A popular saying reminds us about the value of collaboration and cooperation when realizing meaningful, sustained goals. It states, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” The most common iteration of this sentiment in education is through some form of professional development. Your organization is uniquely positioned to partner in any of these phases: goal articulation, plan development, implementation of professional development, and follow-up or continued support. This article focuses on the third step, the implementation of professional development, to solidify relationships with schools and districts for years to come.
The term (professional development) itself is problematic. So, before engaging with schools as a partner in this activity, be sure you know what they mean. You can also guide the conversation as you decide what is possible.
In my experience, professional development has been used to mean any combination of the types below.
1. Technical training: Learning to use a new tool, program, etc.
2. Required training: Information necessary for your work.
3. Disciplinary expertise: Related to teaching and the content you teach.
4. Creative innovation: Experiences devoted to the development of new items.
5. Inspirational: A keynote speaker or motivating panel.
There are most likely other categories of professional development.
Thinking about your organization’s practices, what would you add to this list?
Discussions and decisions on the format and duration of professional development experiences are equally important. For example, knowing the desired outcomes and delivery of the experience – in person, virtual, or hybrid – are needed so that the event or events can be fleshed out. However, some components transcend outcomes and format and should be built into the event regardless of those decisions. Think of these components as the “infrastructure” your event is built around.
1. Greeting: Introductions and a team-building event or icebreaker are essential to the flow of the event.
2. Announcements: Be clear on the format and agenda of the event. Address the “Why” of the professional development. This is also time to make connections to any pre-work or questions that happened.
3. Choice: Be intentional about what is required for all participants and where choice can be used to augment relevance and engagement.
4. Affirmation: Acknowledge and emphasize the positive work done by participants. Specific examples are excellent, as is expressing your gratitude and excitement.
5. Reflection and Feedback: Ending abruptly should be avoided. Instead, build in time for individual or group discussions on what was done, a question and answer segment, and an opportunity for participants to give feedback on the experience.
A final note on professional development “infrastructure” is the value of knowing your audience. Connecting with participants beforehand with a short email that provides logistical information and helps establish the day’s culture. This contact is also a chance to give pre-materials, identify diet needs if food is served, and take any questions on the event.
Returning to the opening of this article, the premise focused on the collaborative opportunities of professional development. Unfortunately, as I think about my experiences with vendors and contractors, this partnership aspect is often the least fleshed out. Typically, the contract comes with an agreed-upon number of hours of professional development framed to support the implementation of the resources.
Reviewing the two lists above, much more could be discussed and planned with the district during the contract development. Although not doing this can be understood as a way to save on human and fiscal resources, not having a defined partnership can nurture frustration in your organization. This feeling may linger until the moment of the subsequent contract signing. Alternatively, seizing the opportunity to be an enthusiastic partner in professional development creates a collection of desired qualities like trust, reliability, excitement, and confidence in your organization. These feelings are priceless.
Written By: Craig Perrier
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