Professional development should be beneficial, not painful. Even the most mundane sessions can provide learning opportunities.
While professional development is intended to help you in your classroom, it does not always turn out that way for a variety of reasons. The speaker may not be clear. The suggestions may be difficult or impractical to implement. The presentation may be a long, boring PowerPoint. The session may not even be relevant to you or your students! Yet, professional development can always be valuable, even if it does not appear that way on the surface. Check out these tips to see how you can make the most of your next professional development session.
1. Sit with someone you don’t know.
It is very tempting to sit with your teammates or other friendly faces, but try to sit with someone new. This is great opportunity to network and make new contacts. This is especially the case for professional development that is outside of your own school, or even your district. This will enrich your experience and create new relationships. Take opportunities to chat during activities or break time. If it is difficult for you to meet new people, team up with an outgoing friend who can help spur conversation and boost your comfort level. You never know what ideas you will get through conversation and collaboration with new people! (Just remember to let your teammates or close colleagues know that this is your plan ahead of time to avoid any awkwardness or hurt feelings.)
2. Identify something you can use in your classroom tomorrow.
Unfortunately, some professional development sessions do not seem relevant. Instead of zoning out and writing the whole thing off, try to pull out some key ideas that you can take away. Take notes and highlight a concept, tool, or any bit of information that could be put to use in your classroom in the next week, or better yet, tomorrow! This does not always have to mean content. If the topic does not apply to you, focus on the presentation tools or teaching style. Perhaps you like their approach to sharing an agenda or the post-it strategy they used for group discussion. There is always something you can take away if you keep an open mind.
3. Raise your hand and participate.
Get yourself involved through participation. This could include asking a question, adding a personal experience, or volunteering to assist. Becoming active will keep you engaged, and will also engage those around you. Your peers will be more apt to open up if they see you taking that role. A big part of professional development is learning from each other, not just from the presenter. Participating will help ensure this takes the forefront.
4. Take time to reflect.
After the professional development session, set aside some time to digest what took place. Review your notes and reflect on how this could apply to your teaching. This is a step that is often missed, but very crucial. During the session you are sitting and absorbing information, but it is less likely to be applied if you don’t reflect on what it means to you and synthesize it with your existing knowledge. A good way to reflect is sharing what you learned or what you liked with a peer. This could be someone who attended the session with you or a trusted colleague. What were the takeaways? How will you bring this into your classroom? How will you evaluate its effectiveness?
5. Have a positive attitude!
Sometimes professional development sessions are required. Other times they were elective but failed to meet your expectations. Whatever the case may be, try to start with and maintain a positive attitude. If you walk into the room with a negative mindset, it is impossible to gain anything. Before you attend the session, identify some goals. What would you like to get out of the experience? This will help you focus and pull out key ideas that you will be able to use later on.
Try keeping these tips in mind before your next professional development experience. By doing so, you are bound to leave with some great ideas and relationships that will not only inspire you, but also your students. Looking for more opportunities to reignite your passion for teaching and expand your teaching strategies? Check out our guide to the best STEM teacher conferences to attend.