What’s been your most valuable professional-development experience?
Come on, there’s got to be one! I want you to think about what made it meaningful for you. The time where you left feeling excited to try something new and jump in feet first. You felt like you were ready to conquer the world and couldn’t wait to impart this new practice/knowledge to your students.
Was it one thing? A combination of things? Was it the facilitator? Another attendee you connected with?
I have been facilitating PD for teachers for nine years, and I believe there are some factors that make professional development work well and help teachers leave feeling successful. I’ve encapsulated them within three things, in no particular order.
Everybody likes choices, right? Aren’t we keeping to a pretty narrow-minded view of learning if it’s only presented in a “one means to an end” fashion? Teachers need choices about what they’re interested in, passionate about, and what matches their readiness level.
These choices can be given as a traditional model of professional development, in which teachers attend a class/workshop on a specified date and time and have to physically be in attendance. Alternatively, choices could be given in the form of online learning via screencasts, live webinars or social media. The point is to offer choice and in turn allow whatever choice teachers make to be credited as a viable means of professional development.
What types of learning elicit value? Fill in this blank: Learning is valuable to me when _____. If teachers are going to invest time in professional learning, whether it be face to face or online, voluntary or involuntary, we all want to finish feeling it was valuable. When I facilitate PD, do I have a set agenda and plan in place? Of course I do. Do I ever intentionally or unintentionally deviate from the plan? Always. I am sure to let teachers know that this is their learning and I want them to feel our time together was valuable. If that means detours are taken and even some things are repeated so be it. We should want all students, regardless of age, to feel the value in what they’re learning.
Sometimes discovering the value in our learning experiences can lead to taking a self-directed deeper dive into a topic as well. Do you remember the last time that happened?
My response to the fill-in-the-blank above? Learning is valuable to me when I understand the “why” before the “how.”
We’ve offered choices, come to understand the value and are ready to accept the charge laid before us. Or are we? What if something doesn’t go according to plan? If I’m in need of help where do I turn?
Teachers need multiple lifelines of support. This is a critical component of teacher professional development. Let’s say it’s the end of your face-to-face workshop. We need to make sure our teachers are aware of whom to contact, where to look, what to Google, etc. before they leave us. It can be an e-mail address, the link to a backchannel, a Google Group, an Edmodo group, etc.
Sure, teachers in my district know how to contact me, but I still remind them to please contact me whatever outlet I choose to provide. It can be a one-way communication to you or a tweet on a hashtag. It can be both. Learn about the teachers you serve, just like we learn about the students we serve. We all need to know that support is there if we need it.
Are these the only components to making teacher professional development have meaning? No, but I think they’re three of the most important.
What matters to you in making your professional development worthwhile? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!