Fifteen years in education has provided me some experience in professional development. I have enjoyed some, and others I couldn't wait to get through. I believe this is like our classrooms, some days the students are excited to be there, totally engaged, and other days they want to just survive till the bell. In the past couple of years I have been involved in conversations with some amazing educators who are on a mission to bring engagement into their classrooms. They have come up with so many cool ideas to make their classrooms more exciting while still covering the content, meeting objectives, and preparing students for the measurables.
We step into professional development, often led by educators, people who were trained in the art of teaching and learning. So why do so many professional development sessions lack that element of engagement and excitement? I don't necessarily have the answer to that question, but I do have some thoughts on how to improve those sessions.
Above all other ideas- think about the session as a classroom, and put yourself in the place of the audience. What can you do to make this a dynamic, exciting experience for all involved?
1. The focus should be the audience! If you don't contemplate how your content and activity will be perceived, used, and engaged in by your audience, you may have already lost the battle of engagement.
2. What do you need people to know by the end? Focus on the must know ideas and provide resources for the nice to know.
3. Hooks! - How can you get people engaged, moving, collaborating, and out of their seats to learn the material. Shift the focus from presentation to engagement!
I am sure there are more aspects to make a dynamic professional development experience. My focus is to have planners and presenters think about it as a classroom and their best experiences in a classroom. We talk about good teaching being the shift from sage on the stage to participation. We discuss objectives and measurable outcomes being the goal of lessons, so don't loose site of this in the planning. To this end, keep in mind what people should learn and how will they demonstrate this understanding. If your intent is to just give information, there are better ways than lecturing at them for an hour or more. The last part is engagement. We want to add activities to our presentations, but they need to be, well planned, and purposeful. I have experienced many activities interjected into a meeting just because the presenter thought we need to break up the lecture.
6 Word Memoir is a way to have people express ideas in a concise manner. I included the link as one example, but I have seen it utilized in a multitude of ways in many different settings. Teachers- describe your classroom in 6 words. Students-describe what you learned today in 6 words, or describe your year with this teacher in 6 words. Professional Development could use this for many different topics that help participants think about the content and learning they have experienced.
Speed dating- This is one of my favorites partly because I had success with it, and saw others repurpose it. I can't take credit for the concept obviously, but I took a risk with it during a Twitter chat and the results were amazing! I had seen others use this concept to learn about important people in history. I had used this in my sociology class in the past as well. The really cool thing for me was to use it with my PLN who were able to engage with each other on a personal level. I have written a blog post about this, so I won't share more at this point, other than I am looking to try this at an upcoming edcamp.
Edcamp discussions- Edcamps are professional learning conferences where no one is the expert, and everyone has a voice to determine what learning will take place that day. People congregate based on shared interest in a topic. They discuss ideas they are interested in. They are free to ask questions, share ideas, and connect with others on equal footing. There are not experts to push the discussion in a predetermined direction, but a free flow of ideas. While edcamps are events in and of themselves, take the concept of giving people choice in what they will discuss and see what happens. A Middle School I am working with this year tried this idea for their first Professional Development Day. I was fortunate to participate, and it was an amazing experience. Teachers were excited to learn with each other. Many had questions, some had answers, and all were passionate and engaged in the conversation.
GHO - You don't have to be present to be present. Google Hangouts, Skype, and other video conferences allow people to participate from across the world. Think about the possibilities to connect and learn from others. You are not longer limited to those in your building. You can get into a large professional development opportunity like EdcampHome, or just have a video conference with another individual to discuss a specific topic. I have done many of these and have found them to be amazing learning experiences. I helped organize my last districts first attempt at professional development from home. Teachers were able to connect to each other from anywhere they wanted via a GHO. Another example was a teacher who went to Africa where she had previously taught, and was able to do a GHO with our Global Studies Classes. It was amazing for our students to talk to people thousands of miles away about how similar and different life was for them. These are just a few examples of the amazing things I have seen done with GHO.
Social Media- Twitter chats, Today's Meet and 81 Dash can allow for a multitude of responses from participants instantaneously. This provides everyone an opportunity to have a voice, as well as so many more ideas to be shared during the learning activity. People are able to engage in conversations with others across the room, or across the world. The difference between the two formats is Twitter is public, and Today's meet and 81 Dash can be set to private.
The ideas suggested above are not supposed to be the ultimate list of professional development game changers, but simply a few examples of ways to create a more engaging learning environment. Some of the examples won't fit your purpose or learning outcome needs, but I hope in the end you are at least challenging yourself to rethink how you present in your classroom and your professional development offerings.
Would you want to be in the audience of your professional development? If not, it is time to make changes. Engage your audience and the learning will happen!