I have sat through my share of really bad PD. In fact, I got really good at being able to tell whether a workshop was going to be useful within the first 5 minutes and if I determined that I wasn’t going to get anything out of the workshop, I would quickly tune out. I even carried a “workshop survival kit” with things I could do to surreptitiously occupy myself while pretending to participate. I thought I was being polite and more than a little clever, but really, I was wasting valuable opportunities to learn.
A few years into my teaching career, I started taking a different approach to PD. I decided that no matter how bad it was, I tried to get something from it. At the very least, I wanted to take the time away from my classroom to work on my own teaching. So, rather than occupy myself on my phone or secretly grade papers, I would bring materials that were related to the workshop and try to apply what I was learning to my classroom. Sometimes, I will admit, it was a struggle to find something valuable in a workshop or district-enforced PD. But when I came to each session with the attitude that there was always something I could learn, I would find little hidden gems that ignited my own thinking and helped me refine my practice.
Here are my best tips for making the most out of any PD situation.
- When you hear something you already know, don’t say “I know that already.” Instead, ask yourself “How good am I at that?” or “How could I get better at that?”
- When you see a typo or a grammatical mistake or you hear the presenter say something that you don’t like, try not to let it get in the way of the overall message or keep you from getting what you need to get out of the experience.
- Be a participator rather than a spectator. You are a co-creator of the professional learning experience and your participation influences the direction, pacing, and value of the professional learning experience.
- If what you are learning does not directly apply to your teaching situation or context, look for ideas you can use and make them fit. Always ask how you can make something you are learning fit in your classroom, school, or district.
- Hold the presenter accountable for helping you learn. Ask questions when you don’t understand something or cannot see how to make what they are presenting relevant to your teaching situation.
- You do not have to agree with everything the presenter says but you should be open-minded. If you don’t agree, don’t dismiss what the presenter is saying out of hand. Consider how their perspective might challenge your own thinking and present a new way of looking at things.
- Bring whatever you are currently working on and look for ways to immediately apply what you are learning. If you can’t apply it to your current situation, look for ways to tweak what you are learning so that you can make it fit.
- “Adapt, don’t adopt.” Don’t try to apply everything you learn exactly as the presenter presents it. Focus on the underlying principles and adapt the particular strategies to your own context and teaching style.
- Provide the presenter and workshop organizers with honest but respectful feedback. Don’t just say what you didn’t like; give them suggestions for what they can do differently or better.
What strategies do you employ to get the best out of summer PD? Share your tips below.