potluck: a “DIY” type of teacher training

I’ve always loved learning. But as a teacher, training/learning can sometimes be a headache. With a profession that changes as the pendulum swings, there are always new philosophies and standards and requirements and expectations.

So, I had this dream.

I had a dream that training would be FOR the teacher, BY the teacher. It wouldn’t focus on technology or the newest trend, it would focus on BEST PRACTICES and EVERYONE who came would bring something to the table. Kind of like…

A potluck.

Growing up a pastor’s kid, potlucks were part of our routine. We had almost monthly get togethers when everyone would bring a dish to share. Sometimes we’d bring a brand new dish, sometimes we’d bring my mom’s specialty. Other times we’d throw a couple recipes together and make a new recipe.

But we always brought something to share.

If you’re not a teacher, you might have other trainings you attend for your job. Most of the time, you sit under an expert in your field who tells you “all the things” you need to know and/or do in your profession. And this isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it’s often necessary.


In a school of over 100 teachers, there is a lot of knowledge, expertise, and creativity floating around. But since I’m an English teacher, I don’t get to rub shoulders and collaborate with the math people or the History people or the language people very often. They have great ideas that I could certainly incorporate, but time is of the essence, and we don’t get to share the wealth very often.

When I applied for a local scholarship, I decided to write the application for a teacher training that was entirely teacher centered. The teachers would bring the ideas, the teachers would share the ideas, and (an important added element), the teachers would be treated as experts – what they would bring was NEEDED at the table.

Thus, Potluck was born.


I found a great (not necessarily educational) book called Originals by Adam Grant (his TED talk is awesome). The sub title, “How Non-Conformists Move the World Forward” grabbed me right away. Since the training was out of the box, I wanted the book to be out of the box as well.

potluck-brochureSince my money was limited, I found Adam’s e-mail and thought, “Why not?” I asked him to donate 60 books for my three teacher trainings. Each training would consist of 20 teachers. The different dates would open up slots for different schedules, and the small number would allow for small groups to meet together and talk about ideas.

originalsAdam jumped on board right away (WHAT A GUY!) and less than a week later I had boxes of donated books at my high school. In the meanwhile, I developed the curriculum. How would we talk ideas in a creative way, giving great opportunity for sharing? That’s when I came up with the “menu”.

The required preparation for this training was to bring something from each of the listed categories.

Teachers filled out the handout (this was how they received professional development points – handout available at my Teachers Pay Teachers store). Here is what they brought “to the table” on the training days:

  • The salad – As educators we have to “toss” lots of things together from a multitude of resources. Bring a lesson plan, strategy or game that wasn’t originally yours but you mixed it up to make it better.
  • The meat – Bring your most effective tool for rigor. How do you effectively challenge your students in the classroom?
  • The vegetables – When what is need is not always what is desired, what is your most effective way to help students be successful with skills or content they resist the most?
  • The dessert – How do you effectively use (or encourage) creativity in your classroom? Bring something another colleague could reproduce in his or her own classroom.
  • The condiments – How have you brought your own “seasoning” to the classroom using your own personality and strengths? What is something YOU do particularly well?
  • The presentation – With food, presentation is EVERYTHING or no one will eat it. What is an effective strategy you discovered that helps students “swallow” your curriculum?
  • The blessing – The most important part of the potluck – realizing we all need one another – our different skills and strengths are necessary to reach ALL students. How do you remain positive as an educator in a world of negativity?

potluck-handoutThe rest of my scholarship/grant money was used to purchase food (teachers LOVE food), supplies, and door prizes (teachers also LOVE door prizes). One item I purchased was actual menus (see picture or click for Amazon link) to make it authentic. For other items I purchased to make the experience authentic, see the notes at the bottom of this post.

I was determined to pamper my colleagues in ways we can’t usually afford in the education world.

HOWEVER, this type of training/Professional Development doesn’t require ANY money.

In fact, it could be an actual potluck, with people bringing dishes as well as their ideas (one of the teachers who came actually suggested that idea for the future so we could continue to “potluck” together).

The response was overwhelmingly positive. Our “menu” agenda basically gavepotluck-2 them an hour and a half to share in small groups with two large group sharing times. When I sent out a Google Form for feedback, most everyone wished they had MORE TIME!

The book was a hit (we had an optional book club later in the spring with great discussion), the food was great because it saved teachers time after school, and the company? The company was incredible.

Some of the most important feedback I received was the value teachers found in sharing with one another. When they came, I tried to group them with teachers they normally don’t work with – different departments, courses, and subjects.

Many of them wished they could “change groups” for more ideas and a good majority of them felt they didn’t have enough time! As each training elapsed, I learned something new from my colleagues and was able to “tweak” it for the next time.

All in all, it was an amazing experience. I enjoyed creating all the advertisements and handouts, and I loved spoiling my fellow educators. Our principal even came and got involved in the conversation.

I am offering the handouts, brochure, and advertisements at my TPT store. Check it out and please utilize it for your own school or organization. I just know that EVERY teacher is valuable – whether trendy or old school, lecture style or project based, math or English. We have different students, so those students have different styles and need different kinds of teachers.

Teacher training FOR the teachers, BY the teachers creates a positive working environment that allows ALL teachers to feel important. What they have is DEFINITELY needed at the table.

I’d love to share the wealth with other districts and schools. Please feel free to reach out and/or check out my TPT store with all the resources you need to have a POTLUCK of your own! This can definitely also be tweaked for other business environments and workplaces. Everyone is valuable! We all have something to contribute!





Thanks so much for visiting my website! If you are interested in the resources for this DIY Professional Development, please visit my Teachers Pay Teachers Store and support me there!

Other purchases:

Menu Covers

Paper Placemats (there are thousands of choices — pretty cheap on Amazon)

Menu Board – I put this outside my room to direct teachers to the Potluck Pd.

Mini Chalkboard Placecard Signs – this made it more personal, adding teacher names to each place.