When I was about 14 years old, in the late 1970s, my parents opened a small ski shop. As part of the process, they allowed me to become a “certified technician” for the ski bindings. It was a real thing because one needed to be certified to be able to mount and adjust ski bindings for the customers – and I wanted to get that job. This was the coolest job in town for a young teenager.
I studied the materials. Earnestly. I looked at all the pictures and really tried to imagine installing bindings (our equipment hadn’t come in yet; we were ski-less). After about 3 weeks, we went to the Salomon installers test event. I was the youngest in the room, by far. When the scores got totaled, I had not passed. It stung because I really wanted to pass. I was crushed.
The next week, our skis and bindings came in. To make a long story much shorter, I got a chance to touch the equipment, to hear the click of the teeth popping into place, to turn the spring tensioners and feel the bindings tighten up. I had a mentor who showed me how the settings worked, as they related to the skier’s size, skill level, and weight.
Later that season I re-took the Salomon test. Result: 100%. The next year I took the test for Marker bindings. Result: 100%. The following year, I took the test for Look bindings, same result: 100%.
What was the change? I had upskilled myself. Once I had seen the metaphor of the work to be done and had seen the systems in action, I could easily code switch to new brands with a high rate of success.
Have you ever learned something by failing for a bit and then mastering the concept by simply doing it?
Flash forward twenty plus years and I was thinking very much about my skiing origin-story as I designed my first-ever professional development for a group of educators. My goal for them was to gain skills that would not require them memorizing or having binders. I’d serve as their expert leader in a series of small practice events within a single session. The practice items needed to be fun by design and allow the educators to add their own vision and options to their short video projects.
Back in the early 2000s, we didn’t have an option for social media – so I gave everyone my email.
Social Media Support
Those basic elements have been present in all the professional development I’ve lead ever since. Ironically, I had to endure several more years of binder-based PD in my districts where the planned goal was to get us to listen most of the time as trainers shared basic how-to presentations off of overhead projectors or early model, dim video projectors. (Close the curtains, please.)
Here are some of my favorite techniques for leading better professional development.
- Upskilling: My preference is to START PD without explaining the concept of the session at all – but by having my guests do an activity. It can be something small – like a scavenger hunt or any little thing that involves doing the work in at least a small way. This gives them confidence in the subject. When people have confidence, their ability to grow is greatly enhanced. Having educators make and share a short example of their learning is another key goal. Once people have done something, their mind is more likely to engage in permutations. People in PD want skills, not just ideas.
- Passion and options: Give folks a chance to select their sessions. It allows them to gravitate to their interests. While this seems basic – it’s a powerful mindset for educators to be able to select their own work for the day. Also – be aware of grade ranges. K-12 ranged sessions are nearly impossible to design in such a way that folks in the edges of the grade spectrums will be satisfied. Let grade ranges work in their natural groupings.
- Vision: share the why early and often – what if we could make our work more effective AND less work? Educators are not afraid to work hard. But sometimes we work on systems that are antiquated. To get people to let go of their current reality and try for a new one – they need a vision. Good PD inspires; it’s not just a task list or cheat sheet.
- Expert Leader: While the leader needs good technical skills, it’s important that the person sharing the PD has many anecdotal examples when there is doubt in the audience. Classroom leaders deal with incredibly complex local situations in terms of parent expectations, admin expectations and student skills – before they even get into the edtech aspects. When educators ask expert leaders about their concerns with a new lesson idea, the expert leader needs to be able to assuage those concerns gracefully and with confidence.
- Fun: When I teach students a new skill (technological or pedagogical) I always start with something fun that has a low cognitive load. This allows them to learn the new skills more easily – not worrying about the academics as much. An example of this is my take on The Worst Preso Ever lesson. Students watch a short video by a stand-up comedian who details the dozen or so worst things you can do on a presentation slide. Then I have the kids repeat the errors using their own BAD slides. This is usually done the first day of school, a time when a lot of students are shy. Students in The Worst Preso Ever classroom are laughing and carrying on enjoying really bad presentations. We can give adult learners these kinds of options, and the payoff is huge.
- Social Media Support: One of the best things a person leading professional development can do is give their email and social media handles out very overtly. Sometimes a PD leader can accidentally appear to be “out of range” from an audience. If the goal of PD is to truly change practice, building connections and collaboration are critical elements. Here’s why: in a group of a 100 people, only 10-15% of them like new ideas, and around 50-60% of the group will actively reject new ideas.(1) That means for this new idea to take root, the small group of 10-15% needs to be supported and emboldened in order to ensure they will try what they’ve learned. Even if they never contact that leader, they know they can reach out. The success of that early group will determine whether or not the new idea takes hold. Connecting on Twitter, Facebook or Voxer accelerates that process by going public and adding more educators to the mix.
When schools and districts schedule PD for educators, it’s a large investment for their professional team. The amount of time that educators get in these kinds of events is limited, often only one to three days per year. Consider the “ingredients” above to maximize your educational PD investment.
In my final post in this series, I’ll be sharing my favorite examples of effective professional development from CUE and others.
(1) The Secret to Accelerating Diffusion of Innovation: The 16% Rule Explained. (2010). INNOVATE OR DIE. Retrieved 14 September 2017, from https://innovateordie.com.au/2010/05/10/the-secret-to-accelerating-diffusion-of-innovation-the-16-rule-explained/
Jon Corippo is the Interim Executive Director for CUE, leading CUE’s professional learning throughout California and Nevada. Jon keynotes, leads and designs Professional Learning experiences all over the country. Jon’s core PL skills are focused on 1:1 deployment, Common Core, Project Based Learning, social media skills and Lesson Design. Jon is the creator of the CUE Rock Star Camp Series, The CUE Rock Star Admin Camp Series and planner for the CUE Super Symposium and JET Review Program. Under Jon’s Leadership, and with his CUE Professional Learning Team, CUE PL has trained over 32,000 teachers between 2015-2017.