The Power of Opening Day: A post for planners of back-to-school PD

If you are on social media, you’ve likely seen the memes of teachers thinking about returning to school.  I’ve seen several that lament the ‘opening day’ experience. So if you are the planner of this incredibly important event, here are a few tips from experts in the field to help make that opening day beyond incredible.

In their 2017 book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath discuss what goes into creating “defining moments.”  Your orientation / welcome week / district opening day has the potential to be a defining moment of the school year. Take a look at your agenda, and see where you can identify these elements: 

1) ELEVATION: Defining moments rise above the everyday. They provoke not just transient happiness, like laughing at a friend’s joke, but memorable delight.

2) INSIGHT: Defining moments rewire our understanding of ourselves or the world. In a few seconds, we realize something that might influence our lives for decades.

3) PRIDE: Defining moments capture us at our best. Moments of achievement, moments of courage.

4) CONNECTION: Defining moments are social. Weddings, graduations, baptisms, vacations, work triumphs, bar and bat mitzvahs, speeches, sporting events—these moments are strengthened because we share them with others.

As you think about that initial launch, are you subjecting your teachers to a list of new rules and regulations? How about a rousing discussion on dress code or cell phone policies?  Or better yet, a school-wide viewing of that blood-borne pathogen video?? All important topics, of course, but not if you want your opening day to truly be a defining moment that will set the stage for the upcoming year. 

So that’s the big picture consideration. But the event(s) itself also needs to be structured in a way that facilitates these lofty goals.  In a recent blog post, Director of Teaching and Learning at The Graded School in Brazil, Shannon Hobbs-Beckley shared her process for planning and executing these crucially important inservice days. These framing questions guide her work: 

  • How have we arranged their learning environment so that they can take full advantage and optimize their learning?  
  • What resources, learning challenges, and supports will nudge them this week that will help them hone their craft as educators?  
  • How do we engage their curiosity and creativity so that they want to learn (beg for) more?  

From my perspective, how the educators I work with experience the sessions I facilitate is the most important aspect of my work. I want people to leave feeling inspired and validated, as well as equipped with a new tool or technique that is immediately applicable to their practice. I also want the session to communicate that who they are as educators is incredibly important; that their work matters. In their new book about all things PD, Elena Aguilar and Lori Cohen (2022) capture this sentiment perfectly for me: 

“Details matter to learning.  Attending to details is key to creating the conditions for adults to feel welcome, affirmed, valued, and psychologically safe.  In well-planned professional development, the details say, “You’ve made the commitment to be here, and we value you.  We will focus on the little things so you can focus on the learning” (p. 179).

Alright, PD planners, you’ve got this. Shine on, and make opening day the defining moment our educators deserve. 



Aguilar, E. and Cohen, L. (2022). The PD Book. Jossey-Bass. 

Heath, C. and Heath, D. (2017). The Power of Moments.  Simon & Schuster. 

Hobbs-Beckley, S. (2022, August 4). “#95: Engaging Teachers’ Curiosity and Creativity.”


About the Author

With more than two decades of experience in education around the globe, Kristen Moreland is committed to bringing humanity back to education. A former middle school English teacher and Instructional Coach, she is currently serving as the Director of Teaching and Learning for the Littleton Schools in Littleton, New Hampshire. She joined the NHASCD board in February, 2022. You can follow her on Twitter @kmorekin and on Instagram @educatorsforhumanity