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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Developing Success Criteria With PD Participants to Engage in Deeper Learning

By Peter DeWitt — September 02, 2021 4 min read
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When presenting at a workshop or providing a keynote, it’s easy for a presenter to jump into the content and wait for the audience to come along. I once had a colleague tell me after he finished delivering a keynote, “Peter, the audience comes to be entertained, they don’t come to learn.” I felt at that moment, and still feel now, he could not have been more wrong when he said that.

Audiences, whether we are talking about students or adults, come to learn, and being entertained could be one of the side benefits. The issue is that there are times when what the presenter tells the audience of teachers what they should do in the classroom is actually missing from what they are doing in their keynote or workshop.

I should know because I have been guilty of this in the past.

Over the years, I have added in learning intentions to the presentation, regardless of whether I am doing a keynote or a workshop. According to this resource from the Catholic Education of Melbourne, “Learning intentions are brief statements that explicitly describe what students should know, understand and be able to do as a result of the learning and teaching.”

Over time, though, I became uncomfortable with the idea that sharing learning intentions about the presentation was enough. I felt then, and I do now, that merely sharing learning intentions still contributes to passive learning on the part of the audience. Yes, I can engage them in activities that inspire conversations about learning, but they are still based on what I believe is important.

During COVID-19, in an effort to engage people remotely in deeper ways, I began sharing success criteria as opposed to learning intentions. According to the same resource from the Catholic Education of Melbourne, which is all based on research from Hattie and Timperley (2007), “Success criteria describe, in specific terms and in language meaningful to students, what successful attainment of the learning intentions looks like.”

What Does Success Criteria Look Like?

The success criteria I began using in my presentations incorporated both learning intentions and success criteria. After all, if success criteria describe successful attainment of the learning intentions, then there is a way to combine both so the audience has a clear idea of what they will be learning.

For example, in my presentations that I do based on my book Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out of Theory, I share the following success criteria.

By the end of this presentation, you will understand:

  • What constitutes instructional leadership, and how to strengthen it given all of the other demands of the job.
  • What implementation means, and how to create an implementation process that will survive the dip.
  • What student engagement means, and how to engage alienated students.
  • How knowledge dimensions should be the basis of our faculty discussions, and how they can be used in the classroom.
  • How instructional strategies can best engage students in ways that ultimately will offer deeper-level learning.
  • What evidence is, and how to utilize the voices of leaders, teachers, and students in the process.

Success criteria helped clarify for the audience what they will learn within the time that they spend in the workshop. However, what I found is that, although it’s important to share the success criteria because I am there to teach as well as entertain, I still felt that there was something missing. That is when I decided to include the audience in building success criteria with me.

Why I Include the Audience in Building Success Criteria

As teachers and facilitators, we often go into our classrooms or workshops to teach our audience of students or adults. During this time of COVID and burnout, I feel that it’s important to not only go into our classrooms to teach, but we need to learn while we are there as well. A learner’s mindset can help open us up to new possibilities.

So, I began asking the audience for their success criteria. Typically, I share mine first, and then using Mentimeter, which is an online engagement tool I use in remote or in-person learning, I ask the audience to provide me with their success criteria. How will they know they are successful when it comes to learning at the end of the session?

Mentimeter is anonymous, so there is not a downside for members of the audience to share their success criteria because they fear being wrong (yes, that’s another whole blog). They can simply add a sentence or two that tells me what the participants are thinking about when it comes to success criteria. I typically take that information and go back to it throughout the session. It’s always important for me to revisit our success criteria, because it keeps us clear and focused.

What I’ve noticed during COVID is that participants want practical guidance on how to use the strategies I offer. Many times, I notice that the participants say they want to learn one more strategy, and then I joke a little bit about how I want them to raise the bar for the session. What we know is that strategies are important, but just changing a strategy is not enough to positively impact or deepen student learning, so we focus on that during the session, which is why we end our session with evidence of impact.

In the End
When we teach, whether it’s in a classroom or workshop environment, the participants do want to be entertained a bit. I taught 1st grade for seven out of 11 years, so I understand how important it is to make learning fun. However, despite what my former colleague told me after his session, I do believe that an audience comes to learn as well.

In order to do that, we need to have success criteria prepared so they clearly understand what the session will be about, but we also need to involve them in creating the success criteria or we are just contributing to another session where the audience is talked at and told what is important, as opposed to honoring their expertise and involving them in the conversation.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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