Are Your Professional Learning Experiences Effective?
October 27, 2019
I absolutely love professional learning experiences. I love connecting with people. First, there’s the hype of the event itself. Then, there’s the anticipation of attending a quality session. Finally, it’s really happening, and I’m reflecting through live tweets to collect in Wakelet, Google Keep, and future blogs. And then we go home. And that’s pretty much it–Or is it?
Over the years, I’ve been privileged to experience hundreds of professional learning experiences. Varying in topic, setting, and format, I’ve always come away learning something new. I’m truly grateful for these opportunities.
In addition, I’ve even been fortunate to present a few times, myself. And I always come away learning something new there, too. For better or for worse, receiving feedback is a very healthy, necessary practice.
And providing feedback to session presenters has become a real thing in recent years. In fact, for some sessions, it’s a requirement for attendees to complete some sort of feedback, as if it were a stand-alone, exit ticket. Many conferences have space for session attendees to provide feedback right there in their app. I like that convenience.
After presenting to fellow educators recently, I reviewed several attendee feedback forms. And their comments provoked my thinking. Wait–
Is our professional learning session feedback based on content, delivery, or both?
Which one measures effectiveness?
My answer? Neither.
Many amazing presenters lack content knowledge.
Many content experts lack amazing presentation skills.
While having immediate opportunities to provide feedback on professional learning sessions is well-intended, I’m still wondering:
What are we really evaluating?
Popular criteria that come to mind immediately:
Were the objectives clear?
Was the presenter engaging?
Did attendees get a chance to do some active learning?
Did the presenter provide resources for continued learning?
But most of all, I think attendees really provide feedback based upon:
Did the presenter make me laugh, think, cry, and… feel good?
All of these criteria are imperative and great. The presenter connected with the audience. There may have been laughing, crying, thinking, and substantial investment in building relationships and rationalizing our why. There were ample opportunities for active learning, movement, connecting, and reflecting. Audience members will remember learning on the spot. The slide deck was informative and easy on the eyes. There were bitmojis, emojis, deeply research-based power statements, A-HA quotes, cute gifs, and links galore. I love presentations like these. They help me connect and engage in my learning.
But here’s the thing: All of those criteria are based on the presenter and the presentation. The ultimate questions, then, are:
- Did the presenter and the presentation inspire attendees to apply and extend their learning to their practice over time?
- How will we ever know?
Measuring Professional Learning Experiences for Effectiveness
I really like Rethink ED‘s “Seven Strategies to Make Professional Learning Effective.” My favorite is number 7. Check it out:
- “Is of sustained duration: Effective PD provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice.”
I also really like Allison Rodman‘s book: Personalized, Professional Learning: A Job-Embedded Pathway for Elevating Teacher Voice. On page 81, she cites Fred Ende:
- “Professional development that leads to learning is more than just the facilitation of the learning itself. The planning and the follow-up need to be equal partners...“
Perhaps, Allison said it best, here:
- “A critical part of the professional learning design process—and one that is often overlooked—is defining what between-session application will look like. Professional learning is all for naught if teachers do not transfer the knowledge and skills gained in these sessions consistently to their everyday classroom practice” (Rodman, 2019, p. 81).
What If Professional Learning Experiences Were…
- A starting line–Not a finish line?
- A journey–Not a destination?
- An experience–Not an event?
- Measured for effectiveness over time–Not just on-the-spot?
- Measured by content application in our practice–Not just presentation feels?
- Measured to hold attendees accountable–Not just presenters?
Professional learning experiences are effective when session learners implement, apply, reflect upon, and adapt their newfound learning in their practice. Attendees earn credit for experiencing professional learning when they specifically share how and why their implementations were meaningful. The extent to which attendee implementations were meaningful determines the effectiveness of the presenter and presentation.
Worded Another Way:
In following through like this, accountability for learning falls on both the presenter and the audience. The effectiveness of the presenter and presentation is solely dependent upon the effectiveness of how meaningfully attendees applied their newfound learning in their practice, pending their sharing their reflections with others.
How can we share our learning? Perhaps, attendees can:
- Capture media, such as images, videos, blogs, and social media posts from their spaces; include a short, value-added reflection; and post it to a school or district Google Form.
- Post their professional learning progress in their digital portfolios.
- Facilitate opportunities for students to share how much their learning has been enhanced by the attendee’s professional learning experience.
Then again, maybe some kinds of learning are immeasurable. After all, not every meaningful moment can be captured in a Tweet, for example.
I’m still thinking on these things. What are your thoughts?