Most of us will have to take part in professional development sessions either this summer or the week before school starts, and let’s be honest, much of it won’t be very interesting. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how teachers can get more out of these mandatory inservices, and I’ve realized there are a few choices participants can make that will determine whether the training is at least moderately valuable or a complete waste of time. The tips that follow are things I’ve observed teachers doing (and have done myself) that resulted in PD being only slightly less painful that stabbing yourself in the eye with a fork. Try them out at your own risk.
Give your administrators full control over your professional learning.
Refuse to implement any new technology or teaching strategies until you’ve received more boring PD on it. Make it your mantra that you will only learn what you’re told to learn. Let your principal decide what is important for you to be an expert in, and only attend trainings on those topics. After all, building your own professional learning network (PLN) and reading books and blog posts on professional topics you care about gives you ownership of your learning and empowers you as an educator. Is that what you really want?
Immediately point out all the reasons why a new idea won’t work.
I’ve totally been guilty of this. In fact, I thought I doing the group a favor by saying what everyone else was thinking but was afraid to speak out loud. Now, I realize I was just derailing the learning of the entire group by forcing them to think about the limitations before they’d fully considered the possibilities. I’ve found that I learn a lot more when I just listen, reflect on all the options as they’re presented, and then brainstorm with the group or a colleague at the end of the session.
Focus on the three kids in your class for whom the new ideas will be completely ineffective.
It’s tempting to block out the fact that the majority of your class could really benefit from the strategy, and spend the entire PD session fuming about how useless it is because little Johnny will never go for it. But let’s face it: there will always be at least three kids in your class with whom ANY teaching strategy will crash and burn. There are no teaching strategies that work 100% of the time with 100% of students, so it makes more sense to listen to the PD session with a full range of kids in mind.
Hold side conversations the whole time.
This is a fantastic way to ruin a training, because talking will ensure that the PD becomes useless for your colleagues, as well. Bonus points for holding side conversations about how the ideas you’re hearing will never, ever work with your students. However, even on-topic side conversations will be enough to distract everyone around you and throw your presenter slightly off of his or her game. There’s nothing more awkward than one adult trying to get the attention of other adults in a professional setting, so chattering endlessly is a great way to make your presenter resort to annoying kindergarten-style attention grabbers which you can also complain about.
Jot down notes on a piece of paper and stick it in your file cabinet, never to be seen again.
If you do manage to learn something in the PD session, be sure to keep it to yourself! If you blog about it, share it on social media, or talk with your colleagues about their thoughts, you’re likely to encourage them to try new things and improve their teaching. Sharing your learning also gives you the opportunity to reflect on what you heard and figure out how to apply it to your classroom practice. So, if you want to make sure the principles you learned never have an impact on students, bury those notes in a folder! Sharing and collaborating will only lead to more learning.
What’s your advice for teachers on how to get more (or less!) out of the professional development they attend? Please share your thoughts in the comments.