Tips for an A+ Professional Development Session

By Dr. David Reese

As the CAO of an edtech company, I lead onsite professional development (PD) sessions for K-12 educators.  I am often surprised when I begin a session and a majority of the participants do not know why they are there or the purpose of the session.  This lack of communication and preparation hinders the success of the program.  I’ve found that the most productive and successful PD sessions often share common elements.

5 elements of a successful PD session:

Preparation: It’s important that the school leader communicate with the external presenter prior to the session and explain how it fits into the school mission and vision. The session activities should be agreed upon and the learning goals for the session should be prepared collaboratively.

Communication: At the beginning of the professional learning experience, the leader should reiterate why everyone is there and how this experience fits into the classroom and school. The school leader needs to explain how the initiative connects with the school and school system mission and vision. The teachers need to understand the big picture and the impact this will have on them and their students.

Collaboration: Leaders should actively engage in the experience and participate equally with the teachers. They need to give this session the attention it deserves and lead by example – not stand on the sidelines.  Everyone should be equally focused on the experience, no phones, email or other tasks.

Feedback: During the session it is beneficial for leaders to communicate with everyone and listen to their comments and/or concerns.  The engagement of the participants increases when they are interacting with their leaders and feel supported. Circulating can help leaders understand what they will see in the classroom and who may need support beyond the training.  The leaders should share with everyone their thoughts of the professional learning experience and provide a synthesis of the comments heard during the session. Answering these questions publicly helps to focus the message and may also provide necessary next steps related to the professional learning.

Next Steps: The professional learning does not conclude when the PD session is over; in fact it is just beginning.  The leaders should reiterate that it’s not a one-and-done workshop.  Next steps and expectations for the teacher and classroom should be explicit.  Leadership should also explain how it will support this initiative moving forward.

It is important to take time to address these ideas and actively engage in the professional learning experience. This greatly enhances the possibility of success.

Dr. David L. Reese serves as Chief Academic Officer for Defined Learning. During the past twenty years, Dr. Reese has served K-12 students as a science teacher, Curriculum Specialist, and Central Office Administrator. He has taught Masters and Doctoral courses in all areas of curriculum and professional development leadership. His work focuses on providing students with engaging, relevant learning opportunities designed to encourage students to apply content from a local, national and international perspective.

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