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People learn from people — that’s why your instructors have to be as compelling as your content

By now, if the phrases, “sit and get” or “sage on the stage” don’t make you want to grab your hair and pull, you clearly haven’t spent enough time sourcing K-12 professional learning. 

Passive, talking-head professional development has always been exceptionally good at one thing: producing collective snores from teachers and staff.

Across the board, almost everyone agrees that the quality of K-12 professional learning in schools needs to improve — big time. The pedagogy is critical. But more (or better) research by itself isn’t going to illuminate everyone’s proverbial lightbulb.

By narrowing your focus, you’ll find stronger programs and keep your team focused on the things that matter.

By and large, your teachers and staff are experienced operators. Academic citations are useful references for these trained professionals, but most educators are going to validate the quality of their professional learning experience based on how the content (and by extension, the lesson) makes them feel — and whether the concepts discussed will work according to two critical evaluation points: 

(1) Their overall professional experience and 

(2) Their unique community circumstances 

To identify compelling content, ask yourself, who is the best person in the country doing this work right now? Have you seen them speak at a conference you attended? Do they do that sort of thing? More important is their message delivered in a way that inspires educators to take risks and try new things? Is the thought leader or provider offering some sort of framework that can be both understood and practically applied in schools?

Indulge the ‘rockstar moment’

If the instructor has written a book, or performed a TedTalk, use that bit of celebrity to your advantage. After the course concludes, consider inviting the instructor, either virtually or in-person, to spend the day with your team. Rather than working through specific lessons, or lectures, you might ask the instructor to spend that time more intimately — sharing stories, signing books and/or breaking into small groups to answer questions and do problems of practice. Teachers and staff don’t just want access to content. They want to connect and be inspired by people.

The question shouldn’t be is your PD grounded in effective research? That should be a prerequisite to any program. Instead, ask yourself, who can I get to deliver this message that my team will engage with so deeply that we bring them back again next year?

Of course, the topic matters too. 

If you’ve ever looked for K-12 PD for your team, you know there are no shortage of topics from which to choose. Your job isn’t to find something for everyone. Rather, focus on the four to six topics that are most timely, or that stand to have the greatest impact on your strategic goals.

Topics like equity, accelerated learning, social-emotional learning and family engagement are especially hot. If you find yourself pondering a laundry list of options, consider honing your focus to go deep on the issues or topics driving key strategic reforms in your schools. By narrowing your lens, you’ll identify stronger, more substantial learning opportunities and keep your team focused on the things that matter. 

Want more practical ideas about how to create a more compelling professional learning experience for your team? Don’t forget to download our Ultimate Guide to K-12 PD featuring 7 ways professional learning is broken and how to fix it.

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