This past Monday was the VERY worst day of peer-led professional development that I have experienced. Please note that I’ve been involved in two handfuls of peer-led PD so I’m viewing this with limited experience, but I’m not a complete freshy! Here is a super pregnant me co-presenting at the Pennsylvania SAS Conference in 2015.
After stewing and demolishing my room for the year (I tend to DIY and demolish when I’m frustrated), I decided to jot down some of the expectations you should have if you have been
roped into assigned to lead a professional development session. And what to do when peer-led professional development doesn’t go as planned.
To give you some background, my school participates in Act 80 days where the students are on a two-hour delay schedule but the teachers arrive at normal time for PD. For the past two Act 80 days, our school has been focusing on technology – they asked a handful of techy teachers to lead.
Because the PD is teacher led, the presentations includes oodles of examples of real-life classroom application. There is a connection to actual teachers who know the student population, school issues, and time restraints. But this always means that there are plenty of opportunities for teachers to lash out at the PD presenters. And when I saw the list of people that were going to be in my group, I knew that it was going to be a complainarama (just made that word up).
My plan was to work on three ways to use the newest Microsoft programs within an already existing class structure: how to use OneDrive to collect student work, how to grade and return student work in Word, and how to create a master notebook in OneNote (with the potential to create a Class Notebook for students on the next PD day). THREE SIMPLE THINGS. And I created screenshot based tutorials, printed in color for the planned three items AND two additional handouts for students.
This should have gone well based on the exact same presentation from the last PD day (with a different group). THIS SHOULD HAVE GONE WELL. It didn’t.
Before the PD day, I sent out the same survey that had been used in the first session with the exception of adding a comment box. Based on the feedback from this survey, most people were on board with my plan. The only teeny, tiny repeat request was to understand how to create a distribution list in the Outlook program. Simple. Right?
Side-note: I don’t use the distribution list feature but instead the Groups feature (this creates a shared calendar and email addresses are automatically pulled up by any variation of names).
After asking around and googling to my heart’s content, I still didn’t have an exact answer to this request. So I asked the tech director who was going to be in my PD session. He showed me minutes before the PD started. Evidently, there is a different version of Outlook through the desktop app versus the online version. Evidently, the distribution list is only available through the desktop app. Evidently, no one knows that this exists (including me). What I thought would be a quick, 10-minute tip about creating a distribution list turned into a 35 minutes fiasco. This fiasco also included: being told to stick to one thing at a time from the group member who still couldn’t find the app, fielding questions about why student email addresses were not in the system, and showing members the difference between the Outlook and Mail apps. Holy. Cow.
Looking at the time, I realized that I needed to skip quickly through the OneDrive and Word plan and go straight to the heavier hitter, One Note. Thankfully, I had the handouts to offer support for OneDrive and Word. It was a bummer because I really thought that those two items would have been the easiest to apply to a class.
Moving onto OneNote, I was now racing against the clock to at least get the group started with the basics. The idea was to set up a master notebook that could be copied for students – similar to a master copy of a worksheet that you hand in for copying. As we moved into the basics (for all of 5 minutes), a question came from the one of THE members. You know these people – they are the ones that can turn a “good morning” into a 20 minute gripe session like it’s their profession. The question was about intellectual property and how this would impact teachers who upload materials to OneNote. The tech director provided a short and sweet answer (if you make it in the school, use school materials/technology, or upload it at the school, it is the school’s property). That turned quickly into another gripe session about taking away teacher’s rights and the school making money off of our work. What in the ever loving….
By this time, I had 10 minutes left in the session. We should have been 10 minutes into the independent work part of the session that allows me to float around the room fielding questions. Instead, I was put on the spot repeatedly about tech related questions that had no right answer, no benefit to the session, and truly weren’t even my responsibility.
So what do you do when a peer-led PD day goes not quite as planned? Break it down into 4 main points:
- Consider yourself for a moment and the possibility that it might have not been planned as well as you thought. I did this – I went through each moment to see what I could have done differently. Do I think that my frustration showed at the end? Yes. Do I think that I could have done differently? No. This was well planned and executed well before.
- Consider the people in the group and how that could have impacted the PD. This is one of the major reasons why this session versus the first went so poorly. Just like our students, there are certain individuals who feed off of the negativity of others. Naysayers who enjoy the company of other naysayers. Face it – you will never make them happy and it is a waste of energy to try. I really think that having the tech director in my session also wasn’t fortunate. He isn’t the easiest person to pin down for questions and I believe the certain group members thought this would be an ideal time to have their burning questions answered directly.
- Talk to those in the session and ask for feedback. Whether it is through a survey or a quick lunch conversation, ask for advice. I went to my lunch crew and asked for their advice. They knew that the session was not going well and that it was a rough group of individuals. The consensus is that I was on point for the most part but my frustration was obvious at the end. What was shocking were the number of non-friend colleagues who were complimentary. If I had actually been able to go through with my plans, I probably would have blown their minds!
- Move on from the nasty and try again. I’m currently working on this one – call it licking my wounds because I KNOW that I can provide quality PD that is teacher friendly and applicable. I’m sure I’ll volunteer for another PD next year because I NEED to redeem myself!
Whew. Now that I’m starting to get over my horrible, bad, awful, embarrassing PD session, I would love to hear about your experiences and how you also overcame bad PD sessions. Let me know in the comments below!