Professional development (PD) is a mainstay in all schools. Some is offered by colleagues sharing best practices, some by district personnel or outside vendors.
Having PD sessions during the school day is tricky. If PD is given at the beginning of the day, it’s typically prior to classes starting. Teachers are usually eyeing the clock, eager to get to their classrooms and prepare for the morning. If it’s given at the end of the day, teachers are again eyeing the clock, exhausted and ready to shift to their evening routine. So what can the teacher leader do to support their colleagues’ early morning or after-school PD learning?
Giving Truly Useful PD Within the School Day
1. Keep it simple: Stick to a specific topic. As an example, if you are expected to review standards-based teaching/learning methods and to share best practices with newly hired educators, make a decision to instead introduce just one of those topics.
When teachers are given the opportunity to digest one sound technique at a time and implement it, it will stick. Too many ideas become noise. Choose one topic, dive in, and implement with sincerity. Schedule the remaining topic(s) at a later date.
2. Provide minimal handouts: Always offer teachers a hard copy of the material—perhaps bullet points of the main ideas—that they can take with them. If they’re given too many handouts, teachers will scan them but not really focus on the specific presentation idea.
Be wary of saying, “It’s all online.” While it’s important to be cognizant of paper waste, few teachers will read the information online upon returning to their classroom—they simply will not have time. If they must read the material, give them time within the PD to do so—and remember, brevity is key.
3. Keep it significant: Teachers want the nuts and bolts right away. Give them the basics of what they need to know right at the beginning of the presentation. Offer a visual model, if possible, and explain clearly how this topic will affect them and positively affect student learning.
If there’s time, demonstrate what needs to be done: Show how to complete a new district form on the Smart Board or illustrate how to write learning intentions or success criteria in student-friendly language. Don’t go through 30 PowerPoint slides selling teachers on an idea of what they have to do—get to the point efficiently.
4. Connect the dots: How does this PD connect to what teachers are already doing in their classroom? They want to know this information will fit seamlessly into what they’re already teaching—and if it doesn’t, how you will support them in making it fit with a minimum amount of restructuring.
For example, if teachers are expected to use informational text in their class, be prepared to give specific examples for each subject area. Offer to go to department meetings and create tailored demonstrations for their subject area. How can the physical education teacher utilize informational text in his badminton unit? Show how connecting the dots is an opportunity for growth.
5. Keep it sensible: At the end of the professional development, let teachers know you’re available to answer questions or find the answers if you don’t know them. Some teachers, especially new ones, might feel uncomfortable asking questions in front of their colleagues. Perhaps scheduling a separate PD once a month for new teachers would create space to answer their specific questions and give valuable advice uniquely crafted for the novice teacher.
After the PD, always send out an email thanking your colleagues. Include your schedule and encourage follow-up.
6. Listen to your audience: Always give teachers an exit ticket to gather their feedback—and provide enough time at the end of the PD for them to complete it. If they take the exit ticket back to their classrooms, they won’t complete it because there will be other pressing items awaiting their attention. Teachers want to share their ideas, so ask them how they want PD to be structured, or how it could be more timely, or how to best deliver district initiatives. Teachers appreciate that someone is asking and are more than willing to share their opinions.
Here’s what I ask on my exit tickets:
- Please list three ideas that you will use in your classroom acquired from today’s professional development.
- Please let me know if you would prefer support with your specific ideas. List the days and times you are available for follow-up.
- What improvements do you suggest for upcoming PD workshops?
After teachers complete the exit ticket, follow up with them by locating requested instructional resources, graphic organizers, or technology sites that align to their comments. Your follow-up to their questions or requests on the exit tickets is key to your continued success as a teacher leader. You want teachers to know you’ve read and taken seriously their responses on the exit ticket.
What Happens When PD Doesn’t Work
The best-planned PD may not always be successful, for a variety of reasons. If you receive a negative exit slip, seek out the teacher who wrote it, if possible. The goal is to determine how to make their next staff development opportunity worthwhile. It’s imperative to show teachers their time will never be wasted and their talent is critical to the success of the school.