What does quality professional development look like? Take a moment to reflect back to a workshop that has had a lasting effect on you. Now ask yourself why. Was it the content, the presenter, or a combination of many elements? To be effective leaders and trainers, it's important to identify these elements so we can best engage participants during our own workshops. As a teacher, and now as a provider of instructional technology professional development, I find that using five simple strategies can guide educators toward providing the most effective PD.
Know your audience.
Before your presentation, do a little research to find out who will be at your session. For example, if you have a group of third-grade teachers, make sure you're well-versed in their curricula. If your educational technology doesn't match their lessons and units, then your clever technology integration ideas may be for naught. Also, be aware of basic information such as which platform your audience uses (e.g., Google, Microsoft, iOS, Android, and so on) so you can angle your course toward your attendees' needs.
Explain the "why."
Oftentimes, presenters will simply demonstrate how to use a tool or create within a tool without explicitly addressing why the tool should be adopted. Although presenters should explain the benefits of using digital technology to everyone, teachers in particular may be hesitant to try something new. Explaining how an idea or tool helps students is a powerful motivator, I have found. Then when everyone is on board, I proceed to integrating the tool into the curriculum or lesson.
Do you generally group participants using a certain method? Have you experienced a workshop in which you were forced to work with an unfamiliar or ill-matched group? Asking or requiring participants to work with an unfamiliar group or a group that may not share their experience or expertise may create a barrier to learning. If participants aren't given the convenience and comfort of working with grade- or content-level peers, they may not be wholly engaged in the workshop. By simply allowing them a choice when they're working in groups, a presenter can create a more engaging and comfortable learning environment for all participants.
Is your audience spending the majority of its time listening to or watching you? Are they being shown a video? Although traditional media and lectures are components of almost every presentation, it's important to build interactivity into your session. For example, using a cell phone and Poll Everywhere can quickly boost excitement and engagement while providing you with formative assessment data. Do you have a Google Slides presentation? Share it with your audience and plan participation pauses during which your group can answer questions, create comments, and leave feedback.
We saved the most important tip for last. Speak to your participants in understandable language. When a session leader uses unfamiliar tech jargon, for example, there's a good chance some participants will be lost. Actively listen to what people have to say and try to relate it to what's being presented. There's nothing worse than presenters so wrapped up in their content that they aren't gleaning valuable feedback from participants. So relax, incorporate some humor, and create an atmosphere that allows your audience to do the same.