this kind of sharing and observing easier? Why do you think there are fewer silos?

    • These are great questions! I think that there are a few things that help.

      1) The camp is smaller than a school. Each location has around 6 instructors. This makes it easier to connect with each person, and get into everyone’s classroom everyday.

      2) The focus of the camp is a little narrower than the curriculum focus in a school. This allows all of us to be more focused in the instruction, and really look for PD and support around specific areas of need.

      3) All instructors come from different schools and backgrounds. I think this allows for the more diverse conversations.

      4) PD is a part of the job description of the camp. These instructors want it. One said that she actually comes back each year because of the PD opportunities. I think this makes it more of a focus, and increases the comfort that people have with PD.

      For others in similar summer situations, I’d be curious to know what they would add to this list.


  3. Looking at your summer camp tweets, and those from other boards around the province, I’m noticing that this collaboration with a co-learning stance is a common theme. I wonder if the educators in these amazing learning settings will bring this stance back to their schools and perhaps influence others, if even in just a small way? This might be worth tracking within boards, in order to help everyone notice the impact of their conversations and actions. We strengthen our understanding when we share it with others. This applies to professional learning models too, don’t you think? Thanks so much for sharing your experience in such an articulate way.

    • Thanks Krista! I definitely see this co-learning happening over the summer, and I agree with you about the importance of this. I wonder what kind of impact the summer program could have on the professional learning of educator groups around the province. It’s great to think that what happens in the summer can extend to the school year.


      • The impact is potentially huge. This is where it’s important to have steps and strategies in place to monitor participating educators, give them space and time to reflect, and also make their impact on others visible. It’s the same part of the learning cycle that we are actively trying to improve in the classroom. Researchers looking at effective professional learning structures do this research, but journaling, interviews and simple reflection tools are all things that any group can put in place, regardless of role. Having principals and district leaders involved would likely result in higher collective efficacy, though. How might you notice your impact as a member of this team, during this school year? Would you pay attention to the campers? The educators? Both?

        • Thanks Krista! You really have me thinking here. I think it would be interesting to monitor both educators and students. I would think that we would need to get support from Board teams, as well as from administrators. I don’t know what’s possible for this upcoming year, but you certainly have me wondering. This would be very interesting data to track, and has the potential to be incredibly valuable.


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