Good fit

Haute couture PD

Fed up with conventional professional development? So is Natalie Croome who suggests a radical, made-to-measure alternative.

One size fits all?

Do you feel that the Professional Development to which you have access has been designed using a “one-size-fits-all” approach?  Ever found yourself sitting in a workshop or seminar and realised that it hasn’t been designed with you in mind and doesn’t address your needs, your experience, your interests, your students . . . ?

I know how you feel!  This is a recurring topic of conversation among educators in international schools.  These school environments are a rich conglomerate of professionals, each with their own unique background of qualifications, areas of specialisation and strongly held beliefs about best practice.  Yet they are so often offered a standardised diet of ‘Professional Development’.

Got the T-shirt

In fact, a great deal of the Professional Development offered to international educators is like a generic T-shirt.  It is made of sturdy cotton, comes in a limited range of colours and is available in small, medium and large sizes – a gesture to differentiation. True, it doesn’t cost much, it is quickly provided, it allows everyone to receive the t-shirt and to be clothed in some basic way. It is not offensive, aligns with the school dress code and provides everyone with their fair share of PD coverage. It ticks the boxes.

However, some are more comfortable than others wearing their new T-shirt.  Some find the fit a bit tight or a bit loose.  They may have found the colour choice limited, but have settled for something that kind of matched the rest of their wardrobe. Over time, some will continue to wear it because it has become comfortable, and, quite frankly, it’s just easier than having to make decisions about what to wear.  Others try it out for a while, find it really doesn’t suit them and relegate it to the back of the cupboard.

Process driven

And then there is haute couture. This is a very special piece of clothing, the product of a great deal of time, conversation, collaboration, negotiation, re-designing, trying out and testing.  It starts with questions like “Who are we making this for” “Who will wear it?” “What colours do we like?”  “Can it be adapted to fit and can this “fit” be changed over time?”

The approach to providing this unique item is process rather than product focused and is a natural consequence of all that has gone before. The team of designers and wearers had no idea at the outset about how the garment would look at the end, but is truly “owned” by the wearer because it reflects who they are and has “them” sewn into it at every level.  The wearer knows its structure and has been involved in the whole design and creation process. Wearing it is a pleasure and privilege. People are proud to show it to others.

Feel good factor?

Surely one of the outcomes of every Professional Development experience should be that it contributes to a sense of wellbeing, motivates teachers, connecting to their aspirations and challenging them to constantly be better at what they do.  Good PD puts them in the driver’s seat and allows for degrees of autonomy and implementation that reflects who they are.

As a participant in and designer of professional training, I have experienced and been witness to PD that is slowly but surely eroding the enthusiasm of team members to learn and grow. Scepticism and cynicism creep in and these mindsets have no place in schools that grow and are happy and solution-focused.

By bringing a growth mindset to designing Professional Learning experiences; by putting the teacher learners at the centre of the design process, we focus on their needs, their interests their students and their choices.  When teachers learn . . . really learn . . . students learn.

Learning, not development

By adopting a collaborative inquiry approach to Professional Learning, teachers can feel good about what they are doing because it connects them to the work that they engage in with students.  Focusing on context enables each teacher to take responsibility for meeting and managing their own Professional Learning experiences.


In this context, a powerful option for Professional Learning involves a retreat for teachers. By taking time to identify a current problem of practice, teachers ‘on retreat’ engage in self-reflection for the purpose of understanding how their own beliefs, attitudes and values shape them, and have an impact on their classroom climate.

In providing an opportunity for teachers to contribute to their own wellness through meaningful, contextual and personalised professional learning, there are five features which I believe contribute to effective learning when teachers go on retreat:

1. Location

Find a beautiful place for them to stay which is remote, calm and provides an exclusive experience.

2. Identity

Value who teachers are and find out why they teach, exploring when they feel happy, how they know when they have done a good job, what discourages them and what builds them up.

3. Help teachers find their own solutions

Appreciate that they don’t want one-off, one-size-fits all PD. They want time and space to focus on their current cohort of students, to bring context to their professional learning experiences.

4. Focus on collaborative inquiry

Believe teachers have their own solutions within them or amongst them.  Provide opportunities for them to open themselves up to the empowering possibilities of authentic questions.

5. Build in time for teacher self-care

Engage teachers in select sessions where they can, find physical relief and relaxation, express themselves creatively, discuss and share ideas about issues that matter to them, and even engage in philosophy.


Natalie Croome is a Cognitive Coach, Careers Consultant and PYP specialist.

She is also the founder of ITeach Solutions and brings a collaborative, inquiry based approach to Professional Learning, which she offers in schools, on-line or on Retreat in Europe and Australia.

To learn more see



FEATURE IMAGE: analogicus – Pixabay

Support images: Priscilla Du Preez – Unsplash & professional learning images kindly provided by Natalie