May 1, 2012

Our 30 Day Challenge

Deirdre Bailey and Amy Park

As teachers we regularly attend and participate in various professional learning opportunities. Great ideas are presented, teachers feel inspired, and yet more often than not, come Monday, nothing changes.  Reasons for this might include lack of support for effective implementation or insufficient documentation providing evidence of how proposed changes will, if at all, impact student learning. One of the most complex and highly debated aspects of teacher professional development lies within the evaluation of its merit.

The historical assumption amongst educators that professional learning directly and positively impacts student performance and learning (Birman, et al., 2000; Darling-Hammond, et al., 2009) has led to the belief that more is better (Guskey & Sparks, 2002). Herein lies the problem. Much of what is assumed to be quality professional development (PD) cannot be explicitly linked back to improvements in the classroom. Teachers may have enjoyed PD opportunities but it is irrelevant, as that enjoyment alone is not indicative of change or improvements to teaching practice or student learning. Matt Cutts' 30 Day Challenge may pose as a solution to this problem.

When Amy first tossed around the idea of incorporating Matt Cutts' TED Talk video into a presentation on the evaluation of PD for her masters' class, we were instantly excited. As we discussed what made the idea appealing and valuable, it became evident that there is a reason the concept has taken off in popular media and culture. It is because it feels possible. Often resistance to change comes from a fear of losing a comfort level associated with the status quo or the confidence gained from repeating or re-doing what we have already done. It is undeniably easier to continue doing what one has always done than it is to change and try something new. The beauty of a 30 day challenge as an impetus for change is that it doesn't ask you to permanently revolutionize your life or to wave goodbye to your previous self. It is easier to try something new if you know it's not forever, whether it be a new diet, hairstyle or classroom practice.

Another exciting possibility for the 30 day challenge is the potential for leaving something behind for 30 days. As classroom teachers, we often feel bombarded by the number of things on our plate. What if we took something off the plate for a month and monitored its effect? What if for 30 days we didn't give a single worksheet? What if we stopped giving homework? Monitoring how students react and observing the changes we see will undoubtedly provide an opportunity to evaluate the pros and cons of change without making a permanent commitment. Through reflection, we can evaluate whether there is value in making smaller changes long term.

Our own 30 Day Challenge brainstorm resulted in an overwhelming list of activities we might adopt, habits we could drop or ideas we could test both professionally and personally for the month of May. It was difficult, but for we've narrowed it down to four. Two are education related and two are focused on personal wellness. We intend to use social media to hold us accountable along the way by blogging and tweeting our progress at the following hashtags:

#kidvid - We will interview one student a day looking for evidence of learning and understanding in both math and science. We will compile the data collected in Evernote and use it to help inform our instructional practices.

#classchat - As we teach 50 kids in an inquiry-based setting, a big part of our learning is through in-class communication, either in large or small groups. For 30 days we hope to document who participates in class discussions, who we call on, etc. which will allow us to ensure we are actively aware of involving and encouraging all students to participate during class discussions.

#plankaday - @theheartyheart is a friend, nutritionist and blogger based in Vancouver and posted about the Plank-a-Day Challenge back in March. We are are using the Plank-a-Day Challenge to try to improve our core strength.

#3Kaday - To improve our cardiovascular endurance, we are going to be running a minimum of 3km a day. Although we often run further than 3K, for those days when life is overwhelming, we are hoping that 3k will get us out the door. While running together, not only are we becoming more fit, we are able to collaborate, brainstorm, and reflect on our day - bonus PD!

A 30 Day Challenge allows teachers to not only personalize their PD by making it relevant to their needs, but to also see immediate changes in their practice. Isn't that really the whole purpose of PD?

Over the next 30 days, we encourage you to join us or follow along with the hashtag #30daychallenge as we document our progress and results. We are excited to hear about your challenges and the potential impact that 30 days of something different might have on you!


Birmanm B. F., Desimone, L., Porter, A. C., & Garet, M. S. (2000) Designing professional development that works. Educational Leadership, 57(8), 28 – 33. Retrieved from

Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, C. R., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orpanos, S. (2009). State of the profession: Study measures status of professional development. National Staff Development Council, 30(2), 42-50. Retrieved from