Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

If You’re Conducting PD, Seek Engagement With Educators

By Peter DeWitt — September 14, 2021 4 min read
Theory and Practice
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

About five years ago, I was running workshops and feeling as though they were one-sided. As much as I loved delivering content, meeting educators, and engaging in conversations, I felt that there was something missing. Many of us who facilitate workshops have bios, which many directors of professional development use to introduce us at the beginning of each session. However, I wanted to know more about the audience than just what I heard from the directors on a pre-engagement conference call.

As a former teacher of 11 years and a school principal for eight years, I always took time to get to know students, teachers, and families. Of course, much of that was due to the fact that we are trying to engage in a community when we teach or lead. Still, why can’t we create a sense of community within the time it takes us to run a workshop?

I took to Facebook and posted a question on my wall. I wrote that I was trying to find a way to engage with audiences before I showed up in person to actually engage with the audience and asked my “friends” if they had any suggestions. Pernille Ripp, the renowned teacher, literacy advocate, and all-around good human, responded by asking if I ever thought about using pre-engagement surveys. I answered that I had not, but I was interested in creating one.

So, I did…

I took some time to ask the basic questions, such as their location (i.e., country, state, city) to differentiate among the surveys since I had multiple engagements on the calendar. I asked their position within their school, so I could connect the content to their context. I asked if they were in an urban, rural, or suburban setting and then began asking a few deeper questions such as:

  • What they wanted out of the session
  • Their biggest challenge
  • Their specific area of need
  • What they knew about instructional leadership
  • What they knew about student engagement and how they currently engaged students
  • Those of us who run workshops should be more interested in our audience, so I asked a few more open-ended questions such as:
  • What did they wish the presenter knew about them
  • What was one question they wished I had asked that I didn’t

Over the years since using pre-engagement surveys, I have received some deep and reflective responses that changed the way I felt about running workshops.

What I Have Learned

For full disclosure, there were many participants who never filled out the survey. However, there were many more who took time to fill out the survey, and their answers provided me with insight into their challenges or areas of growth, as well as their positions, so I could make sure that the content fit into their context.

Equally as important to all of the information they provided about their positions and needs was the fact that they wanted to provide me with insight into how hard they work or their passions.

Some examples are:

That I have struggled to gain basic foundations of educational practices, but that I gain “bits and pieces” and have a broken understanding ... and have gained mentoring in broken environments and over the last 4 years, I have strived to become a great educator and will continue to strive to do better each year. Teaching is becoming a love for me, and I cannot imagine doing anything different. I cannot imagine my life different now, even with all of the real-world experience I have before now.

I am a classroom teacher who is currently enrolled in the Educational Leadership master’s program through USM. I am very passionate about instructional leadership and looking forward to learning more about implementing instructional leadership schoolwide.

Sometimes their examples provide me with an important heads-up such as:

1- that we are adults and will need some leeway in directing our own learning 2- it is always helpful to have leaders model the best instructional practices, not just lecture about those practices.

Or…

I don’t know who you are, have never heard of you or read your books, but in looking at your work on safeguarding LGBTQ students, I am intrigued. I just hope you are better than the last guy who showed up and had us build houses out of popsicle sticks.

Why We Should Do It

I’m thankful for the guidance Pernille gave to me because as workshop facilitators, activators of learning, or whatever we may call ourselves, if we truly read the responses on the pre-engagement surveys, we will be much better prepared when we meet our audiences in person or remotely.

Educators, especially now during COVID, need to feel valued and heard. They don’t need more experiences where they are talked at, and pre-engagement surveys can help us foster ways to inspire active learning and not just sit-and-get.

Even for the on-demand, asynchronous courses I teach through Thinkific, I do pre-engagement surveys because the process allows me to connect with those taking the courses in deeper ways, and in many instances, creates a relationship or friendship that can last much longer than the time it takes them to take the course.

In the End

As workshop facilitators and providers of professional learning and development engage with audiences around content that will hopefully help impact student learning, one of the important components that they can focus on is how to engage participants before they ever actually meet.

Pre-engagement surveys do not have to be lengthy; in fact, it is better if they are not. Asking a mixture of content-related questions along with open-ended questions is key. Using the answers to the pre-engagement surveys in the workshops is also necessary so participants understand we listened and learned from them.

Again, for full disclosure, I’m always looking for ways to be more human in my interactions. Running workshops is an honor, and I should not be the focus because the learners in the room and the content should be the focus. Pre-engagement surveys go a long way to help that happen.

Related Tags:

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.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Opinion What's the Best Professional-Development Advice? Teachers and Students Have Their Say
Becoming a better teacher starts with being respectful and using common sense.
6 min read
a group of people water a lightbulb plant, nurturing an idea
iStock/Getty Images
Professional Development Opinion 6 Myths About Teacher Professional Development
What's working and what can we do better to make PD the solution it's intended to be? Scholars take a crack at it.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Professional Development Spotlight Spotlight on Professional Development
This Spotlight will empower you with insights and advice for turning challenges into opportunities for professional development, and more.
Professional Development Shark Teeth, Steinbeck, and More: Teachers Use Summer to Deepen Their Own Learning
Summer enrichment programs provide opportunities for teachers to bring new perspectives to lessons—and many are free.
5 min read
Teachers discuss newly learned content and the connection to their own curriculum in preparation for developing customized lesson plans during a session on July 11, 2022.
Florida teachers discuss ways to tie newly learned content to their own curriculum this week in a University of Florida program on using artificial intelligence to identify fossilized shark teeth.
Jeff Gage/Florida Museum of Natural History