Professional Development: What Works (2nd Edition), by Sally Zepeda, helps guide principals, directors of professional development, school/district committees, and other leaders in creating an effective professional development program that moves ideas from knowledge to action. This tip provides eight simple ways to keep staff engaged during a professional development opportunity.
The cornerstone of successful professional development is the way in which adults are engaged in learning. Adults need and want to grow professionally; they desire ongoing learning opportunities in a place nestled within their own schools so that they can improve practice.
Reflect on the ways in which traditional professional development unfolds in most schools and systems. Typically, activities are launched in flurries at the beginning of the year, or they are offered as a means for teachers to earn “points” toward requirements for district accountability measures. Disconnected from site or district initiatives, professional development activities scheduled as one-shot events have little lasting impact on adults and their learning, and even more negligible effect on student learning, a tightly coupled goal of professional development. Providing learning opportunities for teachers and staff to grow — professionally and personally — is the fundamental goal of professional development. For the principal to assist teachers with their growth, they need to explore the attributes of adult learning. These attributes should be incorporated into all professional development initiatives, regardless of the format, process, or content.
Roberts and Pruitt (2003) offer eight strategies to engage adult learners more appropriately in professional development. The list below examines this overview of the principles of adult learning and the strategies that will more than likely yield richer learning experiences for the adult learner. The next time you plan for a professional development session, keep these strategies in mind.
Eight Strategies to Engage Adult Learners
- Make learning both an active and an interactive process.
- Provide hands-on, concrete experiences and real-life experiences.
- Employ novelty, but also connect to the adult learner's prior experiences and knowledge.
- Give them opportunities to apply the new knowledge to what they already know or have experienced.
- Be aware of the diversity in an adult group. Use a variety of approaches to accommodate different learning styles and experiences and use examples that reflect the diversity in the group composition.
- Use small-group activities through which learners have the opportunity to reflect, analyze, and practice what they have learned.
- Provide coaching, technical assistance, feedback, or other followup support as part of the training.
- Give adult learners as much control as possible over what they learn, how they learn, and other aspects of the learning experience.