Saturday, January 31, 2015

How Do You Know Your Professional Development Was Good?

At my school, we dismiss students early one Wednesday each month so we can spend the afternoon as a faculty immersed in professional growth activities. After our last professional development early dismissal day, I had the following conversation with my freshman son.

Son: How were your meetings today?
Me: Actually, we didn't do meetings.
Son: I thought we got out early so you could have meetings.
Me: No, we did professional development sessions.
Son: Well, were they good?
Me: Actually, yes, they were really good today. Thanks for asking.
Son: How do you know they were good?

How wise is my adolescent son? He asked the million dollar question. How did I know the professional development we just finished was good? I went on to explain that I knew the professional development was meaningful in basically the same ways I know when good things are happening during classroom visits.

Here's how I knew the professional development sessions were good:
1. Learner engagement. The learners spent their time engaged. They collaborated and discussed in small groups. They collaborated and discussed in a whole group setting. They asked one another questions. They asked the lead learner questions. They challenged one another. They remained focused and on task but energetic the entire time. Their conversation, their participation, their body language and their energy all said they were engaged.
2. Learner-centered activities. The lead learner served as facilitator only. The lead learner did not wax poetic or lecture, but rather directed the learners through meaningful activities. The lead learner avoided becoming the center of attention and focused the attention instead on the learners.
3. No lull in learning. The energy level remained high throughout. Conversation and collaboration continued even beyond the allotted time for each activity. The learners really wanted the learning to keep going.
4. Post-learning conversation. The learners continued conversation about the day's topics even after the session concluded. Learners remained in the classroom casually discussing the topic. Learners walked in pairs and small groups down the hall still engaged in conversation from the learning activities. The learning and sharing extended beyond the physical space of the classroom and beyond the time allotted for the activities.
5. Learner feedback. After the learning activities, learners provided meaningful and honest feedback (some solicited and some unsolicited) about how much they learned, how effective the sessions were, how they might make adjustments the next time, and what the takeaways were. The feedback validated conclusions drawn through observation.

The brief list of ways I knew the professional developments sessions were good mirrors a list anyone in educational leadership can use to know whether learning activities have meaning and value. After all, learning activities for adult learners should be just as meaningful and intentionally designed as learning activities for kids. Likewise, just as we want to determine whether classroom activities for students have meaning and value, we should assess learning activities for adult learners in much the same way.

Consider the 14-year-old's million dollar question: "How do you know your professional development was good?"

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