Keeping It Practical, Yet Professional

by Bethany Clark

I recently attended a mentor training program on how to mentor and assist first year teachers. These teachers could be just out of college, ready to start their career, or they could be transferring from a completely different career into teaching. Whatever the situation, first year teachers are going to need some help. What exactly do they need? Pie in the sky? Things that are ideal, but not realistic? No, they need practical, concrete examples for how to better their everyday teaching. Let’s think about how that differs for veteran teachers. Do WE want pie in the sky? Unrealistic expectations? No, we want the same thing – practical ways to help us improve our teaching. And how can that be done? Here are a few simple ways to keep teachers’ interest when conducting professional development workshops and conferences.

  • Keep it simple and get to the point. No teacher wants to spend a full day at a workshop when it could have been completed in two hours. Find speakers who don’t care about “listening to themselves talk.” We get enough of that.
  • Give them something they can walk out and use today. If it takes three separate steps to get to be able to use one tool that may or may not be useful in their classroom, teachers aren’t going to follow through. They don’t have time. If it’s a website and they need to sign up, allow them time to sign up during the conference! Yes, that may take a few extra minutes, but then they already have what they need! Or, if problems arise, they can ask you for help!
  • Think of things you’d enjoy and deliver that same content. If you would be bored to death during your presentation, why would you think your listeners are intrigued? They’re not! Make it something exciting and practical (Think: How to save teachers time grading, contacting parents, disciplining students). All teachers are looking for ways to shorten time at work so they can spend time with their families.
  • Ask for feedback at the end of the workshop. Ask them what they would want to hear about in future conferences. Give them choices. At this point, their brains are fried and they can’t think of anything. Possible choices may include: Canvas (or another technology program they are required to use), Tips for dealing with Classroom Management, Activities that keep students’ interests, etc. Have a written (or online) way to collect this feedback. Verbal feedback will be forgotten.
  • Take into account what feedback they give at the end of your workshop and DO IT for your next workshop. Saying “We ask for feedback from all our teachers,” but never changing anything is not listening. It’s checking off a box to say you “asked for feedback”. Give teachers what they want – it makes them happier and they are more likely to stay in the profession.

Hopefully, these tips can help you the next time you give a presentation. Teachers love new, exciting, and practical ideas that they can incorporate into their classroom immediately. I don’t know of any teacher that doesn’t want to better him or herself each year. If you need help with ideas, ask your colleagues. If they’re not willing to share, ask Google or Pintrest. We always want to improve our practice as much as we can, but we don’t have the time to go searching for ideas on our own. When we are willing to share with one another, we all benefit from it!