Leading a professional development session for peers is not the same as leading students in your classroom. Adult learners have different needs and expectations. Before you take your PD on the road, read these three tips and one suggestion.
As a twenty-year classroom teacher, I have enjoyed many effective professional development offerings, such as the four-week National Writing Project summer institute I attended in 1994 at Morehead State University. That institute not only revolutionized my teaching career, but changed my life completely.
However, I have also endured my share of mind-numbing PDs. If you want examples of one-size-fits-all, sage-on-the-stage, top-down teaching, just ask veteran teachers about the hours of their lives they have lost in the funhouse of droning corporate types pushing through a dense Powerpoint to sell the next-big-thing in educational innovation.
Mid-way through my career, I was tapped by a mentor to present a series of professional development sessions on the writing process. During that year, I traveled to nearly twenty different districts in Kentucky. I pulled out my little sheaf of handouts and gave my spiel. I was welcomed more warmly and kindly by many teaching staffs than my sad Powerpoint deserved. With other staffs, I was grateful to escape out the side door at the end of the longest 90 minutes of my life.
So, when I present to you my three tips to consider before you take your own professional development on the road, I speak both as a teacher who has been a participant and as a leader. Here are my thoughts.
- Credibility is key. Adult learners must perceive a presenter as credible. If you have never taught or if you’ve not actually used the procedure about which you are presenting, you will have little or no crediblity with a teaching staff. Right off the bat, establish your credentials. You can talk the talk because you’ve walked the walk. Bring in student samples. Discuss your own teaching journey. Connect and engage with us as adult learners.
- Relevance is the second key. Unlike kids, who often go through the motions of learning for simple compliance, adults will not. Adults are far more goal-oriented. Teachers want to know, in concrete terms, how this professional development will help them do their jobs. When administrators or curriculum specialists develop a professional development agenda that is not grounded in teaching and learning, they can expect to lose the interest of most of their teaching staff. Teachers are busy, and we need to see the connection and the pay-off immediately. Also, can we cut out the community building games? Please? Unless the professional development is centered on community building, we don’t care what kind of car/animal/color we are; we have students who can’t read or write. Help us help them. Show us how we can implement this on Monday morning to meet the needs of those students.
- Respect our practice. No one knows my students like I do. I have a relationship with them. I have tracked their data. I know their families, their learning styles, their fears and dreams. I also know my content. Inside and out. Professional developments that subvert and undermine the teacher as the classroom professional are demeaning and dangerous in the classroom. Yes, we want to know strategies that will help us glean the highest educational gains, but we also have a lot of skin in the game. Don’t treat us like a disobedient child or not a team player if we don’t immediately adopt everything that comes down the pike. We are professionals, who can choose whether or not these innovations would work for our students. Don’t be the PD taskmaster.
If you are a teacher-leader who is interested in developing and presenting effective PD, you could do well to check out Monroe’s Motivated Sequence, one of the best frameworks for motivating people and a standard persuasive technique taught in most college communication classes. While Monroe’s five-step presentation format is most often used to persuade an audience to act on something, the sequence is a simple and clean agenda for a professional development: 1) Get the attention of your audience; 2) describe the problem and demonstrate a need for a solution; 3) present a practical and concise solution; 4) allow your audience to visualize the results, and 5) ask your audience to act immediately. We will act immediately if the product or process works. Most of us would rather be in our rooms anyway, developing meaningful instruction for our students. If you have a great strategy, share it with us. Tell us about your own action research that shows how and why your strategy works. Let us ask you questions. After all, isn’t that the best kind of PD – teachers sharing with one another?