Research tells us that students’ attention spans correlate to their ages, but did you know that this applies to adults as well? In fact, humans have less of an attention span than goldfish. (A human has an average attention span of eight seconds, whereas a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds.) What does this mean? For one, it’s hard to capture someone’s attention. As educators, we know this all too well. But we also know there are tried-and-true tactics we can take to engage and motivate learners—no matter their age.
The same strategies can be applied to professional development. The live, onsite trainings must be welcoming, engaging, and informative from the get-go. As the advanced academic & interventions coordinator for Marshall (TX) Independent School District, I take this into account each time I present to teachers in the district. Located in rural Texas with a diverse student population, our district sees a large influx of fresh-faced teachers coming out of college into the classroom each fall. Though it’s wonderful to have so many young teachers, the first couple of months can be overwhelming. Between mastering new software programs and building out lesson plans, there’s a lot to learn. That’s where professional development (PD) plays a crucial role in helping our new teachers and veterans alike.
1. Lay the groundwork for an “I do/we do/you do” approach
So how do I captivate an audience? I start each of my PD sessions with a welcome, similar to what I do with my students each morning. A simple “hello” can make others feel welcome and comfortable. While teachers come in and get situated, I play classical or instrumental music in the background. After everyone is settled, the rest of my sessions follow an “I do/we do/you do” pattern. For instance, I lead with a 15-minute lesson (“I do”) and describe the topic at hand, what’s new, and so forth. Then, I split the room into groups of three or four for a collaborative piece (“we do”) to encourage small-group discussions. After the session, I follow up with each teacher and talk about their own personal data or conference one-on-one with them before releasing them back into their classrooms to implement what they’ve learned (“you do”). This makes the sessions more personalized for each teacher.