Strategies for Success Professional Development Experiences
Teachers make the worst students. A saying we have all heard. Educators also know the average attention span for our students ranges from 10 to 25 minutes, the time they can stay involved in an engaging activity like reading an interesting book or playing a game. Teachers have to be critical with their use of time in order to maximize learning opportunities and the workload associated with the job. However, the same is not expected of our own learning time.
We can do better in our professional development sessions to maximize our experience while holding deliverers accountable for hosting a quality training. Perhaps teachers are not the best students because we don’t prepare training experiences with the same intentional strategies as we do for students.
August professional development season is rapidly approaching and I find myself torn. For example, I am really excited about my district’s offerings this year yet I struggle with the common use of Powerpoint presentations. When faced with another training session after a full day of teaching, eyeing a stack of work to grade, and having skipped lunch to lesson plan, I may multitask, tune out, socialize, or otherwise neglect the professional development content delivered. I know professional development work is a two-way street and I need to make some shifts in order to glean the most out of the information being shared.
In their article, “Effective Teacher Professional Development,” Darling-Hammond, Hyler, and Garner define effective professional development as “professional learning that results in changes in teacher practices and improvements in student learning outcomes.” However, most of the professional development trainings I have attended have not been structured the way Darling-Hammond and her team would suggest. These authors call for a focus on content, active learning opportunities, collaboration, models of effective practice, peer coaching, feedback with support, and a sustained duration of learning as a comprehensive training model. Yet looking back, I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen more than three of these methodologies in a single training. For us to use professional development as a vehicle for changing our teaching practice the delivery needs to change, too.
Here is my plea to the presenters out there – I need you to think of me as a student in terms of what constitutes good teaching. In doing so, I, and other attendees, can work towards successfully executing your ideas and increasing student achievement. The following is a list of requests to consider as you are planning your next session. These andragogical practices are those which are crafted with adult learners in mind, such as being problem-centered, task-oriented, and knowing the background of your audience. They are also strategies we use in the classroom every day to help our students learn.
- Address the different learning styles in the room. Not everyone learns the same way on the same way. Presentations with visuals and experiences are more memorable and easier to replicate than just talk. The ability handle materials and physically construct artifacts can also be helpful.
- Know your teaching context. Having a general idea of who is in the room and what the district initiatives are, or have been, can make a big difference. This prevents lost time from repeating material, suggestions that cannot presently be implemented or confusion from moving too quickly through new ideas.
- Establish structures for equal talk time. In order for everyone to learn, each learner needs opportunities to share and make connections to their own teaching experience. Having people share with a partner or record their ideas on sticky notes and post them collectively provide opportunities for total participation.
- Differentiate. Our students enter our classrooms with a variety of learning experiences. Teachers will enter your training with a variety of different experiences, too. Providing ways to acknowledge the expertise in the room and scaffold for others will allow you to keep your presentation focused on the topics you feel are most important.
- Allow time for reflection. Stopping every hour or after every topic for people to jot down ideas and make connections will increase the likelihood of implementation. Reflection sheets could include space to record important moments, action plans, goals, people/materials to access for support, and ways to document progress towards trying these new ideas.
- Use feedback you receive. Teachers are used to filling out feedback forms, especially in trade for clock hours, yet they may hesitate to fill them out thoroughly and truthfully. Share with participants what kind of feedback you’d like to receive, a specific aspect you’d like critiqued, and how you will use the comments to improve your next session
This being said, I too will make a few shifts in my practice as an attendee to glean the most from the shared material. The following strategies can help me stay focused and be intentional with implementing my new learning.
- Prepare ahead of time. I need to eat breakfast and pack and extra bottle of water on these days. Also, I will write a list of all of the classroom to-do’s I need to finish to tuck those thoughts away during the training. Finally, I will put my cell phone on silent and tuck it away until lunch time – the emails will wait. These simple things will help me to be present and maintain focus even though I have a lot on my plate at that moment.
- Stop and reflect. I will force myself to do this every hour, even if it means missing a bit information as I am writing. As I reflect, I will try to think about three things: What is the main topic for this particular moment? How does this look in my classroom? And what could I add/change in my classroom to incorporate this idea?
- Prioritize and create an action plan. This is my reality check. While I would like to implement everything I learn, I want to do it well. This means I will need to limit my choices to one or two awesome things. Creating an action plan will help me detail what I would like to try, what materials I need to prep, and what sort of timeline to give myself. Here is a template that I use frequently.
- Find someone to hold you accountable. Perhaps the most important step for me – I will find someone to check in with after the training. This could be a teammate, an administrator, another teacher who attended, or even a student. I need to show them an artifact on the wall, lesson demonstration, student work, assessment, et cetera, that demonstrates how I implemented this new idea. The key here is making the arrangements to meet with this person right after the training and actually setting a date. This provides me with a sense of urgency to actually try the new concepts I learned because I have a self-imposed deadline.
- Leave quality feedback for the presenter. In the past, when faced with the feedback sheet at the end of a long training, I quickly circle proficient marks on the form so I can duck out to whatever I’ve scheduled next. This is the equivalent of just giving your students a passing score with no context on their work product. If I expect presenters to improve their practice, I need to highlight notable learning/actions I take away from trainings as well as offer specific feedback suggestions.
My goal this year is to be a better student. I know I will learn a lot from the professional development I receive this summer and look forward to sharing this learning with my students. Hopefully by using these strategies we can all make the most of the learning that will happen before the students arrive.