Whenever I’m facilitating professional development, I have a secret goal: that I will incite someone to approach me before lunch and say, “So, what are you doing? I mean, usually by this point in a workshop, I’m ready to slit my wrists or something rather than sit still any longer.” If that happens (and that was a direct quote) then I know I’m meeting the needs of adults who do not learn like me.
Learning Forward points out: “Like all learners, educators learn in different ways and at different rates.” (n. d., p. 3). Unfortunately, all too often educators are still subjected to one-size-fits-all sessions that result in frustration, daydreaming, or filling out unrelated paperwork, simply because the material isn’t being presented in a way that leads to realization of the content’s relevance, practicality, or urgency.
Here are 3 steps you can take to get as much out of a session as possible:
- Identify How You Learn Best. Auditory, visual or kinesthetic learning won’t be sufficient for this. After all, if the professional development topic is using manipulatives in math, everyone needs to shift to a kinesthetic style. Mastering discourse skills requires both auditory and visual. In other words, the content of a session drives the “modality,” a better term than “learning styles” for these concepts. Instead, concentrate on how you process any sort of information. The following descriptions are a bit exaggerated to ensure there is a distinction between them. Sure, you can learn in all four ways—in fact, success in school requires it (Kise, 2007). However, if you could choose a primary way, which would it be?
|__ “Let’s Be Practical.” My ideal professional development day has clear, practical goals. We know the reasons the agenda was chosen and have an outline of the important learnings of the day. The content relates to frameworks or subjects we’ve learned about in the past and is relevant to my needs in the classroom. We have chances throughout the day to reflect on what we’re learning, especially how we will use it, either quietly or in very small groups.||__ “Let Me Learn On My Own.” My ideal professional development day would consist of about six hours of independent study and an hour (maybe) with the big group. Give me the background materials to read in advance and exercises for thinking through possibilities. That day, I may wish to review other related resources of my choosing and then share insights with colleagues. Even better, give me choices in what I pursue—or let me be involved in selecting the choices.|
|_ “Let Me Do Something.” During my ideal professional development day, I’d receive tools I can use right away. Hopefully it builds on skills I’ve learned in the past. Give me a brief overview of what we’re learning and why it works—go light on theory. Answer all my questions about it. Then let me discuss how it might affect my students and let me try it out—hands on, up and moving, thank you! Even better, let me try it in my classroom immediately, joined by a peer or coach who can give me immediate feedback.||__ “Let Me Lead.” For an ideal professional development day, I’d have a role in the planning, making sure the content and activities are novel enough to keep everyone’s attention. Any new focus could be interesting—brand new areas for exploration are best in my book. Give us plenty of time for group activities and discussion. Changing agendas in the midst of the day is fine, too, if our discussions take us in a new direction. Forget the details. I can read those later when necessary.|
Adapted from Kise (2017).
I definitely fall under the “Let Me Learn My Own Way” category. Knowing this helps me recognize fairly quickly when a session doesn’t meet my style—and that leads to Step 2…
- Identify Which Styles’ Needs a Facilitator is Meeting. Being able to correctly identify a problem is the first step in solving it. Once you shift your judgment from, “This is terrible!” to “This was designed for people who don’t learn like me,” you can concentrate on doing something about it. Here are a couple of quick tips for figuring this out.
- If you’re spending most of the day listening and reflecting, then one of the top two styles is being targeted—they’re more introverted in nature. And, if you are working with others or doing hands-on learning, then you’re probably experiencing one of the more extraverted bottom-row styles.
- If the day is pretty prescriptive, with explicit “how-to” or “here are the facts” content, then one of the two left styles is being targeted. They both involve a more step-by-step approach, building on others’ knowledge and experience. If the day is filled with brainstorming, opportunities to adapt the tools being introduced to meet your needs, or chances to explore new ideas, connections or possibilities, then the day fits more with one of the two right styles. These allow for more creativity and individualization of learning.
Ideally a day has elements for all four of these styles (that’s the big picture of my “secret goal” mentioned above). None of us need to have our needs met all of the time. In fact, sometimes the biggest a-ha’s come when we’re out of our style. However, having an understanding of what does and doesn’t fit makes it easier to adjust.
- “Own” Your Own Adjustment. Here are a few quick suggestions for each style to get the most out of any day that isn’t quite right for them—and alternatively, for facilitators to consider if they sense not everyone is fully engaged.
“Let’s Be Practical” (but the day is too open-ended)
- Ask others near you how they plan to put the material to use. Identify something similar in your own classroom and keep a list of notes on the connections you make to this application throughout the day.
- Write down the questions you have, especially if you aren’t being given details about timing or differentiation suggestions or required materials. Listing what isn’t being covered often eases anxiety around the lack of how-tos. Before leaving the session, find out who should have the answers.
- Target a specific need. For example, if the group is asked to brainstorm endless possibilities for differentiation, consider specific students in your class. That sort of focus often spurs your creativity.
“Let Me Do Something” (but you have sit still and listen)
- Find a quiet way to fidget. In corporate settings, many trainers provide squeeze balls and other tools for this! Some facilitators have no objection to people standing at the back of the room.
- Make sure you move on breaks. Sitting still may leave you feeling drained, but a brisk walk will do more good than any other break activity. Don’t just get on your phone! In fact, chatting through the materials with someone may help you process the information—some people with this style discover what they’re thinking when they start talking.
- Bring colored pencils, sticky notes, and other tools that can make your note-taking feel like a hands-on project.
“Let Me Learn My Own Way” (but the day is prescribed learning)
- Learn to take graphic recording notes. Search the web for images of graphic recording or get the book The Sketchnote Handbook by Mick Rohde. It’s full of simple ideas for enhancing basic notes. Add a few colored pens (or a tablet stylus) and you’ll find it much easier to pay attention. Alternatively, I once met someone with this style who wrote backwards to stay awake!
- Keep a list of all the great ideas you’re coming up with. What are you being reminded of? What do you want to investigate later? Keep a list and the day will seem much more productive.
- Identify the big picture. Why are you being asked to learn this? What specific school needs might be addressed? Build a mind map or other nonlinear organizer as the day goes on.
“Let Me Lead” (but the day involves sitting still and listening)
- Keep a list of how you would run the session. You’ll be engaging your creativity while managing to pay attention.
- Think of your notes as group notes. How might you organize the information to make it more interesting, useable, flexible, etc., for others?
- Find a brainstorm partner and, at breaks, generate ideas together for how you will improve what you are learning or put it to use in an entirely different context. Or, plan together how you might get involved in leading professional development.
These are just a starting point. The big picture? As long as there are school-wide initiatives and strategic plans, there will be one-size-fits-all learning days. If you know why these days frustrate you, you can come prepared to make some simple adjustments that will keep you energized and help you glean what you need to know from the session.
Think about your classroom. Students have these same learning preferences. Do you meet all their needs over the course of a day or a week or a unit? How might you help them own their learning? These cognitive styles are based on Carl Jung’s framework of psychological type—check out my TEDx talk “Neuroscience, Jungian Type and Mathematics–Insights into Student Struggles” to learn more.
Kise, J. A. G. (2007). Differentiation through personality types: A framework for instruction, assessment and classroom management. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Kise, J. A. G. (2017). Differentiated coaching: A framework for helping teachers change, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Learning Forward (n.d.) Standards for Professional Learning quick reference guide. Oxford, OH: Author. Retrieved from www.learningforward.org/docs/pdf/standardsreferenceguide.pdf.