Developing impactful professional development can not just “happen.” It takes careful and purposeful planning. Over my many years as a principal and district leader, there have been a few common elements that need to be a part of the planning and launching of impactful PD.
Creating the schedule is my first step. Trying to balance need, with agenda, and objectives can take some time. I also want to offer a few different dates for each session. My goal is to offer a wide variety of PD sessions. All our educators are different (as is the case in most districts), and all have individual needs, interests, and exposure to the current tools we have in place.
To meet the needs of our educators, I try to provide a wide range of sessions that are applicable across several content areas that educators can learn a skill, and then apply that to their own environment. In setting the schedule I ask myself some reflective questions to ensure the sessions match our needs. Some of those questions are:
- What are the session goals?
- Are the topics aligned with the district’s vision and goals?
- Who is our target audience for each session?
- How does this training align with existing professional development opportunities?
- Can I empower others to facilitate or co-present?
- Where will the session(s) be held?
- What materials are needed?
- How often and by whom will follow-up be provided?
Once the schedule is set, below are a few other key elements I focus on to make professional development a success and worth educators taking the time to attend.
We want teachers to see the value in using this learning in the classroom – having fun and empowering the participants through the activities themselves, and having a laugh will make the time more impactful.
Meet educators where they are.
In full transparency, this is something I am working on and have struggled with in the past, but set it as a goal of mine. I often go too fast because I think “they must know this.” However, sometimes they do not, hence coming to PD. The summer (well, all) PD is all about supporting educators so they can do a better job of teaching and motivating their students, and just like students, each educator has a different ability level. When preparing any session, I want to be mindful of the ability level of the audience. I will still have high expectations for all participants, but it won’t do me any good if I don’t focus on the basic skills needed before doing the more complex lesson ideas.
Being a learner can be stressful.
When educators are learning something new during a PD session, they will need time to digest the new concept, as well as time to work with the new skill. Last summer I packed the time with “new learning” because I wanted to respect the participants time and wanted to give them all I could. This was another area I could do better this summer. I realize learning does not happen quickly, and if PD is to be effective I need to remember the struggles that are associated with learning. I also must (and will) give time to apply the skill during the session.
Just like the scouts say, “Always be prepared.” Just as educators plan for lessons, PD facilitators must take the time for planning and preparing for the PD session. My general rule of thumb is it takes two hours of planning for a 1-hour session. In the planning, I focus on the agenda, how the learning will be structured, transitions between topics, and closure.
Don’t over plan.
One of the keys to a great PD session is for participants to learn something new. This means that part of the learning is practicing the skill right after they learn it. A common flaw I have seen (and done) in many PD sessions is having too much packed into the scheduled time. If the session is over planned, it could lead to participants feeling overwhelmed and a bit frustrated. I have realized with any new skill, participants need a good amount of time to practice and get feedback from the session facilitator and others in the session. Participants will feel empowered if they leave feeling that they learned something new and they can do something differently when they return to their class.
Be a facilitator.
My role as the PD instructor is to guide educators in learning, not to tell them just “how to.” I am not an expert on all content or curriculum. I am there more to provide information on tools and strategies, and allow the participants to take that learning and apply it to their own teaching environment.
As much as I like structure for PD, I must allow participants time for reflection. I want to say this phrase more this summer: “I’m going to give you a few minutes to reflect on what we just talked about or learned.” Giving time to reflect on the content and even time to talk to a partner or table group helps to own the learning.
Use participant experiences.
As the facilitator of the session, you won’t know everything or have all the examples. When you’re planning, work in time to have others share how they will use this learning or tool in their classroom. Consider how to surface the expertise in the room and build on it. Part of the PD is figuring out how to connect new learning and content with what already exists, how to build on what people are bringing with them and already doing. Having time for participants to collaborate will enhance learning.
Start and end on time.
When you regularly start on time, you’ll find that people will be more likely to show up on time.
Finally, we must Celebrate at the end of the session. End the session by celebrating something or things that have gone well or suggestions that can be widely used to recognize the positive in the learning. Leaving participants with this experience will help when they return next time.