Professional development (PD) sessions are essential for teachers to continue their growth and development in education. However, teachers often feel that PD is irrelevant and uninspiring and doesn’t respect their expertise. It can therefore feel challenging for administrators and coaches to engage teachers in professional learning content. But this need not be the case.
In my work with teachers, I’ve found that choice—an important component when working with students—is equally important in PD. Choice gives learners of all ages a sense of control over their learning and can help them feel more invested and interested in the material being presented.
To implement choice throughout my work with adults, I’ve used four actionable strategies: choice boards, PD playgrounds, explore boards, and checklists, which I outline below. While each strategy is unique in its purpose and design, they share important benefits: Facilitators can use them to differentiate instruction based on teachers’ interests, prior knowledge, and learning goals; they engage teachers in hands-on, active learning; they allow time for coaches to have one-on-one conversations with teachers during a PD session; facilitators can easily modify them to address a range of topics; and finally, they are replicable for teachers’ use in classrooms.
Choice boards are flexible learning tools that present learners with a menu of activities from which to choose. Facilitators can present these menus through a variety of visual forms, such as a tic-tac-toe board or an actual restaurant menu design, to keep things creative.
I led a PD session on how teachers could integrate the tool Screencastify in the classroom, and I wanted participants to brainstorm ideas for how they might use the tool in their work. I also wanted them to apply their learning by creating a video at the end of the session.
With these goals in mind, I designed a tic-tac-toe choice board that included a “start” space in the middle with a hyperlinked video introducing the tool. The rest of the board comprised spaces describing a mix of activities that allowed learners to explore different use cases for the tool, then apply their learning through video-creation activities.
I asked teachers to choose two activities to complete their “tic-tac-toe,” and they shared their learning on a group Padlet board.
Another engaging strategy, the PD playground, involves a virtual playground—or shared digital space—where teachers explore different professional learning topics in depth, at their own pace. They complete tasks to demonstrate their learning as they engage with the program, meaning they have both autonomy and connection throughout.
I created a PD playground to introduce teachers to different tools that they could use to build relationships with students and to help them set personal learning goals at the beginning of the school year.
Through Google Sites, I created a page for each tool that I introduced. Those pages included resources to help teachers get started with the tool, including how-to videos, lesson ideas, templates, and links to blog posts. At the end of the session, I asked teachers to share the tool that they chose and an activity that they had created to introduce the tool to students.
The purpose of an explore board (also called a multimedia text set) is to give learners opportunities to explore curated content and build knowledge on a specific topic. The board is typically packaged as a document with links to different types of media (articles, videos, podcasts, etc.) related to the designated topic or theme.
When I led a PD session about how Google Workspace can improve teaching and learning, I knew in advance that some teachers would already be well-acquainted with Google Workspace, while others would be new to it. For that reason, I created an explore board with links to videos and blog posts about the tool to help all teachers build their knowledge. But I also built in collaboration so that teachers could learn from colleagues who had varying levels of familiarity with the program.
To do this, I created a Jamboard—an online interactive sticky note board—and asked participants to share their learning and comment on one another’s thoughts; this was a great way to kick off a discussion about how technology integration can enhance teaching and learning.
Checklists are a great way to provide teachers with different on-ramps for learning new skills, and they’re especially helpful when a group of teachers have varying skill levels related to a common topic.
For example, my district adopted a tool called GoGuardian two years ago, and when I lead a PD session about it, I know I will have teachers who have varying levels of familiarity in the room. I created a formatted checklist that broke down all major features of the tool into four leveled categories of skills—for example, “Level 1: Getting Started,” “Level 2: Teacher Commands,” “Level 3: Scenes,” “Level 4: Classroom Management,” and “Level 5: Video Conferencing,” all of which were broken down into subtasks such as “Create an account” or “Enroll students.”
Next to each skill, I provided links to resources that could help teachers learn more. I also inserted a checkbox to help teachers document and keep track of their learning as they completed each task. To further differentiate the experience, I invited teachers to browse the skills involved at each “Level” and choose where they wanted to start.
Designing engaging PD can be challenging. However, providing teachers with choice is a great way to address that challenge and to make the time you have with them meaningful and relevant. And the above strategies often bolster communication and interactivity, meaning that choice and connection are at the center—driving learning.