Lively Learning for Professional Development

With increasing demands to meet rigorous curriculum standards and improve the quality of instruction, efficient, productive professional development (PD) and staff meetings are more critical than ever. Too often, though, these sessions fall short of being fully engaging and productive—and opportunities for professional growth are lost. The familiar lecture-style meeting can leave participants feeling disengaged and facilitators weary; a free-wheeling discussion often feels aimless and unsafe.

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In contrast, the use of interactive learning structures can help create an environment that promotes positive risk-taking and honest, respectful dialogue, which are absolutely essential for PD and staff meetings to truly come alive with learning. And just as our students need active and interactive learning to do their best, so too do adults. Interactive learning structures enable every participant to be actively engaged with the facilitator, with one another, and with the content.

Tried and True

For more than three decades, facilitators of Responsive Classroom workshops have been using interactive learning structures to fully engage adult participants. Now, in the Responsive Classroom book Energize Your Meetings!, you can learn how to make effective use of 35 of these structures. Here is a sample from the book:

Walk and Talk activity from Energize Your Meetings!
Some of these structures were adapted from ones used successfully with children in the classroom; others were devised just for adults. Regardless, these 35 learning structures are tried-and-true solutions for successful PD.

These structures provide a wide variety of opportu­nities for professionals to engage with one another in dynamic and respectful ways. Some structures, such as having participants share thoughts with a partner about a question the group leader poses, are very simple. Others, such as having small groups use a step-by-step approach to analyze possible solutions to a shared problem, are more involved.

Every learning structure featured in the book enables participants to work together effectively and strengthen their group intelligence while also building their individual knowledge. The result: more meaningful and productive gatherings, no matter the purpose or size of your group.

Being an Effective Facilitator

If you’re leading a meeting or PD session, here are some ways to ensure that it’s productive and your audience is fully engaged:

  • Right after participants start working in pairs or small groups, take a quick tour around the room to check in with them. This way, you can clarify directions and, if needed, stop the whole group and quickly clear up any confusion.
  • When circulating, try to be a “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.” Listen in, clarify misunderstandings, and gently redirect anyone off task. Avoid hovering or steering a conversation.
  • If it’s important for you to take part directly, with a partner or as part of a small group, still do the initial “drive-by” to make sure everyone gets off to a great start.
  • The structures in this book provide opportunities for every participant to be heard. Still, one or more people can sometimes dominate a discussion. Keep discussions inclusive by, for example, setting time limits for speaking or limiting sharing to one comment per person.

The interactive learning structures in this new book can enrich any professional development session or staff meeting, enabling educators to do their best learning and work together efficiently, respectfully, and dynamically.

Get step-by-step instructions for easy-to-use interactive structures that will make your staff meetings, study groups, and other professional development sessions more productive and engaging. Use these tried-and-true methods to:

  • Introduce new material
  • Deepen understanding
  • Reflect on learning and develop action steps
  • Assess comprehension
  • Solve problems collaboratively

Energize Your Meetings! includes a guide to help you choose the best structure for the adult learners in your group, practical tips for success, variations to keep things lively, and examples showing each structure in action.

“Structures that get learners involved have always been an essential element of Responsive Classroom trainings and critical to their success. I am really excited that we are making these powerful tools available to other educators!”   —Karen Poplawski, Responsive Classroom Consultant

Tags: Professional Community, Professional Development

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