Teaching the teacher: a crash course in quality PD.

When I walked in through the door I didn’t know if the room was spinning or if I was just dizzy from the synchronised eye-rolls of the attendees. Professional learning courses often produce this response. Teaching is a really busy profession and time spent away from the classroom and office actually increases the stress of our educators. It’s why teachers will often still go to work when they’re sick; preparing explicit relief notes and dealing with the aftermath of student misbehaviour in your absence is sometimes more taxing than teaching while under the weather. Add to this the fact that sometimes we the courses we attend seem irrelevant to our core business and you understand why we have this reaction. In attending my leadership course on Monday I gave up two periods of DOTT and had to follow up a handful of students who played up for the relief teacher.

But…

I walked out at the end of the day with a smile on my face.

And…

One of the other people there said it was the best PD they’d had in 7 or 8 years.

So what makes great professional development?

1. Charisma

The guy at the front of the room on Monday was oozing it. Seriously, he played the room like a seasoned professional (probably because he was). He drew us all in with his anecdotes and humour.

A good presenter breathes life into the material.

2. Relevance

I said before, it’s more work being away from school than it is to be there. If what we’re learning doesn’t have some obvious practical applications in our workplace then you’ll lose our interest and struggle to get it back. Tentative links just won’t cut it.

3. Get us doing something

The worst PD that teachers are exposed to is when boring presenters lecture us on how to be engaging. Admittedly, it’s hard to get teachers to participate in activities; we think that being asked to do the same sort of collaborative learning strategies we ask of our students is condescending, that it is undermining our professionalism. That said, I’d rather feel belittled than bored. No one wants to be talked at for an entire day.

Fortunately, Monday’s presenter had us moving around and working in pairs. More importantly, at no stage did it feel as though we were being treated like children.

4. Food

I’m kidding. Food doesn’t make or break a PD. While it’s important that people are fed, discussions of food are generally a sign that the course was terrible.

So the next time you’re running a course (or a staff meeting, or a lesson in your own classroom) try to be charismatic, highlight the relevance of what you’re doing and get your audience moving and engaging with the material.

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