6 Tips for Creating Engaging Professional Development for Educators

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

6 Tips for Creating Engaging Professional Development for EducatorsAs a consultant, I’m often asked how I got into my line of work. I have to say, none of my consulting work was planned—it was more serendipitous. I started as a classroom teacher with a background in theater. I would use my theater training with my students to engage them, prompt them to think differently, and encourage them to be willing and okay with making mistakes. One year, I was offered the opportunity to work as a curriculum coordinator for the school I was teaching in, which would allow me to expand my knowledge of curriculum design and challenge me to assist in the professional development of my colleagues.

It’s not easy to move from being a newer teacher, relying on the experiences of fellow teachers, to becoming the one who guides learning for staff. And I quickly realized that my colleagues need the same learning practices I employed with my students. In that position, I gained the knowledge and experience to spread the message of Great Teaching. From that position, I started offering sessions at local, then state, then national and even international conferences, which propelled me to working with schools and teachers around the world.

Here are six tips I’ve learned along the way for working and learning with adults.

1. Learning happens best when we are interested!

During my workshops and presentations, I try hard to get my audience interested in what I’m presenting. I either give them a query to ponder or an example of how I’ve encountered similar hurdles when I was teaching. Educators want to know that you know what they are experiencing in the classroom. Real examples, with names, context, and elaboration, pulls the learner into what you are trying to share.

2. Go from theory to practice.

Caution: Not too much theory and a lot of practice! All practices in the classroom should have an evidence-based grounding. This does not mean that there needs to be reams of research. It means that there needs to be support, either quantitative (numbered research) or qualitative (you have seen it work in practice). When we don’t have this foundation, we may be misleading the learners or doing a lot of fluff-n-stuff. It is important that we stay abreast of quality research and practices.

3. Examples, examples, examples.

There is nothing worse than sitting through a professional development session and either leaving with nothing or leaving without examples of how to apply what was taught. I never claim to be an expert in content areas—however, I have many friends and colleagues who are experts in many content areas. If I can’t create examples in multiple content areas, I seek out friends and colleagues who can and ask them to make examples for me to share. Make sure to always give credit (citations) to those who have created the example.

4. Know your audience.

I typically will do a short warm-up activity or icebreaker at the beginning of my session to get a feel for who is in my audience (grade levels, content areas, roles in the building, years teaching, etc.). Keep in mind, some people HATE icebreakers, so keep them short and to the point. Ahead of a session, I ask the school I will be presenting at to provide me a list of who will be attending. This way I don’t have to dig too deep at the beginning of the session.

5. Engage with humor.

You don’t have to be Jerry Seinfeld or Wanda Sykes to be a good presenter, but it is really helpful if you can make your audience laugh with you. As classroom teachers, we all have funny stories to tell about our students. Change the names of the kids and share away. I also lightly make fun of myself, so others feel comfortable making mistakes.

6. Time is critical.

Begin your workshops on time, give breaks when needed, break for lunch on time, and—most importantly—END ON TIME. We adhere to a schedule dutifully throughout the school day. If your professional development session starts late, goes without breaks, makes teachers miss lunch time, and runs long, you will turn your learners off from your ideas.

Teachers are not private contractors. We all have some amazing ideas to share with each other. I hope these tips will be helpful for you as you share the good work you do in your classroom every day. If you have additional tips or advice, please post them in the response space below.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

Differentiation For Gifted Learners

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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