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Teacher Training:
Delivering Relevant Staff Development

In an ideal world, teachers arrive at staff training sessions well rested, eager to learn, with easy access to the resources they'll need to implement what they learn. Of course, schools are rarely ideal places. So, how do you, a K-12 in-service staff developer or administrator, provide relevant staff development in the real world? Teacher training expert Lorrie Jackson offers advice on how you can make your training sessions both relevant and effective. Included: Tips for gaining teachers' attention and trust.

In an ideal world, teachers arrive at staff training sessions well rested, eager to learn, and with the resources, time, and support systems they'll need to implement new skills and ideas. Schools are rarely ideal places, however, and most teachers already are overworked and "over-meetinged." By the time they come to your workshop or training session, they often are tired, frustrated, bored, resentful, and distrustful -- usually because of factors you can't control.

How then can you -- a K-12 staff developer or administrator -- overcome those barriers and make staff training relevant for your audience? The following tips should help.

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Staff Development Articles from Education World

Looking for additional staff development resources? Be sure to see Education World's

--- Staffing and Training Archive
--- Great Meetings Series
--- Administrator's Desk Channel

Know who you're training. The more you know about them, the better able you'll be to refine how and what you teach, and make your training meaningful and effective. Take time to learn the following information about those who will attend your sessions:
  • Grade levels and/or content areas taught.
  • Positive and negative experiences with the training topic or a similar one. For example, if last year's grading program was a disaster, you'll want to know that before you attempt to introduce this year's new grading program.
  • Other current demands on their time and/or resources. Is your training session scheduled for just before a grading period ends or school begins? at the end of an exhausting in-service day? Find out what factors might be zapping or energizing your audience.
  • School and district priorities and goals. If a school focuses on the core essentials model, for example, you'll want to relate your session on a new math textbook to that emphasis.
  • Available resources. Don't expect overwhelming enthusiasm for your innovative character education Web site if students and teachers have limited access to computers.
DO A BAGGAGE CHECK

No teacher or staff member comes to your session as a clean slate. Every educator has attended at least one training session that lasted too long, learned a new district-wide initiative that quickly flopped, or faced a staff trainer who was confusing or antagonistic.

The National Staff Development Council has developed 12 Standards for Staff Development that will improve the learning of all students. In this series, staff development expert Lorrie Jackson discusses those standards and their practical implications for the educators in your learning community. For more information on the 12 NSDC standards for staff development, go to NSDC Standards for Staff Development.

Recognize the training "baggage" audience members bring with them. If a number of teachers in the audience recently had a bad experience with a similar program or session, sometimes it's best to address that quickly. Something like, "Shake your head if you remember the ABC grading program we used last year," gives teachers a chance to voice a little concern and laugh off some frustration. Then, redirect the discussion to your new topic. "Well, I agree that the ABC program was a flop. That's why this year the district has purchased what we believe is an easier and faster way for you to enter grades. Give me just 15 minutes today and I think you'll agree."

That approach deflates some of the negativism and hesitation that might interfere with the teachers listening to and applying what you're teaching, and it shows them that you recognize their frustrations; and implies that you acted on their input when making improvements.

REFINE YOUR MESSAGE

Staff developers are notoriously long-winded. As experts in very specific fields, when given 45 minutes to share their ideas on whole language, for example, they grumble about the limited time, then try to cram every great idea and resource into the allotted time period. They pepper their in-service audience with well-meaning, but overwhelming, handouts and leave everyone confused about the focus of the session.

Whether you have 15 minutes or 15 hours, take time to refine your message and focus on the bare bones of the topic. Save for later anything not absolutely necessary to share immediately. Provide a way for audience members to contact you if they truly want all all your sage advice on the topic!

"EDUTAIN" WITH CAUTION

Rarely do K-12 trainers get a fresh and interested audience. A bit of humor, audience interaction, and freebies go a long way toward establishing a connection with teachers. Even though most staff developers once taught in the classroom, it's easy to forget that in this circumstance, teachers are students too and a little pizzazz can help keep them attuned to your message.

That said, keep the entertaining to a minimum. Candies, free pencils, or another small item for everyone in attendance can each go a long way. Too many bells and whistles, and teachers might see your presentation as useless and a waste of time. It's a delicate balance!

One simple trick is to display two or three substantial giveaways (t-shirts, a digital camera, a gift certificate). Tell attendees that you'll be asking questions along the way or soliciting ways of implementing the training in their classroom and that the giveaways are prizes for those on the ball. Then, focus the rest of the time on the substance of your session.

SHARE SUCCESS

Making training relevant means making the topic important in the classroom. Just providing directions and theoretical benefits isn't enough; teachers need to see how other teachers have implemented the idea, skill, or program successfully in their classrooms.

Tips for sharing teacher examples include:

  • Beta-test with teachers. Before the session, if possible, ask a few willing and expert teachers to actually use what you plan to teach at the session. Then invite those teachers to share their experiences with the audience. No matter how smart and skilled you might be, your attendees will listen to fellow teachers better than they'll listen to you, especially if the training involves a change in their classrooms.
  • Paint a picture. Show photos or a video of a classroom in which the new program is being used. Provide handouts containing the teacher's description of how he or she implemented the program. Ask students to write first-hand accounts of their experiences. Such "battlefront" evidence is far more important to most teachers than all the statistics and studies you can spout.
  • Keep an eye on the time. Ask your teacher-presenters to emphasize how long it took them to plan and implement the program you're teaching. Even a peer teacher isn't very persuasive if others feel he or she must have spent hours of their own time to prepare.
GET HANDS-ON

If possible, turn attendees into participants by encouraging them to apply what they learned. Can they practice the approach to new conflict resolution by acting out a scenario with another participant? Can they begin completing a new form on your district's Web site? Give them a chance to get to know what you're talking about.

Some topics -- for example, initiatives or tasks that won't start until months down the road -- don't lend themselves to hands-on training. In that case, ask attendees to write or share aloud how they might apply the new information or skill in their classrooms. Working in groups can help teachers who are confused or hesitant discover how their peers plan on implementing the training in their classrooms.

The most successful hands-on application occurs when attendees are able to start or even complete a real task during the session. If they can come to a session with their grade books and actually enter all their grades for the semester while in the session, for example, you've made the training relevant and saved teachers precious time.

REMEMBER YOUR Ps AND Qs

Treat the K-12 teacher with the utmost respect and courtesy. That might sound obvious, but it can be all too easy to come into a session and dictate what should be done, instead of listening to their concerns and offering solutions. Ideally, the staff trainer and teacher trainees should form a collaborative team, working together to find ways to better teach students.

The following guidelines can help you foster that collaborative relationship.

  • Start every training session on time (assuming there's no reasonable excuse for starting late).
  • End every training session five minutes early.
    Those two tips show teachers you value their time, and -- if nothing else -- when they see you coming, they'll know you won't keep them over time!
  • Teach to all learners. Address visual, aural, kinesthetic, and other intelligence styles by including written handouts, oral directions, visual graphics, and hands-on activities.
  • Actively seek out teachers' opinions. What do they think about the new initiative? What would they have done differently? Even a well-prepared trainer can flounder if she or he doesn't address and meet teacher needs.
  • Seek teacher participation in decisions. That can be difficult, especially in large districts, but teachers are more likely to feel appreciated and valued if fellow teachers are included in the selection, purchasing, and implementation of programs, initiatives, and so on.
  • When in doubt, do without. Sometimes the best training is no training at all. Decide if the topic requires face-to-face training or can be explained successfully through other delivery methods, such as online tutorials, handouts, and individual help sessions.
RELEVANCE ISN'T OPTIONAL

Making training relevant for the K-12 educator isn't just the icing on the cake, it's the whole meal. By using some of these tips, staff developers stand a better chance of connecting theory to practice in the minds of their audience and, consequently, increase their odds of making a difference in today's classrooms.

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