Required Professional Development, That You Do Not Have to Attend

The Forest for the Trees

The title is a bit misleading, this is about PD, but it mostly about people not actually believing in people.  This post will summarize a solution to a problem I have been struggling with for the last few years. When the solution came to me, my mind began to fill with phrases like:

Many years ago when I was working on my masters, I remember having a very detailed discussion with my professor about motivating teachers to do professional development (PD). Obviously, people can be bought. There is no other way to say that. If you have money and pay people, they will attend PD. Most schools cannot afford this type of model, and many types of PD are required for people to do their jobs well- so schools should not pay people to meet requirements. The other things you can offer teachers is time. Time-off for doing something or a removal of a normal duty.

Not offering people anything is very common. Trying to appeal to people by explaining how important learning X  is, is the strategy most schools employ. The fact is though, doing this does not ensure anyone is learning. It does not mean people will arrive prepared and ready to learn. This strategy cannot predict who will pay attention and who will simply hang-out until the end of the required time.

Your mind is now generating this statement, “But in a few weeks the ones who did not pay attention will have trouble with ‘X’ and the school will know who they are.”  No. That is also not going to happen. The reason being, the school probably setup PD sessions that were overcrowded, on a short time constraint, or both. So those who were sitting in the PD on their Facebook can simple say that there was not enough time for them to ask questions, and they will claim they need to be heavily differentiated.

That was the past. That was the wrong way to do things. This is the correct way. This is the future.

Time is a currency, and for an overworked staff, or a staff that believes they are overworked, time is often worth more than money.

First off, for this to work, the PD needs to be organized. All PD needs to have a lesson plan that links to some type of instructional material and the lesson plan should have learning goals. These goals have to connect to activities that can be measured or monitored.

Sample Partial Lesson Plan

Lesson : Office 365 Calendar

  • All participants will understand the concept of sharing a link vs sending an attachment.
  • All participants will be able to access their web calendar.
  • All participants will be able to add a new event to the calendar and invite people.
  • All participants will be able to view their calendar in weekly, monthly and daily layouts;
    and they will be able to print the calendar if needed.

Activity 2:

Everyone need to create a new event.

They should create a start and stop time during the PD time. We want them to all get a notification before the PD is over. For example: a 4:45 start – 5:00 end

They need to PASTE the link to their shared document in the event body. They need to invite two people to the event.

Once someone receives and invite, they need to accept it. 

Once the lesson plan is complete it needs to be distributed. Yes, email is an option, but using Moodle, iTunes U, Edmodo, etc. would be better. When it is distributed, tutorials need to be include. Tutorials like this:

Do you need PDFs, Videos, Audio, or a celebrity guest to help differentiate the material? No. All you need is a good source that covers all the topics that will help people achieve the goals. Time is important for everyone, including the people running the PD. Powerpoint is probably the worst option though. People who want to do things on their own, want to be able to move around easily and find topics. Unless you are one of those people who use Powerpoint to write small novellas, then your talking points and notes will not be very useful to the audience. If you are one of those people, please stop and seek help. No one can read that much on a Powerpoint slide.

Now that the lesson is made and training materials are connected to the lesson plan, the final step is to contact the audience and include:

1. The goals of the upcoming PD
2. The lesson plan
3. The link to the materials
4. And this sentence: “If you can complete all the goals in the lesson plan, and notify [name/person] when you are complete, you do not need to attend the PD session(s) today. You are free to do whatever you want to do. If you want to help other participants instead of being a participant, let [name/person] know.”

In the lesson sample above, I would have added instructions for people wanting to opt-out to include me on their calendar invites and other sharing activities. This allows me to monitor their progress, and add them to a list of people who do not need to come to the PD session.

This strategy allows me to remove about 20%-30% of the population from the training, and gain some extra help for those people looking for uber-differentiation.
I would call this a win-win. Teachers, even if they hate all PD, will realize they have a choice. Anyone who values their time and has a bit of confidence will be able to take some control of their day and schedule. Those who choose to come to the PD, will be in smaller groups and have more support.

The first time I did this, I had one teacher email me and say, “I have finished. I am helping others in my department so we can all skip the session.” I thought this was amazing. The department did not just walk out early, they all met on their own and worked on their projects. They actually used the time to save time in the future.

For me, there is no turning back. I am going to encourage everyone at school to not go to PD. I am going to focus on making it easier and easier for people to do their own learning. The data collection on who is doing what is easy and includes a record of achievement. I want PD session to be EMPTY!

I firmly believe most people can handle most of the PD topics on their own, at least the ones geared towards the classroom teachers. I also believe paying people with time and control over their schedules will prove this theory to any school who has doubts.

I spent the last few years trying to structure the end-of-day sessions to be more appealing, and to find clever ways to get people to follow-up on training. This approach used more of their time. I was focused so hard on the PD sessions, that I lost the point of the exercise. Learning is the point. Motivating people to learn is what I needed to focus on. Motivation requires most people to perceive some kind of gain. I was only giving them loss. No more.

Tony DePrato

6 thoughts on “Required Professional Development, That You Do Not Have to Attend”

    1. Really well. If people did the Asynchronous work they could leave early. The expectation for knowing it was solidified. I am sure after I left they stopped doing it though. Old traditional ideas, with no measurement, are often hard to persuade.

  1. We just rolled out Engrade to our staff. We had one mandatory training that covered the basics needed to set it up for the teachers. Then two other optional trainings. Out of about 100 teachers only four showed up for the optional training as everything that was covered in those two training sessions was already up on a website full of tutorials. So far, so good.

    Time for us is the problem. Sometimes teachers feel that “mandated” PD is just not very relevant, but given the choice of several or completing some online is a powerful motivator. For me the trick is accountability how can you make sure people are actually following through with this and not just watch YouTube videos all day (I’m not sure what you watch over there Tony since YouTube is blocked) but you get my drift.

    1. I am gonna write about life without Youtube..because I now prefer it.
      I think you have to track by having activities people have to do as soon as they are finished.
      Your record has to be their work.

  2. Another good post!

    I agree with your assertion time is one of the most valuable incentives we can give teachers. When I was teaching a SUNY class, this was the best part of class – uninterrupted, focused time to learn.

    With both teachers and kids, I think one of the key differences between now and 10 years ago is the role of informal learning. I would rather use our face to face time to have substantial discussions, debate, or discuss. The idea of sitting in rows learning what to click on to take attendance makes me shudder. Answers are only a google query away in 2014 (for better and for worse).

    So we are rolling out a new SIS here (Powerschool), and the online training is great; I feel like having a class would be boring and perhaps not a good use of time. But we will hold sessions to answer questions and help those with very different learning needs. We also have jing’s and camtasia for just in time, any-time, any place learning.

    I think the only “gotcha” is assessing for understanding. I am curious to learn what your thoughts are about assessing this style of PD. There is a practical point (if a teacher doesn’t know how to make a calendar event, they will not be able to use the school calendar!). But should we have some kind of assessment, both for the organization (did XYZ complete this PD) but also for the learner (do I understand this?).

    Another great post!

    1. @Assessment – I am having people complete tasks and I check the results. The long term impact will have to wait of course. This could all go bad. But I am going to try it for the next 6 weeks. Most of the topics are easy for about 50% or more of the staff. However, more difficult topics will not work with this method. I am hoping this will give the PD leaders more time for these harder topics.

      I sent you a private email about PS implementation as I too am going through it.

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