Two Secrets to Holding Teachers’ Attention During Professional Development

To improve any professional development activity, it helps to keep two things in mind:

In many ways, teachers are exactly like students

Teachers do a lot of irritating things during professional development sessions. We talk. We play with our phones. We sit waaay in the back and do work for our other classes. Then, when we have to write follow up assignments, our first question is often, “How long does it have to be?”

No one knows better than we do how frustrating these behaviors can be.

On the other hand, we also know how the kids would react if we read aloud to them from a PowerPoint presentation. Teachers pay a high price when we’re not prepared, which makes it doubly frustrating when someone introducing new computer program, for example, answers questions by saying, “I think there’s a number you can call…” Sometimes, teachers who channel their students’ behavior during PD sessions are subconsciously putting presenters to the test.

The good news is that presenters can improve the chances of keeping teachers’ attention the same way we keep our students’ attention: Learn as much about your audience as possible. Know your subject. Present it in an engaging way. And you get bonus points if you can make us laugh.

Like students, we get a little restless sitting in our seats for so long.

In many ways, teachers are not at all like students

Teachers are not children. We do, however, get frequent reminders that we barely rank above students in the education-authority food chain. It should be no surprise that we react with hostility when presenters lecture at us like kids in detention, ask us to change seats so they can keep an eye on us, or make us chant things in unison.

The good news is that presenters can improve the odds of holding our attention the same way one holds most adults’ attention: Learn as much about your audience as possible. Know your subject. Present it in an engaging way. And you get bonus points if you let us out fifteen minutes ahead of time so we can beat traffic.

Unlike students, we don’t need to be kept busy until the bell rings.

(c) Roxanna Elden

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