Take the Time to Plan

As we move into our final month of the school year, we find ourselves in professional learning planning season.  In light of campus and district budget deadlines, campus and district improvement plan due dates, and final steps in qualitative and quantitative data analysis, one constant throughout this work includes next steps in professional learning.  And, as you prepare to design and deliver such professional learning, I offer insight to support and/or challenge your thinking.  I recognize that professional learning design, much like classroom lesson design, is worth the investment in order to produce the outcomes we desire.

First, resist the temptation to begin by opening a blank Keynote, PowerPoint, or Google Slides template.

Rather, begin with the purpose of the learning and the big picture logistics of the plan.

Purpose & Logistics

Ask: What is the purpose of the professional learning session or series?  Why are you designing this experience for the teachers?  Why will their participation be a valuable investment of their time?

While you are considering the big picture, think about the logistics of the training.  This will help you to frame the audience in order to focus the content.  Are you preparing for new hires or experienced educators?  Will campus leadership be in attendance, or what about support personnel such as instructional coaches or mentors?  How many people do you expect to attend?  This will impact the format and location of the training.  More detailed logistics, including nuances of learning design will come later in the plans.

Next, Consider the Desired Results.

Desired Results

Think about what the participants will be able to independently use their learning to do following the training.  What will they understand?  What will they continue to consider?  What will they know and be skilled at?

Think very intentionally here.  Professional learning experiences that include high quality desired results stand head and shoulders above those that are surface level time-wasters for teachers.

The next step is to think about how you will know if the participants understood what you hoped they would understand.


This next part is not as common in professional learning as one would desire.  Think bigger than exit tickets and session evaluation forms.  Evidence of understanding is collected because you care if the teachers understand.  This is not about credit for participation.  This is about verifying the message was received.

Recommendations for collecting evidence of understanding:

  • Encourage teachers to create a product of their learning (concrete or virtual artifact) and post in a location visible to others.  Then, elicit feedback from colleagues.
  • Set up a FlipGrid topic and support teachers to reflect using a well written prompt such as, “Use this opportunity to re-phrase your learning to an audience of parents,” or “Share your next steps for implementing your learning in your classroom tomorrow.”  These prompts give teachers an opportunity to think for themselves and put their learning in their own words.  Encourage teachers to respond to one another’s videos as well.

Finally, it’s time to consider the learning plan.

Learning Plan

Now, think about the learning experiences that will guide your participants from where they are to where you need them to be.  This is your opportunity to model practices, overtly discuss and have them reflect on these, and give plenty of time to make plans for implementation.  Similar to classroom practices, focus on what the participants will be doing, not the facilitator.

Go through the trouble of planning thoroughly.

The benefits of organizing your thoughts using a document like the one below may astound you.  First, your participants will appreciate the intentionality in your planning, finding comfort that their time will not be wasted and their success will not be measured merely by their presence at the session.  Then, your professional learning will more easily be scaled and replicated.  More than once I have been asked to re-create a training I designed and delivered, though I did not initially anticipate this request.  Having the plans articulated in this way allowed me to provide a second (or third!) experience that was equally as high quality as the first.

Screen Shot 2018-04-29 at 2.26.28 PM

Now you may create presentation slides, but think carefully what text and images you prepare.  Remember this is what your participants will look at and possibly photograph.

Professional learning for teachers is worth the investment.  Now’s the time to invest in our teachers.

Looking for more inspiration?  Check out How I Present, a blog post by Dan Meyer.  I love his analogy of a bucket in his head.

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