Inspired Ideas
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Inspired Ideas

How School Leaders Can (and Should) Personalize Teacher Professional Development

Advice from a Former Teacher and Adult Educator

As we go through life, we never recognize what life is teaching until afterward. Experience is the best teacher, right? Well, when I was teaching, I never realized the importance of the lessons I was learning along my journey. I taught at my old high school, all four grades, and all sorts of different subjects. It was a small, private school, and whenever people ask which subject I taught, I tell them “Whatever could make me a full-time employee.” Regardless of the topic, I always just considered myself a teacher. Making connections with learners is what I wanted to do and, lucky for me, I had a bunch of different ways to try to do it. Also lucky for me, my experiences would prepare me for my career working with adult learners.

After I left education I moved into a training role for a software company, where I had to transition from teaching teenagers to teaching adult learners — some of whom had already been in the field for decades!

But I was a teacher, and teachers teach.

I took the time to define who my learners were, understand their perspectives, and pay close attention to their background knowledge. But this was no easy feat — my learners had a wide variety of experiences. It was hard work.

Thinking back to my fellow teachers, they were equally unpredictable. My school was tiny, and still, we had men and women with military backgrounds, career teachers, people new to the profession coming from the private industry, brand new teachers fresh out of college, teachers who taught me when I was in school years prior, and teachers who taught my mother when she was in school many years prior. In the classroom, we flex to the needs of our students. When preparing to instruct teachers, you need to do the same thing.

Preparing for adult learners with this much variety means you need to take a few things into account:

Make Content Relatable

From the outset, you need to make the content relatable and show that it’s important. Your audience may seem to have nothing in common with one another, but there is one glaring exception — they’re all teachers! You can keep your teachers interested by referencing your own time in the classroom.

Deputize

You may not have all the experiences needed to relate to the current classroom, but I promise you there are loads of teachers within your district who would love to help you by sharing their experiences. You can’t make content relevant for teachers without getting input from teachers, so I encourage you to lean on those who are in the field. We know incredible things happen in the classroom every day — funny things, sad things, inspiring things, creative things. Let’s hear about those things! When your teachers have the chance to relate to their peers you will have their attention.

Prepare for Disruption

Once you have their attention, it’s important not to lose it to unavoidable distractions. For in-person training, my team found that it was best to have the trainer in the front of the room for the actual teaching and a secondary trainer available in the back of the room to handle quick questions and technical support. You can have a second person on the line for virtual sessions, too! Having a secondary trainer along for the ride allowed us to meet the needs of our attendees without having to disrupt the flow of the program. Don’t let a laptop’s refusal to connect to the internet or Zoom audio feedback derail an audience’s focus.

Follow Up

So you had relatable content, you got some peers involved, and you avoided technical distractions. Whether in-person or virtual, that sounds like a successful program, but what happens next? I have always heard that the average learner only remembers a small amount from training. Simply put, no learners can recall everything, and it’s impossible to know which parts different teachers will remember. When I was teaching, every quarter when it came time to finalize grades, the head of guidance would put very detailed, step-by-step, printed-out instructions with screenshots into every teacher’s mailbox. I remember asking why and he explained that the teachers only do that process once every two and a half months and some of them were not very technical. He wanted to give teachers every resource to make sure grades could be submitted on time. That recognition stuck with me. Never assume anything, and you need to do whatever you can to keep the conversation going.

Create a Community

Encourage more deputies to share their experiences beyond any training session. Set up an email chain, ask them to share video testimonials, and offer them prizes. The goal is to keep content relevant long after it was delivered. If you were able to hold attention during an initial session or when you sent your first email, that’s fantastic. But just like in the classroom, different learners need different reinforcement techniques to remind them how something works.

Share Stories

If you’re trying to get buy-in on any techniques or instructional tools from a broad range of learners, you need to use a variety of tactics. Give data on why it works, give printouts showing how it works, email both, and then send out supplemental training resources. Have weekly tips planned, but try and get the teachers to steer the ship themselves. You don’t need to do much telling if your deputies are able to show how they’re getting results.

Source Feedback

Want to know how well things are working in the classroom? The best way to find out is by simply asking. Ask your teachers to fill out a survey. If you can, make it anonymous. Every piece of feedback you get is important, even the less than positive ones. Do you know how many surveys about a program I’ve seen where the focus of the response was about lunch? A ridiculous amount. But if that feedback was important enough for someone to include, it’s important enough to be considered. Use survey responses to move forward more than to look back.

It’s essential to take methods and ideas that work in the classroom and expand on them whenever you’re trying to reach adult learners. If you want to reach a diverse set of learners, you need to have a diverse set of teachers to differentiate content for them. How do you reach that diverse set of teachers? Follow the same logic and differentiate for them. Give teachers something that makes them excited to show their students and you will be thrilled with the results. We’re all in the business of trying to help the kids, and adults are just grown-up kids after all.

Steve Loori is the Manager of Integration Operations for McGraw Hill. Over the past decade, Steve’s experiences have stretched from high school teacher and coach to technical product trainer and into customer support and integrations leadership. Outside of Zoom meetings and Excel sheets, Steve is an avid movie and television watcher and a generally exhausted Peloton rider who enjoys spending time with his wife, two sons, and dog at home on the Jersey Shore.

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McGraw Hill

Helping educators and students find their path to what’s possible. No matter where the starting point may be.