Whether planning for extended Aftercare or a lunchtime play date, Unity Charter School parents know that half-days require special planning. Those approximately two half days a month are one of the school’s defining features. And yet parents and community members unfamiliar with their purpose might bristle: why early dismissal? Behind the scenes, Unity staff uses that time in its own unique way: for multi-faceted staff training and meetings that allow faculty and administration to identify needs, set goals and measure results. “We ask our teachers, what can we offer you so that you can be the best at your craft?” said Director Carolyn Mungo, and the response helps form the agenda of each staff development day. Recently, staff worked together on Positive Discipline training, the character development program that is part of each Unity school day. Based on Alfred Adler’s teaching, the program focuses on strengthening each person’s social-emotional skills with the goal of enhancing responsibility, respect and personal/community resourcefulness. Last month faculty also met with Moira Wilkinson of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, in order to continue to execute and evaluate the school’s EfS (Education for Sustainability) curriculum. Staff development time also includes webinars and teaching demonstrations on newer approaches to literacy that compliment student’s different learning styles, such as guided reading, literature circles and “writers’ workshop” curriculum. “Our Wednesday afternoons are well spent,” said Mungo last month at the school assembly meeting. As a teacher myself, I adore the brief stillness of a professional development opportunity. Allowing for a pause in the hese meetings create windows of clarity and connectedness among educators. Meaningful professional development creates the space for self-reflection and “norming” that can build a learning community from the inside out. For our children, this helps create a learning environment where success depends less on the “What Teacher Did You Get?” phenomenon of anxiety seen in many other public schools. It’s one reason I haven’t tired of the “best practices” cliché. The truth is that we save much energy and frustration by simply observing greatness. We can also remind each other of the deep valor of helping students write, think, reflect, evaluate, critique, question, move and grow toward becoming their best selves. As for the Wednesday afternoons of myself and my kids? Well, sometimes it’s an inconvenience on a busy workday. But sometimes we get to the park, have a play date at our house, or drop by my five year-old’s former preschool to say hello. These days always remind me of the myriad ways in which we learn.