Epic fail. Those were words that I was used to hearing from my children or from the shows they watched on television. They are even in a Katy Perry song. Epic fail. Something that went terribly wrong for some particular reason….and I found myself uttering those very same words recently. Epic fail.
I’ll spare you the details, but basically, in a professional development session, I found myself in a position where the information I was providing was not matching the needs or interests of my audience. I put hours of planning into the session, rehearsed my presentation multiple times and ensured that there was engaging video, discussion and interesting links for later viewing. The presentation was a good one….if it actually connected with my audiences’ needs and wants. I felt a definite disconnect with what my expectations for the session were and what their expectations for the session were. Now, don’t get wrong, I received good feedback and had some great conversations afterward, but I had that nagging feeling that some participants were not leaving as I had hoped they would: energized and empowered for the work ahead. Therefore, I needed to change.
As I drove home and reflected on what went wrong, I devised a few guiding principles for my work this year to be sure that I never felt that feeling of epic failure again. I relied on what I knew about our work with young children and applied them to my own work with teachers. I am hopeful they will help other literacy leaders and coaches and start a wider conversation together.
Know Your Audience
Just as we need to know and understand our young learners to effective reach and teach, we must do the same for our adult learners as well. Take the time to find out about who your audience is and what they are expecting and build your presentation from there. Just as time invested in initial assessments helps us tailor our instruction, time invested in learning about our teachers helps us tailor our professional development experiences.
Do Not Over-Plan
I know, I know, this contradicts everything we know and do as teachers! I tend to over-plan everything because I want teachers to leave my sessions feeling as if the time spent with me was worth it. There is precious little time in the day and we want to make the most of what we have. Yet, in trying to pack in as much as I can, I might leave teachers feeling overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information available to them. Just as we do with young students, we need to strategically plan to share what is most important and consider how they might feel learning something new for the first time. Less is more.
Involve the Learner
Cheryl Dozier, a colleague in my Department, has a wonderful saying: The one who does the work does the learning. Such a short, yet powerful statement. While I have much to say and share, it does not matter what I say or share if I do not allow time for teachers to process it and work with it to make it their own. Teachers need time to think, hands-on activities to see the content in action and ways to connect to their own classroom in each and every professional development session.
Continue the Learning
While the session might end, the learning certainly does not. We need to find ways to remain connected as we tackle the work ahead. We might connect by phone, email, Voxer, social media, or follow-up sessions. The method might change, but the purpose does not: we need to support teachers over time as they navigate the complexities of teaching today. One-shot sessions simply do not work and if that is all that is available, we need to discover ways to continue the collaboration in some form.
So, there you have it. Simple principles to guide our complex work as literacy leaders and coaches. What principles guide your work? I look forward to our journeys ahead….and will never utter those two words again!