As we gear up for the new school year, many of us are entering into professional development (PD) soon. I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to plan and facilitate PD for teachers in San Francisco, and based on this experience, I’d like to offer some tips that I believe contribute to successful learning experiences for teachers.
Model best practices
- Facilitate learning. Teachers should experience sessions in a format similar to their students. Be the guide on side, not sage on the stage. And, please, please, please don’t lecture about active engagement.
- Be explicit about strategies used. Then, allow teachers to reflect on whether and when the same strategies could be useful in their own classrooms.
- Set explicit learning goals and measure progress towards those goals. If you want to develop a strong community of practice, state this explicitly as a goal, actively work towards this goal through collaboration and team building, and measure progress through surveys and observations. Do the same with content and pedagogy-oriented goals.
- Differentiate. Groupings or breakouts based on grade level, content area, or other contextual factors can be useful, but this in itself is not differentiation. Consider multiple means of representation, action/expression, and engagement. Set consistent baseline objectives for everyone, and create different levels of scaffolding and extensions to challenge teachers at the appropriate level.
- Allow choice. Let teachers decide what is important and relevant to them. They cannot choose everything, but make sure have some agency.
Record, reflect, assess
- Compile all resources and make it easy to access them. Consider a simple website or hyper doc (e.g, SFUSD’s PLC site).
- Create shared notes documents so everyone can benefit. This allows a good record for teachers to remind themselves during the school year and allows those who missed out to reap some of the benefits. Ask for volunteers to contribute to the notes documents at different times.
- Prioritize time for reflection. It’s important for teachers to process their learning and consider how they will apply new ideas and strategies. Thoughtful reflection improves transfer to classrooms.
- Ask for feedback. This can help you evaluate, plan for future sessions, and improve facilitation. Don’t wait until the end to ask for feedback. Create formative measures.
- More importantly, use the feedback to change plans and improve. And, show a summary of participant feedback each day, and explicitly note the things you’re changing to respond to feedback.
- Assess learning. Don’t rely solely on feedback. Use similar assessment measures to those used in the classroom. Collect teachers’ projects to examine more closely.
Attend to the environment
- Create a welcoming and inclusive space. Try to choose a room that is colorful and filled with natural light. Take down any Star Trek posters and replace with something that appeals to everyone. Create table groupings to make it easier to collaborate.
- Set and reinforce norms. As teachers come from different communities and cultures, it can be helpful to adopt a set of common norms. Reinforcement can come through reflection, a norms tracker, and celebration of colleagues.
- Make it fun! Throw in some corny jokes and spontaneous dance parties. Play music during breaks. Put candy and LEGOs on the tables.
- Include breaks. Breaks allow teachers to take care of personal needs, engage in informal collaboration, and maintain better focus during sessions.
- Get teachers up and moving. No one likes sitting all day. Movement is especially important after lunch because this is when most people’s attention starts to fade (the “trough”).
- Mix up groupings. Many teachers default to choosing teammates whom they already know, but they also prefer to get to know new people. Facilitate this by thoughtfully designating grouping strategies and consider when teachers should collaborate with teachers from different and similar contexts.
- Switch up the facilitation. Just like students get tired of hearing the same teacher all day, teachers feel the same way. Work to mix up both the facilitator and methods of facilitation as much as possible.
- Empower teachers to lead and share their best practices. One way to do this is an unconference in which teachers select and run sessions based on their interests.
Show teachers you value them
- Pay teachers. Teachers already work hard enough. If the PD doesn’t happen during the contract time, it’s important to compensate teachers for their commitment.
- Provide good food. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to be thoughtful. Make sure to include some healthy options and attend to dietary restrictions. Unlimited snacks go a long way.
- Provide the materials needed to implement lessons/curriculum. It is a huge lift off of teachers to give them ready-to-go materials. They’ll be very appreciative of the time (and money) you saved them.
- Celebrate success. A fun and easy way to close the week is for teachers to create their own superlative awards to celebrate something they are proud of and share with the community (e.g., best debugger, craziest sock wearer, biggest risk taker).
- Don’t treat adults like they’re children. Let teachers decide what’s best for them. Structure can enable productivity, but too much structure or accountability can foster resentment.
Other pro tips
- Sprinkle in tips and tricks, and allow teachers to share these. Examples are new tech tools (e.g., yellkey.com), brain breaks (e.g., GoNoodle.com), team builders (e.g., Zip Zap Zop!), and showcasing strategies (e.g., Michelle Lee’s tips for amplify student voice).
- Go beyond the (one) curriculum.Teachers new(er) to CS need to develop a decontextualized knowledge of CS and be empowered to determine the best ways to teach concepts to their students. Try to not just use one lesson or curriculum but offer several options on a related topic and ask teachers to contribute others and reflect on the usefulness in their own contexts.
- Don’t try to do too much. You cannot do everything in one hour, one day, or one week. Decide what’s most important based on the teachers who will be attending and set measurable and achievable learning outcomes for the time you have. Expect things to take ~50% longer than you think they will.
- Don’t let it be a one and done. Ensure there are follow-up mechanisms throughout the year. An effective way to do this is to create a community of practice, with both an online presence and regular, in-person convening.