Throughout this year, you will see the voices of many SAIS board members in this spot as the organization transitions to new leadership. Our December news comes from Kavita Vasil, head of Highlands School, an infant through 8th grade school in Birmingham, AL.

What has not already been written, discussed, debated, researched, or implemented regarding professional development in schools? Even as I am writing this piece, I open my inbox and there are emails with articles from educational organizations and educational leaders about professional development – what works, best practices, presenting yet another professional development opportunity for schools.

Coming out of the pandemic, my observation is that schools are looking at professional development through a new lens – striving to update and improve ways of providing quality learning experiences for all. I suspect this is due to academic-social-emotional-behavioral shifts that may have occurred in students over the past two to three years. Part of it is getting back to a focus on school goals, strategic priorities, and the futureforward thinking of schools, which was interrupted by the pandemic where it was literally getting through a day at a time. The other part is how do we harness the collective human force and power that allowed many of our independent schools to successfully navigate the pandemic to now come together to think differently and reimagine new ways of “doing” school, including professional development.

We all know teachers want professional development that respects their education, expertise, and experience, values them as collaborative partners in the professional development learning experience, has a ‘bring back’ factor for classroom implementation, and above all, is worthy of their time and energy.

This leads me to in-house professional development, which is certainly not a novel concept. Schools of all types and sizes have been doing in-house professional development successfully for a long time. But as I worry about the shrinking teacher pipeline or amazing educators feeling unfilled and leaving the profession entirely, I wonder how an increased focus on in-house professional development versus traditional forms of professional development might grow and elevate teachers as experts and leaders, inspiring teachers to see themselves as capable and competent in this space—thereby adding increased value through their contributions to move their schools forward with respective school goals and strategic priorities. Schools must let loose their most valuable resource—their faculties—to drive student growth and learning outcomes; leading and participating in in-house professional development programs is a win-win.

In schools, we have historically relied on a myriad of external resources for our professional development. That is still relevant and important today and serves the purpose of networking, hearing ideas and perspectives from outside the walls of our school buildings, or working with outside professionals who can point to areas of school and professional growth not yet visible to us. Yet it can also be costly as we all deal with budgetary constraints, tuition affordability for our families, and other financial hurdles. But I would also venture if we asked our teachers, they would indicate teaching and learning with and from each other in their own school setting is a hugely untapped potential for professional growth. And we observe teachers doing this organically every day – thinking and designing – whether during planning time, meetings with grade levels and divisions, or serving on various school committees. Teaching and learning are about getting proximate and apply to students and equally to teachers.

An article published by NAIS titled The Power of In-House Professional Development (Fall 2017) offered four ways to structure teacher-to-teacher professional development: one teacher-expert presents and colleagues attend as learners; one teacher-learner presents and colleagues attend as experts; a group of colleagues comes together as experts; or a group of colleagues comes together as learners. 

The question that often comes up when creating a faculty-led professional development program is the willingness to put yourself out there as a teacher and be vulnerable when sharing and teaching with fellow colleagues and peers in your school. However, I can attest to the times when we have had faculty-led professional development at my school; the teachers have always responded wanting more of these experiences. The sharing by teachers of what matters most to them in their work with students and getting to know colleagues in a different light are invaluable outcomes. Perhaps for me, the most important benefit is the noticeably increased level of participation and interaction by most teachers within this type of in-house professional development opportunity, and in my observations, much more so than when an external consultant or expert is brought in or even when the professional development is led by a division head or school director. The added voice by teachers who may not always feel comfortable making their thinking visible in other professional development settings really adds to developing a faculty culture where all are seen and heard as teacher-experts and leaders with valuable contributions.

In the end, using an in-house professional development model ultimately benefits our students when teachers can learn practices from each other that have delivered improved instructional outcomes, introduce a different toolbox of ideas and strategies to implement in the classroom, or help navigate student or classroom dilemmas through another teacher’s lens who is still proximate as part of the same school community.  

As educators, we are all quite familiar with the 21st century learning skills often called the 4 C’s: critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating, and collaborating. At the risk of using somewhat overused educational jargon, I can see a similar pattern in creating successful in-house professional development opportunities for teachers by teachers and I refer to these as the 5 C’s:

5 C’s of In-House Professional Development

  1. Customized
    Just as we differentiate instruction for our students, we can more readily customize in-house professional development based on the teacher-experts and the teacher-learners. This allows for surveying faculty as part of the planning to get feedback on their priorities for professional development thereby giving them shared ownership and voice in the process.
  2. Continuous
    An in-house professional development program allows opportunities for follow-up and follow-through by both groups, teacher-experts and teacher-learners, on a more frequent basis. 
  3. Collaborative
    Teachers want professional development to be interactive. An in-house model provides for collaboration in real-time in small and big ways within and across our school divisions and buildings.
  4. Creative
    We know teachers are highly creative individuals. This professional development model provides an opportunity for a quite different form of creativity, innovation, and inspiration to develop and emerge, whether as a teacher-expert or as a teacher-learner.
  5. Connected
    Faculty and staff retention data increasingly point to the importance of having social relationships/friendships (at least one) as a key factor in staying at a school. An in-house professional development model provides increased opportunities for teachers to develop relationships and connections with fellow colleagues whom they may not interact with on a daily or frequent basis. “Connected” also allows us to intentionally plan and deliver in-house professional development that is aligned and connected to instructional outcomes, student learning, and growth. 

As school leaders, we can help to create a strong in-house professional development program by:

  • Starting small – choose one program or area where there is the most faculty interest.
  • Making it an “opt-in” – open professional development opportunities to those who are interested.
  • Noticing expertise and talent within the faculty and staff – consider the strengths, skills, and experience of each teacher and match possible in-house professional development opportunities.
  • Building in reflections and feedback from all parties – the teacher-experts and the teacher-learners.
  • Allocating the necessary time and funds – provide time during the school day for planning and teacher coverage and consider funds necessary in terms of materials and resources.

I would love to hear what types of in-house professional development experiences and opportunities have been effective and successful at your school. If you are trying something new or just starting out, I would love to hear your reflections and feedback. Please reach out to me at

Kavita Vasil
Head of School
Highlands School
Birmingham, AL