Professional Learning

Bringing Students Into Professional Development

Instead of using PD workshop time making assumptions about students, we should get their input beforehand.

January 2, 2018

Professional development is evolving. Slowly but surely, schools and organizations are attempting to move away from the typical sit-and-get workshop and creating formats that promote problem solving and boost participant engagement. This has led to a rise in PD that makes educators the drivers of innovation.

This trend is awesome.

The problem: Participants are forced to make a lot of assumptions about their students because they’re not given a chance to include those students in the process.

As a facilitator and designer of professional learning, I’ve been excited to see the rise in design thinking and other problem-solving formats. It’s been a struggle, however, to find ways to authentically capture student voice so that participants can effectively use workshop time. Too often, we get stuck asking participants to guess how their students might feel about a topic, how they might approach a challenge, etc., when it would be much easier to just ask the students.

Professional learning could take on a new dimension if we were able to get student feedback and insights on topics before heading into workshops.

Why Student Voice Should Be a Part of PD

One reason student voice might not be commonplace in professional learning is because it’s not always convenient to capture, but that’s changing. It might require a bit more planning, but the advantages make it worth the effort.

The hardest part of planning for student voice is giving teachers enough time in advance to collect student feedback. But PD facilitators should take that step, because incorporating student voice has several benefits:

  • Provides clarity: Planning for student voice forces the facilitator to get organized quickly by establishing clear goals, objectives, and tasks so the participants have adequate time and guidance as to how they will gather student feedback and understand how it will be used during their session.
  • Builds relationships: When facilitators ask teachers to engage their students in their professional learning, PD becomes something we do with students and not just for students. We gain invaluable insights that enable us to use professional development more effectively, and students feel like their opinions are valued.
  • Boosts engagement and collaboration: Lectures and other types of sit-and-gets often prevent anyone, let alone students, from having a voice. Incorporating student voice challenges the facilitator to think through the format of the workshop so that activities align and participants engage with student feedback in a hands-on way.
  • Prepares teachers for PD: When participants have had the opportunity to collect student feedback, they can personalize professional learning to fit their needs. During sessions, they can better anticipate opportunities and constraints to apply their learning to instruction or other challenges.

Capturing Student Voice

Once the facilitator has planned out the goals and objectives of the workshop and has an outline in place, the next step is planning the best way for participants to capture student feedback so that it flows with the design of the workshop. Regardless of the mix of teachers present, there are a variety of tools that can be used to help educators make student voice a part of their professional learning.

There are two main ways to gather student feedback: inviting them to attend the PD session or collecting their feedback in advance.

If students come to a PD workshop personally, join via a conference call, or act as reporters summarizing the workshop, their presence always changes the dynamic of professional development—in a positive way.

But in lieu of having students in attendance, teachers can capture student voice prior to attending a workshop. Depending on the goals of the workshop, participants can conduct interviews, collect surveys, or engage students in the topic or challenge that will be presented. Here are some tools and ideas teachers can use to collect student feedback to bring to the PD workshop.

  • FlipGrid: Teachers can interview students prior to the workshop and upload a short video of the insights they gained. This is a great way to uncover patterns and identify needs for groups of educators coming from different schools or regions. In addition, it’s a nice way for the facilitator and teachers to connect prior to meeting in person.
  • Google Forms, Socrative, or Mailchimp: These are quick tools to create simple surveys, ask both open and closed questions, and collect data.
  • iMovie: Teachers can use their phones or iPads to interview students or to have them make short videos on the topic of the workshop.
  • Informal group discussions: Teachers can use group discussions to get students to engage with a challenge or topic and take notes on what they say. Consider trying a format like the Fishbowl or the World Cafe.
  • Mini design thinking session with students: Teachers can bring their PD challenge into the classroom and allow students to tackle it for themselves by taking them through the design thinking process—their prototypes will be the feedback that can then be brought to the workshop.

There are, of course, more ways to capture feedback and bring it into professional learning. The most important thing, though, is to simply attempt to do it. By bringing students’ perspectives into our professional learning, we stay grounded and focused. Their feedback allows us to prioritize what we take back to the classroom and how we address challenges, and it allows us to develop new ideas to improve teaching and learning.

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