Joe Dixon, chief learning officer at Teq, shares 5 innovative ways to make professional development interactive.

professional-developmentTeachers operate in complex and lively environments where success depends on their ability to be creative and flexible. As a result, sustainable and meaningful professional development (PD) needs to move beyond traditional information and planning sessions, to more of a project development and embedded model.

This updated model requires ongoing collaboration and communication among educators, community members, caregivers, and students. The most meaningful PD is continuous, on-demand, and social, while providing for unique classroom situations, individual teaching styles and various comfort levels with technology and new techniques.

How to keep PD engaging

When done well, professional development challenges teachers with innovative possibilities, increases their skills and fosters ongoing conversation and collaboration.

(Next page: 5 ways to keep PD engaging)

1: Start with the end in mind: Professional development for the sake of professional development does little but waste the time and energy of teachers. Instead, encourage instructional leaders to define the goals for their unique learning community (e.g. provide quality reading instruction to improve student achievement or create a SOLE [self-organized learning environment] with three schools using the following big question: “Will robots be conscious one day?”).

Simultaneously, survey teachers to discover what each already knows and would like to accomplish. Once armed with this knowledge, it will be easier to plan embedded PD experiences that help your team achieve their goals. Having a clear understanding of the desired outcome is liberating and allows for true differentiation of instruction for each teacher.

2: Connect and share: When conducting PD, the more intense the connection, the more effective the individual will be. In Edward Hallowell’s book, Shine: Using Brain Science to get the Best from Your People, he writes about the importance of “Selection, Connection, Play, and one’s ability to Grapple and Grow.” Dr. Hallowell defines connection as, “the bond an individual feels with another person, group, task, idea . . . or anything else that stirs feelings of attachment, inspiration, or a willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of the connection.” As educators we intuitively understand the importance of connection and desire it in our interactions with our students and our peers.

Therefore, we must create the opportunity for connection and personalization in the professional development experiences we create. Build opportunities for educators to connect with each other and the topics being addressed. If teachers connect to the experience, they will continue to collaborate beyond the experience.

There is an amazing array of free social learning platforms available to educators. Platforms like Edmodo, Google plus, LearnZillion, Teq Online PD, and Twitter can create tremendous opportunity for teachers to collaborate with teachers and other professionals around the world.

At Teq, all of our PD is specifically designed as blended learning experiences where educators are engaged and able to access specialists, colleagues, tools and materials anytime. This interaction keeps experiences fresh and fun, and retention is improved as teachers learn by practicing the skills both in and out of the classroom.

3: For goodness’ sake, have a good time: Again, let’s turn to Dr. Hallowell, who defines play as, “any activity that engages the imagination.” Dr. Hallowell goes on to explain that imaginative engagement and play are synonymous and that play is what allows us to dream up novel approaches, fresh plans and creative solutions to unsolved problems.

So, make PD fun and actionable by having teachers work together to create things they can actually take back to use in their classrooms and share. Allow teachers to develop useable lessons, ideas and materials based on what they’re learning, so they can apply them to the specific curricula or topics they’re teaching.

Ask educators to bring their stories about students, successes, and concepts they’re currently teaching and insert new technology and approaches where appropriate. Professional development is most effective when teachers walk away with tools, lessons and collaborators they can use right away.

(Next page: Ideas 4 & 5)

4: Build a culture of risk-taking: Once educators are connected and practicing their craft they will be much more likely to take chances; however, this takes time and confidence. Remember, meaningful PD must be continuous, on-demand and social. Imagine being able to invite a trusted colleague into your classroom to watch your instruction, or better yet, to watch them teach to your students. Well, that is the idea behind embedded professional development and it helps to accelerate this process.

Teachers, and all people for that matter, are more likely to experiment when they are supported and receive immediate feedback from people they trust. The internet now makes it possible for educators to share their practice with each other and receive instant feedback.

At Teq, embedded PD takes many forms, in person/classroom both physically and virtually, as well as synchronous and asynchronous dialogue around recorded lessons. You can do this too; simply start small and you will be amazed how quickly your network will grow.

5: Build in follow-up: Finally, just as students require repeated review and testing to ensure key concepts have been grasped, professional development can’t be a one-time happening that’s then set aside until it’s time for the next in-service.

Teachers should to have the ability to go back and revisit PD tools and information, as well as ask clarifying questions once they’ve had the opportunity to use new skills or tools in the classroom. Providing deliberate follow-up reinforces new materials and also shows which development activities are yielding the most real-world value and results over time.

These key ideas open the door to a PD program that empowers teachers and has lasting impact. Not only can professional development created this way be engaging, valuable, and a reinvigorating experience that educators look forward to, it can also be an effective tool for transforming the culture and performance of a school.

Joe Dixon is Chief Learning Officer at Teq.