Professional development can be expensive. A 2015 survey by the New Teacher Project put this figure at an average of $18,000 annually per teacher. For the largest districts in the country, that could amount to $8 billion annually, according to the survey.
That’s a lot of money, even for a medium-sized district like mine–we have about 14,000 students and 1,000 staff members at Livonia Public Schools in Michigan–to spend on PD. But there are ways that districts of all sizes can provide high-quality professional development without breaking the bank.
Livonia Public Schools put this idea to the test a few years ago when we launched a massive, district-wide technology initiative. LPS voters approved a $190 million bond issue in 2013 to overhaul our aging buildings, including $30 million in technology upgrades. This included enhancing the district’s wireless capabilities, purchasing 12,000 Chromebooks for students, adding new desktop computers for our classrooms and labs, and buying hundreds of Epson BrightLink interactive projectors, document cameras and sound enhancement technology for our classrooms.
Our IT and curriculum departments were tasked with creating a PD program to train teachers on the new technology and we had to do it with a limited budget. So we knew our program needed to be not only efficient and effective–it also had to be low-cost.
Our solution was “Level UP LPS”–a one-day, district-wide training event that was organized like a mini education conference. It included workshops, a keynote speaker and more than 80 breakout sessions. We used several tactics to help us keep costs low while providing an engaging, effective day of training that had the feel of a national or regional conference. Our staff members (and our business office) loved it.
Here are some tips for how to create this kind of PD program on a budget:
Make It a One-Day Event
When it comes to PD, time is money. The New Teacher Project survey reported that teachers spent an average of 19 school days every year in professional development. A 2010 Education Week article suggested that staff time is one of the main hidden costs of PD. An expert interviewed for the article estimated some urban districts spend between $6,000 to $8,000 per year, per teacher just on in-service days and training–a cost that often is not factored into the total professional development budget.
We opted for a one-day training event rather than several training sessions throughout the year because we felt it made more sense to train teachers all at one time on the new equipment and technology. We did it the week before school started so teachers weren’t missing class time. The six hours of professional development for each teacher was already built into their contracts. Also, we used one of the high schools rather than renting a space, which cut down on our potential costs.
Find Creative Solutions to Feeding Your Group
Food costs are another thing that districts should consider when planning PD events. Catering an event can be costly. So what are some alternatives? Requiring participants to bring their own food can seem cheap. Sending them out on their lunch break to drive to restaurants may be inconvenient for them and take longer. We came up with an idea that went over extremely well, and didn’t cost us a thing–food trucks.
Food trucks are convenient and popular. Districts can find high-quality food trucks in their area and work with them to provide the food for the PD event. We held Level UP LPS at one of the high schools. We invited seven food trucks the first year, and scaled it down to 4-5 the next year to make sure all the vendors received enough business to make it worthwhile for them. Our staff members were happy with the food options, the trucks were only steps away from the building which was convenient for everyone, the vendors were guaranteed business, and the whole thing cost us nothing. It was a win-win situation.
(Next page: 2 more ways to make PD a success on a budget)
When planning PD events, districts should always consider using volunteers when appropriate. Our breakout sessions were led by our own teacher volunteers. We survey teachers early in the year to see what they might feel comfortable sharing with peers. We also give them the option of co-presenting with colleagues which motivates more of them to volunteer.
The district’s tech rollout is staggered over multiple years so not everyone attending Level Up LPS has access to the new technology and equipment yet. So as an added incentive to get more volunteer presenters, we give some teachers the opportunity to pilot certain types of technology. In return, we ask them to present a session on that technology during Level Up LPS.
For each Level Up LPS event, we ask volunteers, including students from the high school, to staff the event in order to direct people to different sessions. We also have student groups come in to sell water and snacks. And we have our vendor, Epson, provide representatives at no cost to the district to walk our staff members through some of the more technical aspects of the Epson presentation displays.
Splurge When Needed
It can be a challenge to run a tech PD program that is cost-effective, without it seeming cheap. I suggest picking one thing to splurge on that will help your participants–and the volunteers who are providing the training–feel like they received extra value from the training. Impress them a little.
One place where we decided we to splurge was on our keynote speakers. The keynote speaker sets the tone for the entire event. We want this training to be a high-quality, professional event. We have great content, but in order to complete the package and have our staff walk away with the feeling that they’d just gotten a truly world-class experience, we felt we needed to pay attention to the keynote speaker. And that meant paying to bring in some good ones.
By finding efficiencies elsewhere as described earlier, we were able to include funding for high-quality, high-demand keynote speakers which improved the staff members’ experience, and elevated the event’s reputation.