Teaching Opinion

Educators Want Voice and Choice in Professional Learning

By Starr Sackstein — January 26, 2017 3 min read
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As a teacher, one of my biggest pet peeves is being told what I have to learn for professional development because usually what follows is a one size fits all offering that I have either come in contact with before or doesn’t suit my learning style.

Being the kind of student I am (and always have been for that matter), regardless of the fact that I’m relearning material or don’t really find it useful for my classroom, I still take the learning experience as seriously I can. This means, I force myself to attend and try to be the student I’d want sitting in front of me.

However, this is challenging when I don’t find the learning useful or interesting (and I imagine many teacher AND students feel this way too).

Since we’re always talking about the value of voice and choice in the classroom, we must extend this courtesy to professionals as well. Now I understand that there are times where specific issues come up and school mandated learning time but be used for them, but why not at least carve time out during other non-mandatory topic times to allow teachers to have a say?

So here’s what I propose:

  • Figure out the best way to reach your staff (whether by email, paper in mailboxes or at one of these mandated meetings) and directly ask staff for their help.
  • Since we all want professional learning to be more meaningful and all of us are very busy as it isn, consider the best means to gather information - perhaps a short survey on Google forms or Survey Monkey or just a quick exit ticket with a few ideas that align with your school’s mission and teacher needs based on data collected from observations and teacher conversations.
  • In addition to maybe offering five different choices—not just in content, but also in delivery method (I’ll get back to this in a second), allow a space for teachers to add in their own ideas as well. This way next time you survey the group (this will be an on-going process), you can add teacher generated ideas to the list of offerings.
  • Since we are always insisting on differentiating for our students (which of course is best practice), we must model this behavior in professional learning for adults, because it is best practice for all learning. People learn differently, even adults, so we must make sure that how we present new information to our teachers works for them. Making sure any given work session presents material in an easy and clear way that isn’t JUST “sit and get” but rather also invites engagement of participants and interaction and collaboration is important. A variety of short activities, coupled with a focus - a real focus can be very meaningful.
  • Keep sessions to one topic for focus. No one can learn too much at once and the more focused it is, the better they will be able to use what they are learning right away, especially if we model it for them in different ways. Teach them the topic, but show them how and why it is important when you do.
  • Know who you are experts on staff are for help facilitating professional learning. There are many amazing consultants out there, but they cost a lot of money. This isn’t to say for some specific needs, we don’t want to look outside of the building, but it is to say that within ever school, there are many people who possess great talents and they know and understand the population your school works with most. Tap those resources. Colleagues are interested in learning from each other and it goes a long way to build morale for staff to be acknowledged for particular expertise.
  • Always ask for feedback. Since the learning is about and for the teachers, ask them what has worked, what they learned and what they think can be improved. And then, follow up. Make sure you implement suggestions, so they know their voices are being heard. There is NOTHING worse than having someone ask you what you think and then having your thoughts disregarded. Acknowledgement is everything.
  • Follow up. Now I just said this in the previous suggestion, but it’s important enough to bring it up again. Always follow up with teachers (and students) to ensure they got what they needed. This can be done by offering reflection time and then reading what people wrote. We need to look honestly both at what we are providing, but more importantly what people are taking away from each learning experience.

Adults can often be the hardest students to please, ironically. We don’t alway behave the way we’d hope our students would and sometimes teachers and administrators can be the worst offenders. However, if we make the learning personalized and continue to adjust as needed, the flexibility and choice will go a long way.

How can you differentiate learning experiences for adults in your school to ensure their voices are being heard? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.