One thing I have learned over the years about presenting professional development to school staff is that it works so much better if you know your audience. Just like with a classroom, staff members are not one size fits all, and what works for one school or district won’t necessarily work for another.
When I first began working in instructional technology as a technology integration specialist in West Virginia, I did what any newbie does – offered all professional development training after school. I was a bit restricted in this fashion, as any PD given in the district had to be approved by someone at central office first. It was a hindrance, and I actually ended up offering less professional development because of it. The approval process made it seem as though we could not be trusted to design training for staff that would be beneficial without this approval.
All of the sessions I offered were after school. I usually picked a general topic, and created something we could all do, whether it worked best for everyone or not. Rookie mistake. Professional development in the district was not as successful as it could be. Session attendance was low, and with the schools in the county so spread out, it was hard to have a location where people could easily attend. I chalk it all up as a learning process.
When I moved to Virginia, I became an instructional technology resource teacher, or ITRT. I was assigned to work in both a middle school and high school, so my time was split. I continued my rookie mistake in my first year. Nobody’s perfect, right? It was during this time that I began researching more into professional development and how to make it work best for my staff.
Most of my research led me to developing potential ideas and programs. I decided that I would not offered after school professional development unless absolutely necessary. It was not successful, and since it was the end of the day, most folks were brain exhausted. I also had those who had other after school obligations, so they were never able to attend, even if they wanted to do so.
This year I have focused mostly on 1:1 professional development, and letting staff know what’s out there. If I need to offer professional development to groups of staff, I will do rolling sessions during the day so that staff can attend when it works for them on their schedule. I have found that I can be much more personalized, and I also know my staff better.
When offering 1:1 professional development, called Tech Bytes, I usually select 3-4 options for the month. Staff are aware that they are not limited to these options, but these are the featured ones. These featured options usually come from my Fluco Toolbox posts on this site, as a result of staff saying they don’t always know what’s out there. Staff sign up to attend during their planning periods, and we work out a time that’s best for them. I usually have some idea of their technology abilities, so I can already begin tailoring how to pace my lesson for them.
When it comes to group sessions, these can be trickier. I usually block off the entire day to focus on these, and do rolling sessions for staff so that they can attend when it’s convenient to them. I have gotten remarks from some (not the staff I teach) that it’s a bit inconvenient to do in terms of spending a whole day for just a small group. I don’t feel that it’s inconvenient to me, as I just set up camp in the room I’m using and work on my other stuff in between. Sure, I repeat my presentation multiple times, but my goal is to be flexible for my staff so that they want to attend. It is not about my discomfort, or how it might inconvenience me. It’s about making it work for my audience.
I know my high school audience. These staff members already work from 8 until 4 PM each day. Even though it’s the same as any other school day, doing something after school lets out just seems like too much. As a whole, my staff won’t attend these sessions. They’ve already had a full day of kids, and anything more is a bit too much to handle, mentally. They like the freedom to schedule when they like, and with just me if they prefer.
I actually really love the 1:1 trainings because I get to really focus on the staff member and their needs. It allows me to build a better relationship with them as well. This in turn makes them more open to the group sessions because they already know what to expect of me and my teaching. I’ve gotten to work with a wider variety of staff because of this, and I plan to continue this next year.
No matter what district or school you are in, learn your audience. Learn about their needs and their wants. This may take some time, and some mistakes to get it right. If you have a gut feeling about something that will work best for your staff, then give it a try. Don’t let someone deter you from that. If something doesn’t work, head back to the drawing board, and try again. It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to stop giving professional development.