Teacher Professional Development: Getting Better at Getting Better

How I left a Teach like a Champion workshop inspired and prepared to take the next steps

U.S. schools spend considerable resources on teacher professional development. TNTP’s fascinating report, The Mirage, found that, “districts spend an average of nearly $18,000 per teacher, per year on development efforts.” Yet, in my teaching career, I have attended far too many professional development sessions that felt like a mind-numbing waste of time.

Smart people are cranking out highly useful conclusions on topics ranging from how the brain works to how to teach multiplying fractions in a way that sticks with kids for the long haul. There’s so much I want to absorb as a teacher, but like all teachers, I have precious little time to dedicate toward studying new findings in my profession. Which means we’ve got to make the professional development days we do have worth their weight in gold.

But how? What makes a teacher training day worthwhile? I recently attended a Teach Like a Champion workshop that was a mind-blowing experience rather than a mind-numbing experience. In reflecting on what made this training stand out in a world of mediocre teacher trainings, I honed in on three aspects:

1. Inspiring and actionable
The Teach Like a Champion workshop hits the sweet spot where inspiring concepts and practical application intersect. I was inspired as we studied findings on how rigorous discussion grows students’ minds. I was in awe as we watched exemplary teachers showcase these discussions in their classrooms. Then, I felt empowered to take this back to my own classroom as we broke the magic down into feasible, actionable steps. The point is not to watch an amazing teacher and think, “She is perfect.” The point is to watch an amazing teacher and think, “I notice two teacher actions that I can steal and employ in my own classroom to foster my students’ growth.”

2. Sweat the small stuff
There is not one second wasted in a Teach Like a Champion workshop. The team delivering the training has planned their speaking roles, questions, and outcomes for the session in as much detail as any top-notch teacher would for her students. The effect is that we make the most of every moment and I feel like my trainers are placing the upmost value on my time as a teacher. Some tips for utilizing time well in professional development sessions include: (1) display a timer during breaks so participants know when to be seated and ready, (2) start exactly when the timer reaches zero, and (3) have a clear attention-getting signal so you can quickly pull participants from conversations with partners back to the whole group.

3. This is rocket science
The way in which information is communicated in a Teacher Like a Champion training conveys that a teacher’s work is both very challenging and critically important. There is never a condescending note of, “Why aren’t you doing x? Everybody knows you should be doing x.” Rather, the tone is one of reverence toward the work of teachers. There are no easy answers, but we can work together to identify actionable steps. When educators get in a room, we should feel like NASA astronauts planning a mission to Mars, not like replaceable worker bees who need to be told what to do.


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