Article Club: Quick & Easy Professional Development

Everyone is busy, always. In a school, asking a teacher to add one more thing to their day is akin to asking them to cut off their arms and then play volleyball. So how can we, as school librarians, help support professional development without placing too much of a burden on 

Women sitting together talking
An article club gives teachers the chance to join in thoughtful discussion, without a huge time commitment.

any one person? Books are, well ... long, and professional development books are not typically considered quick reads. Workshops can be great tools, but they require lots of planning on the part of one or two people.

Articles to the rescue

Articles, though, are perfect for offering quick and easy professional development. They’re short enough to be read in 10 or 15 minutes, and they’re available online for unlimited, simultaneous access, either for free or through the library’s databases. And with that thinking, an article club at Webb School of Knoxville was born.

Like a book club, we select one article each month to discuss. Any and all teachers are invited, whether they’ve read the article or not. We meet at lunch, a time that all of my teachers, luckily, have off together, and we discuss while we eat. I bring a print copy of the article and a few questions or thoughts to start the discussion. It really is that easy.

A quick-start guide

Here are ideas for getting an article club started at your library, based on what worked here at Webb School:

  • Use resources you have in your library. My library has print subscriptions to a few educational journals, like Educational Leadership. I almost always pull our article from the most recent issue of these journals. It gives teachers a chance to come check out a hard copy, but it’s also an advertisement for the library’s resources. You can also pull from databases to which your library has access. No databases? There are plenty of educational blogs out there!
  • Keep the article short. The point of an article club is to make reading the material easy for everyone, so I try to keep the articles around four or five pages long.
  • Read the article before sending it out ... Teachers from every discipline attend our discussions, so I try to find articles that cover more broad pedagogical practices rather than specific subjects. However, some subject-specific articles will have ideas that can be easily transferred to other disciplines. You have to read it first to make sure it will be interesting to a broad range of teachers. 
  • ... or have others submit articles. For our first year of meetings, I’ve selected all the articles, but I make sure teachers know that they can suggest an article that they found intriguing for a group discussion.
  • Send lots of reminder emails. In my monthly newsletter to all teachers, I list the date for the next discussion and post links to the article for that month. I send out another email reminder to teachers a week before, a day or two before, and then the morning of the discussion. Each time I attach a PDF of the article and the link to access it. 
  • Come up with a few questions to start. As the host of the event, you’ll be expected to start the discussion. I always come prepared with at least two or three thoughts or questions about the article, but I’ve found that once I’ve started the discussion, there’s rarely any down time that I need to fill. 
  • Bring at least one print copy of the article. At some point in the discussion, someone will want to refer to an exact quote or image. I always bring a hard copy of the article for that purpose.

And that's it!

Article Club has been the easiest program I’ve planned at my school, and though it’s still new, I believe it’s also one of the most influential. With every meeting, new teachers attend, and some have even sought out new material relating to our discussions to share with the group. Supporting teachers has never been easier!