Making Teacher Workshops Work for Us

 In Support for Struggling Readers, What We're Talking about at HIP

Teacher “workshops” have been getting a bad rap lately. After all, we know that sustained professional development is more effective and longer-lasting than the “one-shot” workshop or seminar. But there are some pretty good reasons that these time-honoured professional development traditions still persist.

grocery-cart-loaded-cartoon-160x160I think going to a workshop is a little like shopping for groceries. Some shelves I just breeze right past because I know my family isn’t going to touch those pickled jalapenos or liver medallions. Other shelves hold goods that my family loves and I probably already have them at home. I’ll usually check them out to replenish my stocks or to see if our favorite cereal is on sale or if there’s a new variety of ice cream treat. Frequently, however, there will be something new that my family might just like if I add a little spice here or some special sauce there.

That’s what workshop ideas are like. Some won’t fit my students or my teaching style. Others are golden oldies that I’m already using. But now and then there will be something a little bit unique, a new piece of research, a slightly different approach that I just might be able to spice and sauce and mix and stir to meet my tastes.

So rather than avoiding or dismissing teacher workshops this year, here are four ways we can make them work for us:

  1. Be open to the idea that the presenters might actually know something we don’t. Classroom teachers have to know a little bit about a whole lot of subjects; consultants are generally experts in one field. They have time to read the research and best practice and synthesize it for the rest of us. At worst, they might confirm what we already know. At best, they might say something that challenges our own beliefs.  It’s not a bad thing to disagree with what a presenter says if it makes us reflect on our own practice.
  2. Network with other teachers. Even if the presenter doesn’t give us anything new, other teachers might. We so rarely get to network with colleagues who might have the same issues and problem students that we do.  Take advantage of the opportunity to sit in grown-up sized chairs and talk to other people with the same vocabulary levels as ours. We might just learn something from one another.
  3. Take advantage of some “think time” to reflect on our own practices.  We in schools rarely have the luxury of time to just sit back and think about what’s working and what we can do better. Here’s an opportunity to get into the zone without the phone ringing or someone tugging on our pant legs.
  4. Use them to build our own sustained professional development. Plant those seeds of ideas that were scattered at the workshop to nurture our own sustained professional growth over the rest of the school year. Try implementing one new routine or practice. Add your own seasonings. And turn it into a whole year of professional learning.
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