How do you create a compelling professional development session?

By Steve Zuieback · Posted Friday, October 26, 2012

I frequently work with professional colleagues engaged in the education sector who are frustrated that people attending their professional development seminars grudgingly show up because they were forced to attend.  My colleagues frequently ask, “How do you create professional development (PD) opportunities that people want to attend?” My answer is that you need to reframe what we typically mean by professional development sessions.

7 tips on how to reframe PD

I once was asked to facilitate a planning session for San Francisco City Unified School District. The purpose of the session was to completely redesign their professional development programs based on the best research available in the field. Top PD experts were the participants in the planning session. Their work and my experience confirm the following pointers:

1.    Professional development is not limited to teaching.

Most people think about professional development as training sessions. Whereas this can be useful, the most powerful PD is about creating experiences – experiences that are directly linked to the desired participant outcomes. In most of my sessions with educators, they enjoy the team conversations the best, much more than the didactic. The didactic should be used to set context with the learners making the meaning.

2.    Everyone is honored.

Everyone should be honored for what they know and for what they bring to the development process. Sessions ideally should be designed so that people feel smart and simultaneously stretch themselves to become better.

3.    Equal playing field.

This means that the presenter, participants and formal leaders need to be equals in the learning process. Too often leaders are not present in the sessions and presenters are seen as the experts and separate from the learners.

4.    Relevant and Differentiated.

The curriculum, outcomes and process should be designed around the needs of the learners not the conveners. It must be relevant to the application, technology, culture and to the times. It also must be relevant and within context of all the priority work of an organization – it must be clear to the learners how the development process fits in and supports the organizational priorities.

Training programs shouldn’t be like “sheep-dipping” where one treatment is best for the whole flock. This means the design must take into account different strategies and components for people with different needs and levels of experience.  Ideally participants would find immediate hands-on application to their work and life situations.

5.    Ongoing Coaching Support

Most professional development programs have minimal efficacy. Bruce and Showers work in the 60’s demonstrated the need for ongoing support and coaching around real-world implementation. Without this step the best that could be hoped for is about a 45% transfer to the desired application. With ongoing coaching in the workplace, transfer of training rises to about 85%.

6.    Learning about self

Training needs to be engaging and exciting. Just about the easiest way to do this is to design the training with multiple ways in which people learn about themselves. This can be done through inventories, questionnaires, feedback and through conversation processes.

Professional development should always provide direct opportunities for knowledge and professional development and personal growth.

7.    Relationship-based and inquiry-based

A primary role of professional development should be about connections – connections among people, programs, plans and providers. As humans, most of us thrive on our connections and this can be an optimal outcome through professional development.

In addition, professional development is almost always enhanced through an inquiry model rather than a purely didactic model. Deeper learning and connections will result through inquiry and the learning will “stick” when it is connected to experiences.







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