Keep PD sessions focused

Recently, there was a question about what to do when students were off-task. I conduct many professional development programs, and I could use some ideas to keep adult participants on-task! —T., Virginia

As a presenter, it’s frustrating to see participants grading papers, texting, or reading the news. But in all fairness to our colleagues, their inattention may stem from experiences with compulsory professional development (PD) sessions that were “sit ‘n’ git,” conducted by drop-in presenters who were not familiar with the school’s culture, had no teacher input into the content, or held afterschool when everyone was tired.

I shared your question with a colleague with whom I have held many PD sessions. We agreed that in addition to well-planned content, it is important to engage the participants with effective strategies they can apply in their classrooms:

  • Greet participants as they come in, making a personal connection. Share a summary of your own classroom experiences during the introduction to establish rapport.
  • Describe the purpose and goals of the session. Ask what the participants what they would like to get from the session. Record their responses and debrief the list at the end.
  • Avoid trivial ice-breakers, especially if the teachers already know each other. Instead, use bell-ringers, such as responding to a focus question or a brief reading. Refer to their responses during the session.
  • Provide an agenda, indicating when there will be breaks to check e-mails or texts. Start and end the session on time.
  • Move around and make eye contact.
  • Use gallery walks or turn-and-talk for sharing ideas.

Relax and realize, as an administrator told me, some people aren’t happy unless there’s something to complain about. One of our workshops was rated low by a participant because “I don’t like tomato on my sandwich” that was in a provided lunch.

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