Thinking back to when I first started teaching, I remember I felt like I was constantly learning new skills. I had weekly mentor meetings, after-school professional development sessions, and the first year behavior-management learning curve. It was exhausting, but definitely necessary for me to meet the needs of my students. Fast forward three years: I was no longer meeting with my mentor and after-school PD sessions. However, I began coursework in bilingual education so I could be more effective in meeting the needs of my students. Another five years later: it wasn’t course work, but committees and conferences; not to mention the professional development that comes with new district initiatives. You see, just as the priorities in education adjust over the years, so do the needs of the students at the tables, desks, and carpets. Teachers are continually honing in on new skills to better meet the ever-changing needs of today’s students.

Knowing that growth is a continual process, it’s important to think about what are the most effective strategies for professional development and trainings. I found, just like my students, I was more engaged in the learning process when the sessions were interactive and/or hands-on.  When elementary teachers in my district were offered the opportunity to participate in a mentoring project in Common Core mathematics, I volunteered. We met monthly with a consultant, in groups by grade-level, to learn new strategies on how to be more effective in our mathematical thinking and instruction. Then the consultant came into my classroom, watched me teach, and even modeled lessons with my students while I observed and took notes. I truly believe this was the most valuable professional development I have been able to participate in. It’s not always easy to have an expert come in and observe lessons and debrief with constructive feedback, but it brought my teaching and understanding of math to a whole new level. I was engaged in the process from pre-planning my lessons that would be observed, to experimenting with new strategies discussed in our monthly meetings, to collaborating with colleagues on things that went well (and the lessons that flopped). We were real, honest, and… engaged.

Years later, I still remember the lesson that soared in the eyes of my mathematical-thinking mentor. I also remember the feedback she gave me when I was hesitant to allow more “chaos” in my kindergarten math lessons. She encouraged me to step outside of my instructional comfort zone and into new teaching territory. This helped me to grow as an educator. Were the formal training sessions or conferences I attended a waste of time? Of course not! Systematically learning new skills in technical training sessions are definitely needed–and who knows, maybe the training will take place in a cool location! The most important thing is to keep pushing, keep learning, and make the most of the professional development opportunities out there.  Just like your students, I encourage you to actively engage in the growth process.

Have you had the opportunity to engage in meaningful professional development this year? We’d love to hear about the best professional development activity or session you’ve experienced.  And if you’re feeling left out of the engaging PD department, let us know how your experience could have been better.

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