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What We Think We Know

Half of my job revolves around conducting professional development for teachers. My colleagues and I have done our best to offer quality sessions that are customized to meet the needs of our audiences. And since many of us have worked together for 7 or more years, we have developed a good rapport and ease in doing this. One thing we sometimes have to come back to when planning our professional development sessions is we often have fostered bias based on what we think we know, how we were taught, what we think teachers need, what some teachers have told us they need as an individual, or what we get funding to do. While we could discuss the merit and perils to each of biases, that is not where I want to take you in this post. Instead I'd like to share some of the things we think we have learned from carefully refining our process, removing these biases, and get feedback from those of you in the trenches.

#1- Free does not automatically elicit attendance
While many teachers have limited budgets and schools that do not pay for professional development, free does not always mean your enrollment will be full and everyone in a tri-state area will be begging to attend. We've found that requiring a small registration fee commits teachers to coming and many are willing to pay minimal charges even if their school will not. Signing up for a free workshop requires no commitment on the teachers' parts, and they often find other commitments to take precedent.

#2- Customizing a workshop to MOST of the teachers' needs is really not that difficult.
Doing a quick demographic check of your audience at the beginning of a workshop can go a long way. Giving teachers a chance to tell you who they are and what they hope to get out of the professional development will help you tailor your workshop. This may seem difficult on the fly and you may think you have to revise your entire content, but this is not true. All that really is needed is a tad bit of creativity to make those connections from what the teachers mention they would like to see to how your planned content can meet that need.

#3- Timing is Key
I've seen way too many workshops that take on the if you build it, they will come mentality. This simply is not true. You need to be attuned to the best time to offer professional development workshops. There are so many considerations when choosing a timeframe. Summer seems like a great time but there are SO many offerings for teachers to choose from and some required by their school districts, so you may not be able to get a robust group at the workshop if ill-timed. Additionally, trying to offer a workshop right at the beginning or close of a school year, or during state testing will most likely result in very low attendance. Knowing your audience and keeping up with typical school schedules will help you choose just the right time for a workshop.

I'd love to hear tips others have learned or your feedback on the three offered above!

Mindy Hart
At- Large Representative


#1) Very true. In fact, it has been my experience that teachers will not attend unless paid to. Sad but an honest reality.

#2) Knowing your audience is very important. In fact, I'd go one step further and leave enough time for teachers to practice what they've learned by integrating into an existing lesson plan or unit while in class. That way they have something tangible to take back with them.

Great article. Looking forward to reading more.

I've been to a workshop before that required us to pay a small fee (maybe $50). Upon completion of the workshop, we were returned our checks. The workshop ended up being free, but I would imagine that some people would not be so eager to skip if they were going to lose $50. Just a thought.

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