Open to learning… Top 5 tips for making the most of your professional development

Professional development; hours, sometimes days of quiet sitting and listening in the hopes of being told something useful, of being inspired. Sometimes our hopes are fulfilled and other times we walk away feeling disappointed and frustrated.

I have a fire burning in me to be the best teacher and the best leader I can be and a big part of moving towards this goal is continued learning, through PD (professional development). Any PD that looks slightly interesting and I sign up. After hours? Weekends? No problem! I’m there taking a stupid amount of notes. (I was not like this at school). However, in this I am in the minority. Compulsory PD’s put upon already stretched and busy teachers can be a step too far and while teachers ‘show up’ with their bodies they leave their minds at home. Learning is a choice we make. Choose to engage, choose to not engage, your choice, your life. I have been the switched off teacher shifting in my seat just waiting for the time to pass so I can go home and I have been the teacher hanging on every word, squeezing the learning out of every moment. What was the difference between then and now? Was it the PD itself?  Or maybe it was subject matter? No.  The main difference was me and my attitude to PD.  In one instance I was closed to learning and in one instance I was open to learning (think Carol Dweck).  Taking responsibility for myself and my own learning was all it took, and if we think about it, this is exactly what we are asking our children to do.  Still, telling you to change your attitude isn’t very helpful so I have come up with my top 5 tips for getting the most out of your PD opportunities.  And here they are…

1. Suspend judgement – Sometimes you walk into a room and see the person presenting and you just think to yourself, Wow, this person has nothing to teach me!  This person is  a flake!  They have no idea what they are talking about!  There have been plenty of times that my pre-judgement of people has robbed me of my abilities to learn, and it was me that missed out.  Or maybe you think you already know everything about the subject.  After all, you did do many years at university in order to become a teacher in the first place.  Or maybe you think the topic is a huge waste of time.  Whatever it is, recognise it and let it go.  I have never been to a PD and learnt nothing, there has always been at least one thing that has made the whole PD worthwhile.  Sometimes it is just a comment made in passing and not anything to do with the PD itself, sometimes it is in the networking opportunities, and sometime the whole PD is just overflowing with awesomeness.  The point, is you won’t know if you’re not present and engaging.

2. Understand that nobody has ever ‘finished’ learning – Things change, what you learned at school and even at university may not be relevant anymore.  And if you think, Well, I’ve done my study and I don’t need to do anymore, you’re wrong (sorry to break the news to you).  Our children deserve teachers on the cutting edge of educational theory (amongst other things) and that means you have to be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking.  This is not to say that we abandon the tried and tested gems from the past, just add to them.  Right now, at this point in time, teaching is more about teaching how to learn rather than teaching knowledge.  The best way we can do this is by being learners ourselves and sharing our learning journey especially the struggles.

3. Be selfish and take everything on offer – Whenever an opportunity is presented to you, take it.  Be involved in a silly role play, ask a question at question time, have a chat with the presenter at morning tea.  Whatever it is, do everything that you possibly can because this is how you are going to get the most out of your experience.  After all, the whole point of PD is to engage you, so if you’re not in the thick of it, it is you who is missing out (and that means the children too).  The presenter does their best to be well prepared, interesting and engaging, but that is only half the story.  The other half of the responsibility lies with you.  We all know that learning for children takes effort, why should it be any different for us?

4. Transfer and apply – It is fantastic for us to head off to PD and get some new learning, but if nothing changes for the children, then what was the point? You have spent the time learning something new, now is the time to transfer the ideas to your own unique setting and apply them (now is always the time).   Sometimes the task of making change may seem too big, too difficult, but just remember the saying “plan for tomorrow, tomorrow comes, don’t plan for tomorrow, tomorrow comes” (or words to that effect).  I like to think, I’m here anyway, I might as well be doing something awesome (and I get plenty of fantastic ideas from PD).

5. Don’t go alone – It is ten times harder to implement any new knowledge or make any significant change if you are the only one who is inspired or motivated (not impossible, but hard).  So why not make it a team building event and go together?  Another good reason to share the love is that you will all pick up different things from the PD.  Things that are important to you as individuals and that speak to your unique world views and values.  All of these seperate pieces when put together make for a stronger more diverse team and that’s what we need, teaching teams that represent (culturally, ethnically and philosophically) the communities they serve.  Don’t let it be about one person and their vision, we live in a democracy not a dictatorship.  Go together and make positive change together.  It’s always better together.


How about you? Do you have any awesome tips for getting the most out of PD? Please share in the comments below.  I would love to hear from you.  ☺️


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