ROI–Part I: Rethinking Professional Learning Feedback
April 11, 2021
Some of the best moments of being an educator are when former students come back to see you. It’s not just the excitement of connecting with learners from different points along the journey. It’s not just the challenge to recognize each other after growth and changes in life. It’s the simple feeling of knowing that you made a difference in each other’s lives.
The initial experience was memorable, indeed. Yet, reconnecting down the road made our fun, challenging, and memorable moments of the past together all the more meaningful.
It’s this idea of beginning with the end in mind, connecting current progress back to the beginning, following all the way through with one initiative, and circling back that closes the open loops in our brains, in our learning, and in our practices.
The fruit is evidence of a journey begun with a single seed, an idea, or even a professional learning experience.
Professional Learning Experiences: The Finish Line?
Over the past two decades I’ve been privileged to experience hundreds of professional learning sessions in all the formats and modalities. From formal conference events to staff PD to webinars to workshops, I’m grateful for these opportunities. These are great starting lines. There’s so much potential for good that I end up pouring my whole heart into the people, content, and moments. I invest deeply. Then, I also wonder:
If we invest in professional learning, then what is the return on investment? How do we know?
Educators facilitate experiences with learners every day, and then require them to evidence their progress. In some cases, this is true for adults. In many instances, the return on investment is left to chance. Yet, it’s not about checking boxes to meet mandates on a professional growth plan or in your digital portfolio, for example. It’s about being intentional to personalize the learning process.
How many times do we experience professional learning, only to do… absolutely nothing with it? How many sessions do you attend, only to walk away never giving it a second thought? How many times do you wonder: Why _____? What was the point of _____?
While learning is a continual process, it’s the learner’s will to persevere, follow-up, and follow-through that adds meaning. It’s about extending the one-time, finish line event into an ongoing, starting line experience. It’s about wanting to invest, personalize, transfer, reflect upon, model, and share versus having to be held accountable by superiors that inspires genuine return on investment.
Giving Feedback on the Presentation?
The presentation is finished. The presenter wants feedback. NOW.
This has always fascinated me. In many ways, it feels like the session is centered on the presenter and the presenter’s learning process rather than those in attendance. Sometimes the presenters announce their own feedback opportunities before the presentation even begins. Sometimes, feedback is requested all throughout the presentation. Without fail, every conference app has space to give feedback to the presenters. Even before the presentees have a moment to process, apply, implement, transfer, or reflect upon the presented content, they’re expected to give feedback to the presenters.
Perhaps, the conference venue, organizers, or departmental powers that be want to know which presenters were popular. Maybe they want to know which presentations connected with the audience. Maybe they’re compiling data to establish trends for attendance and budgeting.
And that’s valuable.
When presentees give feedback to the presenters in the presentation moments, they’re really giving feedback on:
- How the presenter made them feel: happy, confident, inspired, recharged, valued
- The quality of the presentation: flow, moves, ambiance, slidedeck, message, ideas
- The potential that the content might transfer to their craft to some extent
This feedback is only valuable to the presenter.
Now that the presentees have completed their task of giving feedback solely for the sake of the presenter’s learning, we can all move on. And we can move away. Quickly.
Or do we? Should we?
Giving and Receiving Feedback on Presentation Content
What if we, as lifelong learners in the crowd, did the unthinkable?
What if we waited to give feedback on our professional learning experiences?
What if we didn’t move on? What if we stuck with the presentation content for a while?
What if presentees had a few weeks to process, apply, implement, transfer, and reflect upon the presented content… and THEN gave feedback to the presenter and the powers that be?
What if we, as adult learners, evidenced our progress just like we expect and require our kid learners to do? How much more meaningful might that be? Along those lines, what if we had access to give and receive feedback all throughout the implementation process?
What if presentees implemented the presented content, reflected upon their extended experience, and then gave feedback to the presenters and powers that be like this:
- Was the presented content actionable in your space or craft? Why or why not?
- Describe your implementation journey: What went well? What might be improved?
- How has your learning directly impacted other learners in your spaces?
- Where have you documented how you’ve transferred the session content to your work? Please include links, images, videos, or other resources.
- How are you going to share your learning with others near and far? Please be specific with actions and dates.
- Upon reflection, what might you suggest to make the professional learning session you attended better for future presentees?
This feedback is valuable to the presentees, presenter, venue, organizers, and powers that be. This feedback is worth revisiting and might inform and influence the quality of future professional learning experiences.
This kind of feedback is priceless. Value added. Value multiplied. Value extended.
Can you just imagine the implications this might have on presenters and how they prepare their presentations?
Implications of Accountable Professional Learning
From the inspirational speech to the tool applications to the storytelling of our lives… If the expectation is that adult learners will be implementing some form of the presented content and evidencing their progress in the process, then that just might change the entire landscape of the traditional conference, for example. I can envision presentations having specific tasks for presentees to do, so they get in the practice of effective implementation and so that they will forever attach meaningful memories to their learning experiences.
This structure might influence the likelihood of site-based funding and third-party donors investing in educators to experience professional learning. If educators are going to share what they learned from their professional learning sessions during and after the session on social media, in a digital portfolio, or in a staff meeting, for example, then that exponentially increases the value of the presenter, the presentation, and the content. In addition, I might argue that educators themselves will value and own their learning process in a different way when they know they’ll get to model and share what they learned in the near future. And that is the real return on investment.
Can’t we just have fun? I’ve got enough going on without proving what I’m learning.
I’m not advocating for one more thing on the to-do-list. I’m not calling the accountability department to stress out teachers. I’m not saying that all learning can be documented and evidenced in the same ways. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Less is more. Let’s go deeper first–and then wider, if at all. Let’s stick with one idea and follow it all the way through the process.
One of my passions is circling back to a post from a professional learning experience of the past, and connecting different points along my own learning journey, especially after so much growth and so many changes in life. Then, I’ll tag the presenters to thank them. I always hope they’ll embrace the simple feeling of knowing that we made a difference in each other’s lives.