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The New Teacher Advisor

Surviving Staff Development

As with all professions, including doctors, lawyers, and accountants, teachers also must meet a certain set of standards required by the state. We must participate in training of one sort or another before we enter the classroom, we must pass a test to become certified, and we must continue our learning process throughout our careers. This continuing education is required so that we, as professionals, stay up-to-date on the latest trends and strategies.

Doctors, lawyers, and accountants all must pay for their continuing education courses out of their own pocket. Luckily for us, most districts and schools provide the additional training to teachers with little or no cost to us. Although we might choose to attend an outside workshop or conference to meet state requirements, many times our schools will reimburse us for that expense. The flip side of that coin is that we rarely get a choice in what staff development courses we attend and often get stuck with something that doesn't meet our specific needs as individual teachers. So how can we survive staff development workshops thrust upon us by well-meaning administrators?

First of all, keep an open mind. Although, at first, the presenter's information might seem unrelated to your needs, there might be a gem or two you can take away from the workshop. Listen for new or different ideas that you've never tried before. Don't dismiss a strategy out of hand without at least giving it a little bit of thought. Is it something you might be able to use in your classroom? Mull the idea over in your head and think through the possibilities before tossing it away. Watch the strategies used by the presenter during the workshop to teach and practice information. If you have a trainer who does more than just simply stand in the front and lecture, then you might catch a neat idea you can use to present information to your own students.

Secondly, don't bring extra work with you. While I realize that many presenters can be rather boring, there are several reasons why you shouldn't be working on something else during the workshop. First, it is incredibly rude. The person up front is taking a huge risk in offering his or her ideas to you and your fellow colleagues. It is not easy standing up in front of a group of teachers who are already wary of an outsider coming into their school to tell them what to do. In addition, you are setting a standard for others around you to follow. Finally, you can't keep an open mind to any ideas you might garner when your brain is focused on another task. I don't care whether you think you can do two things at once or not, there is no way you can focus on the information being presented when you are working on grading papers, writing lesson plans, or doing paperwork.

Third, listen to the other teachers in your school and learn from their stories and ideas. In my mind, a staff development workshop is the best opportunity for teachers within the school building or district to network with one another. Hopefully, the presenter will give time for teachers to share ideas, tell their own stories, and talk together about the ideas being presented. If that's the case, listen carefully to the veterans and the master teachers in your school. Ignore the sour-pusses and negative comments, and focus instead on those who have insightful and uplifting things to say. You can get some fantastic ideas from your own faculty.

What else can you do? Try some of the following suggestions.

  • If you have questions, don't be afraid to ask them. Ask the presenter and ask the other teachers in the workshop.
  • Participate in the activities and offer your own ideas and suggestions. Remember, the more you put into the workshop, the more you'll get out of it.
  • Take index cards and post-it notes with you to jot down ideas. If you hear something that catches your attention during the presentation, write it down and then share your idea or question with others during a break.
  • Take post-it strips to mark important places in the handout or book you are given during the workshop.
  • Bring recent or upcoming lesson plans to see how you might apply the strategies presented (if possible).
  • Ask the presenter for specific examples of how to implement the strategies presented. You might give him/her a specific topic or scenario that relates to your classroom/subject area.

Those are just a few ways that you can get the most out of any staff development workshop you attend. The most important thing to remember is that if you enter the workshop with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn, you will get something out of it. If you enter with a negative attitude and a closed mind, there's no way you'll learn anything new. So, keep an open mind, be ready to learn, listen to those positive sources of ideas and wisdom in your fellow colleagues, and you'll find yourself able to survive any staff development that comes your way!


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