Operationalizing Flexible Professional Learning

Move from sit-and-get workshops to flexible and more powerful professional learning

image of connected gears

For many educators, professional development triggers unhappy memories of sit-and-get information on any number of topics related to education. Participants are often asked to sit with a large group in a large room and glean information on their own from the expert up front. Implementation in the classroom after the training is limited due to a “knowing-doing” gap.

If we want teachers to shift their teaching practice, then trainings must change to opportunities where coaches model structures of professional learning to a small group with shared needs and goals that focus on strategic application in the classroom.

Effective professional learning:

Effective professional learning also allows flexibility to differentiate with district-wide and building initiatives, promoting site leadership, and empowering staff to design their own learning.

Over the last several years, we have worked diligently to create professional learning structures that meet this vision of professional learning. Here are seven ways we have implemented actionable, flexible, and meaningful learning moments for teachers and students.

Innovation Challenges

Innovation Challenges are tiered professional learning opportunities released periodically throughout the year for teachers to explore and complete on their own. Each Challenge has a professional learning goal, several levels, and within the levels are several strategy choices for teachers to implement in their classrooms with students.

image of innovation challenge list for 2019-2020

View more Innovation Challenges

Challenges focus on specific classroom application and help skip the “knowing-doing” gap because teachers are implementing strategies right away. Each challenge is leveled for teachers to choose their learning need or amount of growth, providing them with multiple avenues to reach a desired learning outcome.

FLEX (Flexible Learning EXperiences)

FLEX activities are designed to help teachers meet their professional learning goals, from any device and any location with an Internet connection.

Each FLEX activity has a learning objective, an opener that consists of a hook and/or anticipatory set, a set of knowledge tasks, and a set of application tasks. Within the knowledge tasks are opportunities to read articles, watch videos, find research pertaining to your own work as a professional educator, consider other viewpoints, and reflect on your current practice. The application tasks include planning documents and easy-to-use implementation ideas that encourage teachers to apply what they’ve learned in meaningful ways with their students or in their work.

image of a FLEX activity focusing on choice boards

View more FLEX examples

Throughout the model, there are opportunities to collaborate with peers, leaders, or coaches to further facilitate reflection and effective application. Teachers get to decide what works best for them. To earn professional development credit, teachers must submit an application with evidence of how they collaborated and reflected on their practice during the process.


Hackathons stem from the technology/business world. The idea is to get a group to focus intently for a short period of time to design a product. In the context of education, Professional Learning Communities get together to really hash out an instructional and student-learning-focused issue. Teachers enlist the help of colleagues and find actual solutions. It’s teachers helping teachers become better versions of themselves!

12 Days of Innovation

The 12 Days of Innovation are mini, daily, collaborative tech challenges that are fun and spark ideas for classroom application. Spanning 12 days, one mini-challenge is released each day with the intended goal of experimenting with one idea for how they will use an instructional tech tool.

image of day one of the 12 day innovation challenge

PL Snaps

PL Snaps are professional learning opportunities that focus on reflective growth and professional sharing among colleagues and PLN’s. These ongoing reflective PL strategies can take various forms, such as One Word Challenges, Flipgrid Reflections, Goal-Setting, Google Slides Reflection Compilation, Twitter Posts, etc. A PL Snap is an active way for staff to analyze and share their impact on student learning and determine next steps.


Inspired by Katie Martin, teachers choose their own path and method of professional learning for an Edu-venture. Edu-ventures are open year-long for teachers to explore. Teachers may begin an Edu-venture at any time by submitting their Edu-venture Proclamation. This lets professional learning staff know what teachers are working on so that they can determine what kind of support to offer or simply check in on teachers.

image of Edu-venture inspirational choice board


Stations and playgrounds provide opportunities for teachers to navigate through instructional ideas at their own pace. During station or playground work, teachers can also explore new technology tools and develop their own lessons and materials, providing them with first-hand experiences essential for successful classroom implementation.

Set up modules to support work at stations and playground with tools like Google Classroom and Canvas. Creating environments within each station where teachers must collaborate with a colleague can help you build and strengthen each teacher’s PLN.

This list is just the beginning

Teachers should experience ongoing professional growth that is meaningful for each individual, no matter where they are in their career. Experienced and brand-new teachers alike have varying levels of professional learning needs. They are not all the same.

How will you deviate from the traditional set-up to create meaningful professional learning experiences?

How will you operationalize flexible and meaningful professional learning?

Additional Reading and Resources

489 FLEX

Innovation Factory

Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf

The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar

Do We Really Need PD? by Katie Martin

How to Move PD Forwardby Shelly Blake-Plock

Turning the Tables on Professional Learningby Keith Janelli

How Teachers Are Learning: Professional Development Remix

Marie Henderson

by Marie Henderson

Marie Henderson is the Instructional Technology Specialist for Hays Unified School District in Kansas. She taught high school and community college mathematics for 10 years before transitioning to an instructional coaching role. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Mathematics Education in 2003 and her Master’s degree in Instructional Technology in 2018. Marie also facilitates more than 50 in-person trainings a year for district staff and presents at state and national technology conferences. She’s passionate about adult learning theory and empowering adults to implement student-centered, research-based instructional practices. In her free time, Marie is a wine enthusiast, sings in two local ensembles, and enjoys activities at her church. Follow Marie on Twitter at @mhenderson621

Virginia Duncan

by Dr. Virginia Duncan

Dr. Virginia Duncan has been an Instructional and Technology Coach since August 2011. Before coaching teachers full time, Ginny taught English, History, and Drama at the middle school level in California. She received her Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership from Walden University in 2012, her Masters in Literacy in the Content Areas in 2007, and her Masters in Educational Leadership/Administration in August of 2016. Ginny is most passionate about helping teachers through their professional journey, assisting teachers in their individual professional growth and helping them become teacher leaders. Ginny has worked to transform professional learning by implementing flexible and personal professional learning models and strategies that change the way teachers learn and grow. Follow Virginia on Twitter at @DrGinnyD

Five habits of coaches

Five habits of great classroom coaches

Collaboration During Student Project Work

Get the most out of collaboration during student project work

The empty page

The glorious, wonderful, empty page

Get Started with Rubrics

Make It Matter! Move from projects to project-based learning

Wixie on a stack of Chromebooks
Getting Chromebooks?
Stay creative with Wixie!

More sites to help you find success in your classroom


Share your ideas, imagination, and understanding through writing, art, voice, and video.

Rubric Maker

Create custom rubrics for your classroom.


A curated, copyright-friendly image library that is safe and free for education.


Write, record, and illustrate a sentence.

Creative Educator

Professional Learning

About Us

Get the Creative Educator Newsletter



Digital Storytelling

21st Century Classrooms

Project-based Learning

Teaching and Learning




Informational Text

English Language Aquisition



Language Arts



Social Studies

Visual Arts

Add me to the Creative Educator email list!