How to Create Effective Professional Development
Are you responsible for planning professional development activities for your colleagues in education? Do you struggle with establishing an effective agenda for the amount of time you’ve given… while also ensuring participants stay actively engaged, master the necessary content, and meaningfully integrate it into their practice? The solution may be as simple as heeding some tips from a team of veteran trainers and facilitators. At EdTechTeam we use a time tested formula for including welcome activities, dynamic content delivery, fun social energizers, and opportunities for reflection. No process is a panacea, but the tips in this post and in my free guide, complete with customizable training schedules, can help you craft a workshop that will have an impact for everyone involved – and for the students they serve. Let’s jump in.
Tip #1: Always Include a Welcome Activity
Many professional development events begin with a welcome activity, but this is an opportunity to do much more than simply provide a time for introductions and icebreakers. This is the first opportunity for the facilitator to establish the context of the event and set the tone, whether it’s a sense of decorum or a relaxed and fun atmosphere.
A well constructed welcome activity engages participants actively, socially, and emotionally… ideally with a prompt aimed at tapping into individual passions, participants will be willing (or excited) to share. Providing everyone a chance to speak also ensures each voice is valued, and helps to recognize the expertise participants bring into the room. A skilled facilitator can also observe this interaction to identify needs in the room, and to discover any potential resistance or negative attitudes right away.
Though it doesn’t have to do this to be effective, an ideal welcome activity also serves as a hook and ties to the theme of the event, planting seeds that will bear fruit in other activities later in the day. A welcome activity also doesn’t have to be fun, but if it is, laughter (and laughing at one’s self) can help lower participants’ affective filters and increase their capacity for risk taking during the event… not to mention it can help make the experience more enjoyable, more likely to be fully engaged with (and completed), and more likely to be remembered.
Tip #2: Go Beyond Content Delivery
In our field, the purpose of content delivery is often simply to raise awareness of what’s possible… and to inspire participants to want to make similar things happen in their schools. To accomplish this mission, the facilitator needs to both educate and entertain; the best facilitators are also dynamic and engaging presenters who use personal anecdotes (or allegory), humor (or empathy), and well organized materials to communicate their content. Other principals of effective presentations also come into play: keeping each point simple, limiting text, and using high quality visuals for instance.
Even segments focused on content delivery should include frequent interaction, including questions for participants, mini activities, or step-by-step processes that build over time. Ultimately, content delivery should be minimized in lieu of hands-on experiences.
Tip #3: Keep Participants Engaged with Hands-On Experience
The bulk of most professional development experiences should be allocated to providing participants with a positive hands-on experience. Facilitators need to design activities that empower participants… that help them feel they can do it themselves “on Monday” when they return to their classroom or office. These should be as open ended as possible, perhaps beginning with a relevant question, a meaningful goal, an attainable challenge, or an inviting puzzle. As participants work individually (or collaboratively in pairs or small groups) this allows the facilitator to create one-on-one moments with the participants that need it most. Naturally, this also encourages one-on-one teaching between participants as well, which is where much learning takes place.
Tip #4: Create a Collaborative Environment
All learning is social, and giving participants the opportunity to further process their learning by sharing with their peers is critical to deeper understanding, retention, and application. Sharing can happen either in small groups or in a whole group setting, or both… with everyone getting to share with someone near them, and then volunteers sharing key insights with the whole group. This discussion can also serve as an opportunity for the facilitator to check for understanding, either by eavesdropping on small groups or by engaging participants directly (in small groups or in the large group setting). Similarly, this time is a chance to check for frustration in any of the participants… or alternatively, boredom and disengagement. Of course, a well constructed sharing prompt can also serve as an opportunity for reflection without waiting for the end of the day – and as a sort of formative assessment if necessary.
Tip #5: Don’t Underestimate the Power of an Energizer
As their name suggests, the primary purpose of energizers is to raise participants’ energy levels, and to keep them high throughout the event. Energizers can also bring an element of health and balance to a day that might otherwise mostly involve sitting – and looking at a screen or projection. Energizers may be most effective if they include multiple senses, physical activity (if not exertion), and a change of setting or scenery. In other words, participants should be getting up and moving around. Naturally, energizers can also contribute to socialization, networking, or bonding among the participants… and might do this best when they are fun, perhaps awkward or silly, and laughter inducing. The best energizers for professional development are probably also used at kids’ summer camps… and may include props or (safe) things to throw. Check out my “Guide to Effective Professional Development” for a list of crowd-pleasing energizers that you can use right away in your PD.
Tip #6: Ensure your Participants Leave Inspired and Motivated
Before the final reflection activity, facilitators can take some time to provide an overview of “even more” resources for participants. These can be inspiring ideas for applying what they’ve learned, next steps for getting additional support, and advanced options for those who are ready to learn more. This is also a final opportunity for tone setting and reconnecting with the context of the event (or reframing the experiences of the day). Finally, a clear call to action should be provided as motivation for participants to continue on their own when the event is over.
Tip #7: Use Reflection to End your Training on a High Note
Even if some content or activities need to be cut from the agenda, there should always be time alloted for a reflection activity at the end of a professional development event (or at the end of each day, or each session). This is not only an opportunity for reengaging and reinforcing the content, it’s a chance to encourage higher order metacognition… drawing new connections, making judgments, and engaging in self-assessment. With an element of sharing, it can also be a final opportunity to hear from everyone in the room (verbally if time and numbers allow, or via a form or other easily summarized electronic method for larger groups). An energizer can also be used as a reflection activity in order to include similar physical and social benefits. Reflection activities should be chosen carefully, but they also play a role in providing closure, and in setting the final context and tone of the event. How participants feel at the end of the event will heavily impact how they remember the event and how likely they are to reengage with those associations.
Time also needs to be allocated (during the scheduled time of the event, not after) for participants to complete an evaluation. This is a reflection activity of sorts in itself, but more importantly, this feedback is critical to facilitators and their ability to improve their events and hone their craft. It is also critical to the process of monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of professional development.
If you want to take all of these tips a step further and put them into action quickly, download my free guide here to get plug and play templates, activity ideas, and more. Let me know in the comments what you want to try – or what you’ve already put into practice! And if you’re a veteran presenter yourself, speak up and share some of your own hard earned tips and tricks for running effective professional development.