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Creating Effective PD

Today is a Professional Development (PD) Day for my school board. This PD morning's session, titled "Human Rights and Learning Conditions" did a great job introducing staff to human rights, protected classes, micro-aggressions and other forms of violence. And honestly, the session was well-crafted for those who are beginners in learning about this. It was engaging, encouraged reflection, and was supported by excellent videos (like this one). However, the session didn't take into account that many educators, like myself, already know the basics. What can we do to ensure that PD workshops are meeting educators where they're at and helping all to learn, grow, and develop?

As I mentioned, this session was truly excellent for beginners in equity learning. I will not be challenging directly what it was doing, rather I will be suggesting ways we can create PD workshops and sessions that are tailored more closely to the needs of all educators, not just those who are new - or new-ish - to the topic being explored. I've identified three strategies that I find help to build effective and engaging PD.

Strategy #1: Stay Local

In completing various PD sessions, I've definitely noticed that when PD is created and hosted by staff from my school, rather than a board-wide webinar, it is more engaging and helpful. That way, the session can be more relevant to your student population, grade level/course-offerings, and teacher demographics/skills. Locally-created PD can reflect more directly the experiences in your school community and its needs, which increases engagement through relevance and develops targeted knowledge, skills, and supports for your school. Department and grade-level PD can also be of benefit to discuss challenges and needs specific to those classes at your school. Teaching upper elementary? It might be of benefit to discuss the unique challenges brought on by the onset of puberty in grade 5 and 6 students. Teaching history? A workshop on using equitable primary sources might be of benefit. Teaching math? Maybe try a workshop on integrating Indigenous knowledge into math.

Strategy #2: Differentiate

When creating PD, too often it is taught to either beginners in the area or the middle-of-the-road. Just like we all practice in our classrooms, we should practice differentiation in Professional Development workshops. When I was in university, I co-created and presented a couple different equity-based PD sessions to my fellow residence staff. To adapt to our colleagues' differing levels of knowledge/skill, we always provided extension questions for discussion/reflection so that people could choose to discuss higher-level questions if it matched their learning. In one workshop, we even allowed people to self-identify their comfort level (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and tailored the activities, readings, and discussions to those different levels. This kept engagement levels high and ensured that everyone was able to learn something new in the session! Similar principles could be used in school PD sessions for teachers.

Strategy #3: Stay Small and Connected

Finally, when creating PD, I believe that it is important to keep groups relatively small and allow time and space for discussion (consider using breakout rooms if working virtually). Smaller groups, in my experience, are more likely to foster good discussions as people feel more comfortable sharing and can learn from each other. When groups get too big, it can stunt discussion as some may feel uncomfortable sharing, while others may never get the turn to share due to time constraints.

💬What strategies have you found effective in PD? What changes would you make to PD sessions to promote further learning? Comment below!


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