I Asked 150 Educators Why Teacher PD Sucks, and Here's What They Said . . .

Last week at the Texas affiliate ISTE conference, I asked 150 educators why teacher PD sucks.

Probably, you've seen the meme . . .

When I die, I hope it's during professional development because the transition from life to death would be so subtle
When I die, I hope it's during professional development

and even if you hadn't seen it until now, you have probably experienced this little phenomenon yourself.

There's a thing I'm super passionate about and that's creating PD that doesn't suck, isn't boring, and isn't irrelevant. I'm kind of obsessed with it, truth be known, so obsessed that I started a company and quit my day job to pursue it full time.

So, I keep asking the people who matter, educators, our audience, how do we make sure this doesn't suck? Did it suck for you (or not)? And if so, why? Last week, I got the ultimate chance to get my answers, and here, my friends, is why PD sucks . . .

1. It's irrelevant to me (my subject or my students).

2. Leadership did not ask (or did not listen to) what learners wanted / needed to learn.

3. The speaker / presenter does not practice what s/he preaches. For example, the speaker says to make learning engaging while boring participants "to death."

4. It is inappropriately long or short for the content. (You're getting paid to be here, so we're going to stay all day even if we're finished, OR, here's a week's worth of content in an hour.)

5. It's not hands on; someone talks to me about doing something that I could be doing instead of listing to a lecture about.

6. I can't use it the next day. (THIS WAS A COMMON ANSWER.)

7. It is not differentiated / personalized / individualized, which teachers have been asked to do themselves.

8. It is non-specific, ie. a theory is shared without practical information (or practice) in how or what to implement in the classroom.

9. There is no (or little) choice in what to learn.

10. It could have been better delivered in a different format (through an email, video, etc.) as opposed to face to face.

11. Presenters ask educators to play "dumb games."

12. Presenters want to talk about themselves, are not self-aware (think they're funny when they're not), or are simply boring people with boring information.

13. Presenters have either never been teachers OR are out of touch with what teaching is like for today's teacher.

and finally, last but far from least . . .

14. It's unnecessarily repetitive.

I'm not a big fan of criticizing things I don't offer to change, so I'd like to take this list and turn it around.

Here's how to make sure your PD doesn't suck.

1. Make sure that what you are offering is relevant to your audience. If you have many different audiences, create something learners can work on and apply to their own subject / students / needs or put learners into different groups.

2. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: ASK the learners what they NEED or WANT to learn or at least HOW they want to learn it, then listen to them and do it as much as is possible. If you can't figure out how to do it, get a group of smart people together and ask them if they can think of a way. Or put it out to your personal learning network on Twitter or your preferred social media platform to get advice.

3. . Instead of just thinking about what YOU are going to do as the PD provider, spend a LOT more time thinking about what the participants are going to DO as learners.

A district leader once said to me, "Boy, I wish I had your job. All you do is sit here and watch people work." I wish I would have said,
"I have a room full of educators working to create things they are going to use in their classrooms tomorrow because I love and am great at what I do, and I'm helping them love and be great at what they do, too."

4. Know what educators will have to be able to do in order to prove mastery and award credit for mastery instead of seat time.

5. Always have participants bring technology and do something related to what they are supposed to be learning. Technology is just the pencil and paper of the 21st century; use it accordingly.

6. Figure out how what you have to share is relevant to your learners and make sure this is obvious to them by designing something for them to create that they can use the next day to implement the strategy or satisfy the requirement.

7. Create experiences learners can move through at their own pace and apply to their own content area and / or students.

8. Do not share theory. Seriously. If the theory is good and applicable, then show your audience what that looks like by having them apply it to a real world example. They will understand it better than if you just talk about it to them and will have an example of how to apply it themselves.

9. Give learners choices in at least one area: how they learn, when they learn, and what product they use to show their learning.

10. Don't meet face to face unless there is going to be an element of give and take. If your message is a lecture, then make a video with Screencastify (10 minutes of video FREE and P.S. NO ONE is going to watch more than 10 minutes. Try to limit it to 3), and send it out via email or through your school's LMS. If you're worried your participants won't listen unless you have them in the room, consider that you cannot assure that even if you are looking at them.

My mind can be at the beach while my body is in the conference room.

11. If you are a fan of "dumb games," as one participant called them, then let the participants who want to play do so but have another option for the rest of us to learn the same thing some other way.

12. Try to find people who others want to listen to to deliver your message. If the message is what's important, then who cares who delivers it? Figure out who loves and is good at public speaking and get that person's help in delivering your message. Or, improve your public speaking skills by asking for feedback, listening to it, and making steps to improve your skills.

13. Hire professional development providers to work with teachers who are teachers. Period.

and finally, last but far from least . . .

14. If the goal of whatever you're doing is mastery or knowledge of something, and one assumes it is, allow your staff to "test out" or show evidence of mastery in order to opt out of sessions where the content or message is already known or adopted by the participant.

If you made it this far, then thank you for caring about your learners. You are my people.

If you want to read the raw responses, I've gathered them for you here . . .

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