Sit and (For)Get: Advice for Better Professional Development

As the new school year approaches, educational leaders get anxious, just like teachers and students. The start of a new year brings new challenges, among which includes teaching teachers– professional development. I hope to share some advice to make this year’s professional development more engaging. Teachers have a phrase for professional development-“Sit and Get”. I content it should be “Sit and Forget.”

The first faculty meeting of the year is your first “lesson” of your yearly professional development. This meeting should be as important to administrators as the first day of school is for teachers. As such, I have compiled some advice for new and veteran administrators alike. I am a classroom teacher, but I do lead monthly professional development as my building’s educational technology leader. My advice below stems from my experience as both a teacher and building leader.

1. Don’t forget your roots– You are a teacher at heart. As an administrator, you are a master teacher. Do not abandon tried-and-true teaching practices because you are teaching adults. After a full day of teaching, or with the stress of the upcoming year, teachers have so much on their minds. Use your good teaching strategies to make professional development enjoyable, meaningful, and useful. Everything that comes next really is a subset of this first point.

2. Start with the end in mind– With no disrespect to Grant Wiggins or Jay McTighe and their Understanding by Design movement, planning your teaching with the end in mind is really a simple concept. Think about how you plan a vacation. You know where you are going, and you make decisions about how to get there. Now, think about how faculty meetings are planned. Piecemeal? Start with the whole year in mind. What do you want the teachers to really learn? Set a yearly goal, share it, then plan backwards to get there. Design formative and summative activities to measure your progress. Make this plan apparent to your staff at the first faculty meeting.

3. Be prepared to fail– Planning a year’s worth of professional development means something will go wrong. Your plan will get amended for an urgent matter in your school. This is okay. Be willing to demonstrate to your staff how to handle failure. If you don’t model risk-taking and failure, how can you expect your teachers to know how to take these risks? While we are on failure…

4. Try new teaching styles (and technologies)– Many administrators want their teachers to flip their classroom content. Flip parts of the first day’s faculty meeting. Please follow some sound advice for flipping content, but experiment with it. Conduct some of your meeting in a blended learning style. Allow your teachers to BYOD and then USE THEM! Set up a Twitter conversation to run while you present. IF you want a less public “backchannel” try TodaysMeet. Again, be prepared for failure, but if you don’t model successful and failed attempts at these new(er) teaching tools, do not expect your staff to use them.

5. Abandon PowerPoint– Even if you manage to make a good PowerPoint, it’s not as good as you think. PowerPoint requires passive responses from your audience, at best. At worst, PowerPoint has negative connotations as boring and ineffective, especially when the presenter is on slide 5 of 54! Peter Bregman called it the number one killer meetings. Fortunately he also gives advice for making your meetings more interactive.

6. Chunk your time– Think 10 to 15 minute chunks. Carmine Gallo, for Forbes Magazine, advised readers on why a ten minute presentation is important. However you design your first faculty meeting, use different teaching approaches, technology, and staff input sessions to diversify your teaching. Over a three-hour meeting, this will mean plenty of changing. You can re-use strategies (i.e., have more than one flipped session), but try not to put them back to back.

7. Include your audience– Rather than handing down directives from above, perhaps you offer problems the school is facing, and through dialogue sessions discuss how or why certain solutions will work. Since you are a master teacher, you know you can still direct the audience to “your” answer, but if you help the idea organically grow from their input you will have greater buy-in. Interestingly, if you work this way, teachers will also understand the importance of a new change. Another way to include input could be to have staff create short recorded videos (1-2 minutes) on a rule or procedure important to the school. These videos, then, could be used to inform the students when they return. How powerful would it be to have the teachers convey the new rules rather than the principal running a long meeting with the students? There are dozens more ways to get your staff involved. Rely on your strengths and find what works best for you.

8. Make learning personal– As much as #1 was the key to the entire list, tip #8 offers a full-circle closure. Your staff will only retain the training if it is personal to them. Your veteran teachers and first-year teachers probably should not be in the same meeting the entire time. Perhaps diversify your message by grade-level or subject. You should really consider a needs-assessment for your staff before you begin. Does everyone need to hear everything you deliver? If not, you are wasting their time and squandering opportunities you can push them further.

If you approach your professional development this year as a year-long learning process and not piecemeal, you will find your teachers get more from your meetings!

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4 thoughts on “Sit and (For)Get: Advice for Better Professional Development

  1. Kewright August 16, 2013 / 5:58 pm

    How can I present without a PowerPoint? I know we used to…..just can’t remember how or what it looked like!!!!!

  2. MAHSMissHenry June 24, 2014 / 12:26 pm

    Dr. Staub, I really enjoyed this post. As a future administrator, I am very on-board with the idea of revamping the format for professional development. We are looking at incorporating Professional Learning Communities to our faculty meeting time. Do you have any suggestions for what type of sessions are most important in moving schools forward in the 21st century?

    • Justin Staub June 24, 2014 / 12:34 pm

      Thank you for your comment. There is no one type of session that is most important. Think about how we run our classrooms with our students. We provide opportunities for student choice and personalization of learning. Sometimes we need all students to sit for the same delivery of information but not often.

      I would design personalized PD, flexible around delivery methods and content. While you might be required to have all teachers attend the same time, they could have different content or methods of delivery.

      Never discount teachers designing or delivering (or both) the PD you offer.

      Fortunately, you cannot standardize learning. Both classroom learning and teacher PD should keep this in mind.

      Let me know if you have more questions.

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