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Teachers Need Sandbox Time, Too

By January 27, 2017February 22nd, 2022Professional Development for Teachers, Resources

When I first experienced professional development (PD) as a new teacher, the session was not as positive or as promising as I’d hoped for. My school was struggling with academic achievement and as a result, staff was mandated to attend PD sessions twice a week before school, once a week after school, and at least once during a planning period.

You might think, “What a great opportunity: so much learning!” And it really could have been great, if my PD experience had been tailored to what I needed as a rookie teacher, a math teacher, or just someone overwhelmed by grading and lesson planning. As it was, I often found myself mandated to engage in activities unrelated to my content or experience.

I recently read an excellent post on Learning is Leading, a blog by Kyle Pace, that resonated with me and the work I do now at Kiddom. Titled, “Sandbox Time” — The Style of PD Teachers Deserve, Mr. Pace describes his experience delivering educator PD, emphasizing the similar needs of teacher learning and student learning. He explains ‘sandbox time’ as “Simply put, it’s giving the group time to play. Time to explore, talk, and get comfortable. Time to discover and create new ideas.”

There is much consideration and thought given to how students learn, but too often teachers don’t get the same treatment. Lecturing is an unproductive professional development method, especially since a teacher’s time is so precious. We learn much like students do; in fact, it’s more fun that way. To be lifelong learners, we need adequate opportunities to be inspired. Adults, like students, need ample time to discover new strategies by exploring, by practicing, collaborating, and being given the opportunity to drive their own learning experience.

If you’re a teacher, then you know teacher certification programs and college courses do not set up educators to be adequately prepared for day one in the classroom. We now widely accept that the best instruction is achieved through experience. A former colleague of mine shared that her school in Washington D.C. builds up their first-year teachers by requiring them to shadow a lead teacher for a full year before taking on their own classroom. These first-year teachers receive an excellent PD experience by developing the skills they will need on the job through exploration and practice. Teacher learning modalities vary just as much as student learning modalities. We push personalized learning for students, so how are we not held to the same expectation when serving our teachers?

Kiddom’s professional development was designed to address the hypocrisy in teacher vs. student learning. Kiddom PD equips teachers with resources that are innovative and student-centric, but most importantly, they are teacher-tailored. This year, we facilitated several PD sessions equipping teachers with resources to implement with blended learning models, experiment with a variety of education technology tools, and more. We facilitate PD similarly to Mr. Pace’s “sandbox time,” giving teachers plenty of time and support to explore resources and reflect, collaborate, and plan. There are five components of Kiddom PD tailored to support the teacher learning experience.
1. Choice Giving learners choice is generally accepted as a good teaching practice. We should set the same norms for adult learning. With Kiddom PD, multiple learning objectives are presented. Teachers choose their primary focus for the session, dependent upon their prior knowledge and individual learning goals for that day. Giving teachers choice in experience tailored to their individual needs promotes engagement and relevance. We know if teachers don’t feel a particular PD session is relevant to them, they check out. We have all done it and it’s time to acknowledge this and change course.

2. Exploration

Similar to encouraging our students to explore concepts with manipulatives in math class, PD at Kiddom encourages teacher exploration time in PD. Once a teacher chooses their learning objective, they are directed to a list of PD options, including choices for reading, watching, listening, reflecting, practicing, and planning. If we are previewing an edtech tool, learners need time to explore what it offers. Offering flex time for teachers to learn at their own pace and reflect on questions they have is critical to development.

3. Innovation

Kiddom’s Teaching and Learning team actively seeks new research strategies and cutting-edge resources for teachers, pushing attendees to challenge their ideas of the traditional classroom. When I attend PD, I don’t want to get my hopes up that I’ll learn something new and exciting, but walk away with age-old practices like I have experienced at conferences. PD by Kiddom is tailored to teachers’ individual needs, changing how PD is traditionally offered in schools. Our team is constantly learning, experimenting, and testing instructional strategies and models to adapt for the digital age. We know K-12 education is rapidly changing, so we design PD purposefully to reflect the skills teachers and learners need for the future.

4. Modeling

If I am new to an instructional strategy, I’d like to see it in action first so I can visualize how I can incorporate it when I go back to my own classroom. If I sign up for PD covering blended learning, then I believe the experience should model a blended learning classroom. Participants in Kiddom’s blended learning PD, for example, experience a mixture of online resources, facilitator-led discussions, and opportunities to share and reflect with other attendees. The necessity to model new instructional strategies should be so obvious, as we demand it in our own classrooms!

5. Support

Kiddom’s PD model provides personal support to educators that seek to improve their practice. During sessions, our Teaching and Learning team converse with educators in addition to allotting time for educators to collaborate and support each other. When educators take part in our online PD, support is available at all hours so questions can be answered thoughtfully and personally.

Future professional development by Kiddom will offer mini-PD sessions anyone can take advantage of on their own time. Choosing your own adventure, having a database of actionable, relevant, and useful PD materials to better your practice is what we will continue to build and offer. Unlike some courses that offer self-directed PD with pages and paragraphs of written advice and directions no teacher has time to read through during the school year, Kiddom PD will be bite-sized and digestible, even during tight planning periods.

The clever comparison of educator PD to “sandbox time” resonated with us at Kiddom, so we had to respond and add onto these exciting changes in teacher learning. If we as educators are to market ourselves as “lifelong learners,” then we need to be as convincing for our peers — we certainly owe them high-quality ways to stay inspired and improve their instructional practice. As a former educator now leading professional development, I am so excited to see more thought-leaders in education encouraging exploratory PD. I look forward working with others in the field to rebuild a professional learning culture in schools. One that teachers will look forward to, rather than dread. Then perhaps we won’t even need happy hour afterwards to convince our colleagues to join. But it doesn’t hurt. 😉

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For the first time, educators can share and manage digital curriculum, differentiate instruction, and assess student work in one place. Learners can take assessments online, see student performance data with the click of a button, and teachers have the insight and tools they need to create individual learning paths.


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