Why is professional development for teachers so difficult?
This question haunts most PD trainers. Since, most of the ongoing training sessions are conducted by external trainers. Here we share a few insights into how teachers actually learn, and help you open a window into their minds, so that you can deliver professional development sessions that work.
What’s the difference between a child-learner and a teacher-learner?
When we are teaching a child, we, as teachers, take the leadership role. The students are totally dependent on the teacher to make the learning decisions. Thus, the teacher becomes responsible (and accountable) for taking decisions like what should be taught, when it should be taught, and how it should be taught. And, it is the teacher who decided how the learning experience should be measured.
It’s different when one tries to instruct a teacher. For one thing, most teachers understand the concepts of teaching better than the trainers, second, as adults, there is an innate need to take control of their experiences, take their own learning decisions. There is an urge to manage what they learn based on what one determines as important and necessary. Thus, there is a strong need to involve teachers into their own learning experiences.
Experience dictates that for an effective PD program, trainers should limit themselves to the role of facilitators, allowing teachers self-steer their learning experiences.
Here are a few Professional development tips for PD trainers. You can use them either when you are introducing teachers to a new technology, else when you’re helping them experience a brand new instructional model.
7 Tips to help you deliver professional development sessions that work
Frame your PD sessions as problem-centered sessions.
Introduce teachers to a presumptive problem, with the solution framed around the instructional model/technology/solution that you indent to introduce.
Ensure active teacher-trainer participation.
Let teachers lead the way. Encourage them to propose solutions. Ask them, how they wish to proceed. A trainer’s role should always be that of a fellow teacher – one who holds a secret card – without whom others cannot design a solution.
Integrate teachers’ past experiences into your sessions.
Any attempt otherwise is your door to failure. The aim of your professional development session is not to transform teachers; your aim is to equip them with a better tool. Whatever you want to share must find a common ground with what they know. The best way to do so is to integrate teachers’ classroom experiences with your PD sessions. You can use them as a foundation to build over.
Encourage collaborative learning among participants.
This is the gem. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, a PD trainer remains an outsider. You are not from the community. You may be highly competent, but your participants know their school better. They understand their students, and they understand the staff. Your best shot is to encourage them to collaborate with each other. Try to increase the number of collaborative activities in your professional development program.
Avoid robust schedules. Let teachers decide what they wish to learn.
As I wrote earlier, teachers know better. They know the students, and they know what they need to learn. Avoid creating rigid training schedules. Let your participants decide the flow of your professional development program. Involve them. Plan your sessions to match their needs.
Activity-centered training sessions.
Minimize those presentations. Reduce the length of your talks. It’s okay to distribute handouts, but it’s not okay to stop there. Handouts are just reference material; your participants need hand-on experience. Include as many activities as possible.
Collect daily feedback from participants.
Extremely important. Collect feedback, daily. You can keep them short and simple. But collect them daily. You need to know, what they learned, what you missed, and what their expectations are. This allows trainers to adjust the speed of their PD program, and helps them match the pace of their participants.
Above all, prefer conducting ongoing professional development sessions. One-time PD programs seldom work for teachers. Once teachers begin taking classes, the training risks losing relevance. You see… theirs is a dynamic universe. It’s hard to predict the effect of your training, until teachers get a chance to use it in their classrooms. There’s only one solution to that – ongoing PD.
Ensure that your Professional development program has an ongoing component. (Or, at least, a mid-school feedback form) This would encourage teachers to practice what you taught. Several may return with doubts, and you could be cornered into re-conducting the sessions…. I call it the fun part.