For as long as I can remember, I have loved attending professional development workshops. When I was a new teacher, I loved learning new ideas that I could implement with students. As I got further into my teaching career, I loved feeling revitalized after a workshop. I always felt a renewed sense of passion about teaching after attending a workshop or seminar.
Once technology started to become more prevalent in education, like many other teachers, I started to attend professional development workshops about utilizing technology in the classroom to augment student learning. The excitement that I felt as I attended an educational technology seminar or workshop was second to none. I spent the day soaking up the ideas, and when I returned to my classroom, I was like a kid with new toys – eager to play with all of them at once!
As the technology coordinator and teacher for my school district, I also felt a sense of responsibility to learn all of the tools so that I could share them with other teachers and my students. Unfortunately, when I returned to school and tried to do it all at once, I often tried to do too much. Subsequently, I overwhelmed my colleagues with too many new ideas.
Now, as an instructor for EdTechTeacher, although I’ve switched roles from workshop participant to workshop facilitator, I can still sense that feeling of “overwhelm-ment” that teachers sometimes experience during workshops. Many times, teachers hit a saturation point at some moment during the day when new ideas can begin to almost feel like too much. As a participant and instructor, I’ve discovered some strategies that teachers can employ when participating in workshops to help ensure success and lessen that feeling of being overwhelmed.
Consider Student Learning Objectives
First, I suggest going into the workshop experience with student learning objectives firmly set in your mind. Sometimes, without a clear idea of what we want our students to learn or DO, a wide variety of new ideas can easily be confusing. By spending some time before the workshop thinking about your objectives for student learning, your focus during the workshop will be less about the new tool or app and more about your students, your classroom, and the learning.
Take Good Notes
My EdTechTeacher colleague, Beth Holland, has a wonderful expression that she shares at the beginning of her workshops: “Future You will thank current You if current You takes notes!” By taking notes, you archive your learning for future reference. There are many note-taking platforms from which to choose including Google Docs, Evernote, or Google Keep.
Another effective tool for taking notes is Google Slides. Google Slides’ format naturally lends itself to grouping information, and the flexibility slides provides allows note-takers to include links to websites, screen captures, and even embedded YouTube videos. I’ve even had teachers take pictures of their hand-written notes and include them in a Google Slideshow. An example of a participant’s note-taking in Google Slides can be found here. Regardless of the format, taking good notes during the workshop will help you implement ideas later.
Pick One or Two Big Takeaways
Workshops are often filled with an overwhelmingly large amount of ideas, strategies, and information. Workshop facilitators share tons of information in an effort to reach the wide variety of learners in the room. It can easily become overwhelming, and the tendency is to just get frustrated thinking you’ll never remember it all. By taking good notes on everything, but really focusing on only one or two strategies you’ll implement in your classroom, you can lessen your “overwhelm-ent” factor. As you head back to your classroom, if you work on integrating one or two new strategies at a time, you may find that you have more success and gain confidence. As you do, you can easily explore other new ideas throughout the year.
Share Ideas with Others
Verbally processing ideas with other people is a great way to continue to assimilate new information. If you attend the workshop with a friend or colleague, spend some of the time during breaks and lunch to talk through the concepts you’ve explored and discuss how you might implement them in your classroom. Or, if you are the sole representative from your school attending the workshop, share your new information with colleagues once you get back to school. As verbally processing evolves into teaching new ideas to others, you will discover that your own understanding of the concepts deepens.
Be Patient as You Get Started
Integrating new ideas into your classroom can be renewing, revitalizing, and messy! Tried and true strategies tend to run like a well-oiled machine, while new processes often take time to refine before they are as effective as we’d like. Always remind yourself how many wonderful things are already happening in your classroom, and don’t feel you need to throw all of that away. Be patient with yourself and the new strategies as you get started.
By considering student learning first, taking notes on everything but focusing on one or two good ideas, sharing your ideas with others, and being patient with yourself as you get started, you will create the learning environment that is most ideal for YOU. Remember that the great thing about becoming a workshop participant is that you have the opportunity to assume the role of student. There is great power in the student perspective because it helps you feel what your students feel every day, and that makes you a better teacher!