How I learn Leadership PD Professional Development Teaching

Highway to Heaven: Take the Long Way Home to Engaging PD

Every time I get on a plane I get super religious. My wife and son smile at me as I silently pray Hail Mary after Hail Mary. Just before takeoff I release my guardian angel to watch over the entire plane, not just me. There are some messed up things about the Catholic Church, but they got at least one thing right. Everyone loves the idea of a guardian angel, someone to look out for you, someone to walk beside you. Life is hard, but having a supportive partner can make even a hellish experience seem interesting.

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Not your ordinary Highway to Heaven

Speaking of hellish. Is there anything in education you hear more complaining about than a day of bad professional development? Sitting through bad PD reminds me of Dante’s Inferno, but instead of his various circles of hell-

Just pay us $100,00 and we’ll run your PD.

we get these circles of professional development hell.

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Full data update coming this Saturday June 22nd

But luckily I have a professional development guardian angel. One who has rescued me from a world of hellish PD and shown me what great professional development looks like. Up till now I thought that our previous PD journeys would never be topped. I was wrong. My friend Chris Long has developed the best PD I have ever witnessed or been a part of, it’s super effective and today is your lucky day because I am going to share with you exactly how to do it. FOR FREE!

Now I know what you’re thinking. David, seriously? My time is precious how do I know it’s the best PD. Well there’s always some data, if you want, here’s just a sample.

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A 3 means they agree. Do you see how many “strongly agree.”

But let me drive my point home with a quick story. The week before school ended I was walking outside and ran into one of our teachers, we will call him “I sit in the back and wear sunglasses during PD guy.” He’s a nice guy. He’s a good teacher. He does stuff. He pulled me aside and told me this.

Hey David. When our department chair asked me to attend your PD the other week I was thinking “F you, how dare you make me waste my time attending PD” but I said yes, and you know what? 

That was the best F-ing PD I’ve ever been to… seriously.

Okay… are you ready. There are several keys to the success of this method:

  1. Subject Focus: The PD is going to be given by subject area teachers to teachers from ONE subject area so they can use this… tomorrow
  2. Small Group: There will be small breakout sessions. I’m talking 3 to 1 or maybe 6 to 1 in each session. No more than 10 max. This creates a family atmosphere. 
  3. Volunteers: No one is forced to do the PD, everyone wants to be there. You may have to convince them a little, if you can’t convince them it’s not set up right. 
  4. Mix attendees: Bringing in guest learners and guest presenters not only supplies fresh ideas and perspectives, but it puts your home teachers in “guest” mode. The teachers at my school understand hospitality. Almost all teachers do. 
  5. Inexpensive: No paid presenters. We are only paying for subs. 
  6. Organize your agenda wisely: Every step is a meaningful step. [Intros: Choice: Lunch: Share Out: Make Time with teachers]
  7. Choice: Presenters will share what they will present on. Teachers can choose which sessions they would like to attend based on what they hear.

Here’s how you do it: step by step. Don’t rush, let’s take the [Chris] Long way home.

Step ONE:

Create an agenda. You can copy ours.

Click here for Chris Long’s professional development agenda


Using the agenda get admin approval for the PD and sub money (we’ll get to that in a bit) then recruit subject area presenters from inside or outside your district. Sean and I jumped at the chance to present at Westminster High School once we hear Chris Long’s plan for the PD. It was so awesome I couldn’t wait to try it at my high school.


Once you have your agenda and presenters it’s time to make your pitch. I went to my science and social science department chairs and shared with them my idea showing them the agenda, and telling them who would be presenting, and what they might be able to present. Then we found a day that would work best for the department area teachers. Then the DC sent out an email and started rounding up attendees. After a week I sent out an email seeking more attendees and even went and talked to a few teachers in particular. There was never any pressure, but I wanted them to hear the plan and know that I was serious about making this worth their time.

Make sure to reserve some break-out session spaces on your campus. You want a quiet place where a small group of learners can all look at a single screen while they work on their laptops. It was very nice of our math department to give up their math office to let us hold one of the breakout sessions there.

Substitute money: you’ll notice that that is our only expense. You are NOT paying for presenters. Search around. Make connections. Ask. We were super lucky to get Amanda Sandoval to agree to present during our Social Studies Connecting Barons PD day. How did we do that? Well… one she’s super nice, but two we did a PD swap. That’s right. She agreed to come to our district for one day, and Chris and I are going to go to her district for a day in August. No money, just time.

Hmmm PD swap. What a concept. Can you imagine what would happen if the Orange County Department of Education or the LA County Department of Education created and maintained a website and directory of TOSAs and teachers willing to swap PD. Nah… I’m sure they are too busy doing more important stuff. Maybe CUE can do this.

KEY POINT: We made sure that every presenter was an in-the-classroom subject area teacher. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a message derailed by people complaining that the presenter knows nothing about what is going on in THEIR classroom, in THEIR subject. Having a science teacher talk to science teachers really breaks down barriers to implementation and acceptance. It’s a must for this type of PD.

Step TWO:

Create a primary presentation slide for the day, then create a for it and put the on the agenda. Here’s what our slide looked like.

You’ll notice a few things in the slide:

  1. I customized a logo and created a theme or motto for our PD “Connecting Barons” Being connected is one of our school-wide goals.
  2. There are links to all of the presentations and the agenda so no one gets lost. There is also a link to the evaluation that will magically appear at the end of the day.
  3. We have a share session after lunch. This is a chance for participants to share anything with the group or for presenters or admin to share something else they think the group will like.
  4. There is a share out button. The button takes you to a separate share-out slide. Let’s talk about that in step three.


Create a share-out slide deck. This deck serves many purposes.

  1. Teachers use this deck to introduce themselves and provide a means of contact, email, for those teachers not familiar with them.
  2. Teachers learn how to insert a picture of themselves using the “shape” crop tool. This is new to many teachers.
  3. Teachers learn how to insert text into a shape.
  4. Teachers learn a HYPERDOCs basic by learning how to create a link from their name to the slide they created.
  5. Teachers will use this slide to share out what they are planning to do as a next step at the end of the PD day.

Here’s what it looks like

Step FOUR:

A few days before and the day of the event:

  • Mail everyone a reminder with the agenda attached and a map of where to park at your school. Also send your front office the names of any visitors.
  • Buy some traveler coffee from a coffee shop, bring some donuts, have some water available you have guests arriving.
  • Buy some chocolates and hand them out after the post-lunch share out but before you give them time to work on their own.
  • Ask the presenters what they want for lunch. Tell them the name of the place ahead of time so they can look at the menu before the event. Get them something good, from ONE place that serves a variety of food.
  • Our normal lunch is 30 minutes. We gave them 45. We also got them out about 30 minutes before the normal end of their day. This helps make up for them not having their prep period.
  • There is a one hour “work on your own” session. This is when the teachers try and find something they can implement within a week or so. We had one teacher implement it the next day. It’s really nice that they can do this while the presenters are there to help them. Kinda like having students do homework in class where a teacher can help them.
  • We end with a share-out of what people are going to implement and then we share the evaluation link and give them time to fill it out. Chris and I looked at the evals later that day and made adjustments accordingly.

If you follow those directions, really follow them- your [Chris] Long journey will be rewarded.

I want to thank Chris Long for always being there for me. No matter what challenges we face on this journey he’s always been right by my side.

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He, and the rest of the OC crew, make me want to take the [Chris] Long road home.


Take the long way home from Ernesto Mate on Vimeo.

“There’s a deeper level to the song, too. I really believe we all want to find our home, find that place in us where we feel at home, and to me, home is in the heart and that is really, when we are in touch with our heart and we’re living our life from our heart, then we do feel like we found our home” -Rodger Hodgson singer Supertramp

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