The guy on the Quaker Oats box said it best: “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” Of course, this only proves that William Penn never met determined educators who need to find a way to include professional development (PD) in their careers without wrecking their life balance.
Few know this better than John Bernia, principal of Carleton Middle School in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Bernia is leading the charge in his corner of the industry to find creative approaches to PD. In fact, his dedication to using technology for productivity propelled him to the National Association of Secondary School Principals honor of Digital Principal of the Year this year.
“It’s very difficult professionally to learn in the abstract,” he points out. “Teachers are really looking for practical things they can use. They don’t want abstract, theoretical stuff.”
And that’s just the first step in avoiding wasted time. Here are five more ways you can embed PD into your day, starting now:
1. Time after time.
Build professional learning time into the school day, right after class dismisses. Your workday will go beyond the student day by 30 or 40 minutes, but it’s more effective than holding meetings before school or having long staff meetings after school, participants say. Or hold meetings during teacher prep times, even though this means repeating the material six times on the administrative end. The smaller group size can promote healthy dialogue and provide a chance to dig into a topic the way you can’t with 50 people in the audience.
The psychology is in your favor, since conversations reinforce adult learning. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to encourage online conversations with members of a professional learning network, themed Twitter chats and Voxer long-form conversations as part of teachers’ internet time as well.
2. Home bodies.
Instead of sending people out, keep them in. Consider applying your substitute budget to hire subs to take over for staff during a professional development day. Rather than sending educators offsite for training, release them from the classroom for job-embedded training and collaboration.
3. Tech team.
While you’re at it, why not hire subs to free up a team of teachers who are doing a lot with technology so they can develop PD sessions to share with colleagues? Then dedicate the daily after-school period to these colleague instruction units, complete with breakout sessions. Think of it as a mini-conference. With this approach, teachers with questions can follow up anytime, since the instructor works just down the hall.
The key to a smooth PD experience in this case is differentiation. Set up the hands-on sessions in separate rooms based on where teachers are on the spectrum of comfort using a tool or approach.
You’ll also do educators a favor if you choose topics that correspond with what’s happening in their classroom curriculum. Adults learn best with horizontal learning that’s attached to something they already have in progress, as compared to vertical learning of something they may potentially need in the future.
4. Snack time.
Arrange for quick PD opportunities where teachers can learn one tech tool in 10 minutes or less during their lunches. Think of it as a lightning-rod kind of thing, Bernia urges. And definitely make it optional, like a side of chips with a sandwich.
5. Megaphone moments.
Invite a teacher to share what he or she is doing in their classroom during regularly scheduled staff meetings. Working this into staff meetings periodically is a morale boost that takes advantage of the resources you have right this second.
“If you can make it happen in your building with your teachers taking the lead, you know it can work,” Bernia says. “Not everything is applicable, but you’re going to hit the target more than you’re going to miss it.”
Perhaps motivational speaker and author Earl Nightingale’s observation ultimately trumps Penn’s: “Don't let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.”