What really happens on Teacher Only Days?

Teacher Only Days (or Professional Development Days, as we call them) are days loved by all students, but perhaps dreaded by most parents – especially if you’re a working parent who has to make alternate plans. There seems to be an air of mystery around them, so I thought I would reveal what really happens on these days ‘off’ and answer the question, “Why can’t these just happen after school?”

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In my 30 years in education, I’ve attended a wide range of Teacher Only Days at different schools around the country, and we certainly spend more time in them now than we did back in 1988. As you’d expect, a fair amount of professional development happens. But we certainly have our fun as a team too.

The ‘necessary’ parts

To start with let’s break down some of the necessary parts and uncover the not-so-mysterious events. We recently had a three-day professional development session with my team. Teacher Only Days at the beginning of the school year are a little different from those during the year. Unsurprisingly, a lot of time is spent vision-casting to lift and inspire the team. As principal, to start the day, I give a presentation based on a theme I’ve chosen to ensure we get best value from our time together.  We then focus on the smooth running of the school, we get a refresher on our goals and values and spend time together connecting as a team. We use these days to learn about the things our students are learning about – even if we’re not the ones who will be teaching them – so we have a grasp of what our students’ worlds are like.

I’m reminded of my days as a teacher where I would wear a special pair of shoes for professional development days. They were too nice for the everyday demands of teaching, particularly running around after Year 2 and 3 students! So they were saved for presentations at Teacher Only Days. It became a running joke.

The fun parts

Along with all the administration and learning, we make it a priority to have fun together. This usually looks like some form of fierce competition. At our recent staff days, we heard from an external presenter about technology in education. She had us break into groups and build a ping pong ball launcher out of ice cream sticks and rubber bands. Considering the fact that we have an exceedingly competitive staff, it was hilarious!

We also went on to race Spheros, which are new spherical robots. We had to code them using an app to move forward at a certain speed, go around the bookcase and back. Some teams, and by that I mean my team, didn’t get too far – ours actually just crashed into the wall, repeatedly. It was a rowdy ruckus. What I love about these times is that the hierarchy of the staff structure goes out the window, we challenge each other, and we truly connect and engage with each other as people.

Looking outward is essential

The off-site teacher Only Days are, as you might expect, particularly valuable. At a previous school, we headed to a technology education lab and interestingly I, and some of my colleagues, found ourselves in an uncomfortable and vulnerable position. We were simply learners with no expertise in the subject, and quickly remembered that this was what our students must feel like. It was a great learning moment for me. A reminder and an empathy booster.

But added to that we decided that we would catch the bus together and play Bingo along the way with little-known facts about ourselves. Considering we had all worked together for a long time, I still remember being very surprised at some of the answers! From, “I got all Es (fails) in high school,” to, “I was once a national diving champion.”

So, there’s a glance into the mystery that is Teacher Only Days. Intentionally carving out days in our school year to be together as a team always lifts our energy, builds our teaching skills and refocuses us on what is important for our students. There is no doubt that we have comprehensive content coverage and a depth of conversation and reflection during these days that just isn’t available in the afternoons after big school days.


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About Author

Juliet Small

Juliet is the Principal of Saint Kentigern Girls’ School in Auckland. She has taught across all age groups from new entrants to intermediate level at schools in London, Hamilton, Invercargill and Auckland. She has 14 years of experience as a principal in Auckland primary schools and holds a Bachelor of Education, Diploma in Teaching and Post-Graduate Diploma in Counselling Theory. Fun fact - Juliet is also an accomplished violinist, playing with the Auckland Symphony Orchestra for eight years.

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