I recently researched best practices and what works for professional development for a class I am taking. I wanted to find something that would be relevant to me useful in my current position. I read several articles, watched an archived session of a webinar, read a book, and watched a few videos all in the hopes of better understanding the best way to provide professional development.
I realized that what works in providing professional development for teachers is a lot like what works when teaching your classroom of students.
Professional development has to be meaningful, engaging, aligned to learner’s needs, there needs to be choice, time for practice, and reflection.
Fred Ende in his book, Professional Development That Sticks: How Do I Create Meaningful Learning Experience for Educators? speaks of three phases of professional development for learning: Planning, Providing, and Following Up, and three ways to think about each phase: Think, Act, Review. When teaching a class of students, teachers need to decide on a purpose to guide the planning. The lesson should be based on the areas that students need support and this should be based on formative assessments and feedback. Similarly, when planning professional development for teachers, we want to find out what areas the teachers could use support and whenever possible, use feedback from other PD sessions to help guide the planning.
As part of planning the PD we also need to think about what will make the experience conducive to learning for the attendees and how will they best learn the material. When we are planning lessons for our students, we think about whole class vs. small group instruction, using multiple intelligences to engage all the learners’ strengths, how the learning space should be organized with respect the type of lesson, and using writing and reflecting to solidify understanding of the lesson and help move the information to long term memory. We need to do the same when planning out PD sessions.
Ende speaks of connecting with learners to understand their needs so that we can use that information to steer the direction of the session and adjust as needed. Similarly, when teaching our students, we connect, learn, and form relationships with them so that we can use what we know to plan lessons that will work for all our learners. Additionally, we gather formative assessments and check in for understanding while teaching so that we can be sure our students are learning the material.
As teachers we are constantly reflecting on a lesson, our students, what is working, and what we can do differently next time. The same holds true for effective professional development. As providers of PD, we need to reflect while planning, providing, and during follow-up so that we are not just forging ahead with our plans, but learning from our audience what works for them, what they found engaging and what they need so that the learning continues to be about them and their needs, not ours.
Whether we are teaching a classroom of students or a classroom of adults, the goal is the same- success of the learners, implementation of the material, and student achievement.