Let’s take a moment to step back and look at what Professional Development (for educators) is and what it is not. Professional Development, by definition, is to improve knowledge and skills in order to facilitate individual, school-wide, and district-wide improvements for the purpose of increasing student achievement and/or improving student engagement.
On the contrary, Professional Development should not be wasting teachers’ time. It is not standing in front of a group of educators and lecturing them on what they should be doing. It is not recommending a pedagogy or technique that requires an abundance of resources and materials. It is not instructing teachers on an idea that they do not want or need or will not use.
The general statement can be made that people generally like to learn and grow. Both professionally and personally. And in ways that are specific to them. A mix of self-direction and the presented opportunity. The exact chemistry varies. So when the opportunity of Professional Development – meaningful and useful Professional Development – presents itself, how do you make it participative, engaging, and, dare we say, fun?
Fortunately, here are 5 tips that can make Professional Development actually fun to participate in:
- Start with an Icebreaker to get things moving.
Icebreakers are not only meant for summer camps, classrooms, and corporate meetings. They are a great way to begin PD sessions or a workshop. Moreover, they’re great for 15-minute or half-hour breaks. It provides a mental pause and for all involved to stand up, move around, and participate in an activity that deepens relationships or provides new information about a colleague or friend. Some fantastic icebreakers to start a PD session are:
Here are a few icebreakers that are perfect for midday breaks and to get the energy going again:
- Make it interactive. Ask questions. No chalk and talk.
We don’t fully learn to drive a car by watching someone else drive, right? We need to do it ourselves. We need to practice, we need to fail, we need to make mistakes. This is how we become proficient and master a skill. When introducing a concept or pedagogy, make it real. Set up a role-playing scenario where teachers can practice, where they can get a feel for it before using it in the classroom.
In the arena of Professional Development, participants should be able to provide their own input, they should be able to develop their own strategies with what they’re practicing. Once we remove the thought that those who are the recipients of PD are passive learners, we can fully grasp that humans learn best through trial-and-error.
Instead of lecturing, speaking at, or scrolling through slides covering a topic, propose a question. A question that makes teachers and the participants think. Give time. Not 10 seconds. Not 20. Try a minute. The silence might be uncomfortable but it allows the participants to digest the question and develop thoughtful responses that can ignite a passionate discussion where the objectives of PD can be interjected.
- Use some sort of technology. If it is applicable in the classroom, even better.
Identifying useful classroom technology prior to the session could add so much value to PD. Students, Teachers, Administrators…somehow, someway, are using technology in a way that is making their daily life more efficient or easier. Incorporating it into a PD session will potentially spark ideas about new ways to use it in the classroom or throughout the school.
Technology is no longer an option in learning – it’s become a necessity. 21st Century Skills include Technology Literacy and there’s no better way to develop it in students rather than promoting the use of technology for learning, researching, collaborating, and communicating.
- Ask the participants to set up the room.
Typically, we walk into a room, find a seat, and think nothing of it. Rather than letting the participants simply walk in and sit down, keep everyone standing, and ask them to come up with three different ways they would like the room set up (if it has the potential to be restructured). Have all participants vote on one setup and the setup that receives the most votes wins.
By getting the participants to design the setup of the room, they become part of the PD, not just recipients. They are involved in planning and delivery which empowers them and ultimately leads to better interaction and retainment of the skill taught or knowledge provided.
- Give time and space for reflection, creativity, and strategizing.
We are not Artificial Intelligence nor do we automatically digest new material and perfect it. Humans need time to reflect on what new knowledge they’ve gained. How can I use it? What can I use it on? Where can I use it? What can I synthesize with it? What parts do I need to relearn or practice? These questions propagate our minds when new information enters our brains.
Providing adequate and agreed upon space and time for reflection, creativity, and strategizing during PD allows teachers to process deeply and without distraction. Furthermore, if time allows, get the teachers to participate as learners so they get a different and useful perspective on the pedagogy. At the conclusion of the PD, giving structured debrief will give teachers space to adapt the pedagogy to their own classrooms.
Interested in Professional Development for your school? Contact Educators of America today to schedule a consultation about how we can meet your goals and vision for Professional Development.