What I have Learned While Leading Professional Development

Deb’s Musings, February 2017:
What I’ve Learned While Leading Professional Development
by Deborah B. Ford

I’ve been leading professional development at conferences, school districts and public library systems for more years than I care to speak aloud. From “Top 10 Reasons You Should be a Librarian” (You get your own bathroom.) to “Fake News and How to Spot it,” presentation topics have changed. Once upon a time I used an overhead projector. Now I can present from my phone.  I can present from my office—all the way around the world. Technology has changed. What else have I learned while leading professional development and how can it help you in your daily work?

First, keep it short. We’ve been doing monthly webcasts for a while now and they continue to gain in popularity. When I ask listeners why, I’m consistently told that “I can spare 30 minutes for training.” Consider this as you plan lessons with classes or workshops with teachers. You can even create short screencasts for support or instead of face-to-face instruction. Sometimes that means you have to pare down your content.

We are starting new professional development webcasts between the monthly new selections webcasts. Our first one is February 9: 4 Ways to Strengthen Diversity in Your Library. Like the others, it is only 30 minutes. It originated from my 10 Ways to Ensure Diversity, which is a minimum of an hour in presentation length. Solution? Drill down to 4 easy ways. We will be talking about resources, programming, teaching strategies, and of course, new amazing books.

In some ways, it’s a teaser. You could talk for days about strengthen diversity. You may want to think the same way. By offering a short in-service to your staff, patrons or students, you increase the potential for the number of attendees. You give them the best of the best, for which they are grateful. You market your programs and services in a smaller sound bite, allowing them to digest just enough info for them to handle. You leave them wanting more—so later you do it again. 

Second, make your strategies practical. Being realistic about what your audience can do is key. If most of your students or patrons don’t have internet service at home, your presentations should also include low tech strategies. Keep in mind you probably have different abilities in your group. Present various levels of applications. Be careful not to overwhelm them with possibilities.  For example, show them how to use Adobe Spark, and then work on implementation ideas. Give them time to personalize the strategies with their own imprint. Working at their own pace provides differentiation application within your group.

Third, keep your audience involved. Start with a story to break the ice. You don’t have to tell a joke, but depending on your audience, you want to begin with something that connects the participants to you. Another strategy is sharing something that sets up the reason for the content of your presentation. Why should I care? How will this help me? You can ask them a question and have them turn to a neighbor and share responses. Twenty minutes later (if you’re doing a longer presentation) they need a stretcher. Ask them to write something down. Make them move.  Do a share out. Though you are the “authority,” you’re not the only answer. Allowing time to share out allows other participants to get inspired or affirmed by the information. Encourage squirrelly listeners to multi-task. Make something. Sometimes mouths are closed when hands are busy.

Lastly, make it fun. Professional development should not be a necessary evil. Laugh. Share a funny story. Let them brainstorm how to use what you’ve shared. Watch your audience. Are they comfortable listening? Do you need to adjust the room setup? Change the temperature? Use phrases like “you might want to try,” “consider,” or “think about.” Suggesting they consider a strategy is less threatening to listeners than creating a mandate. Are their minds elsewhere? Can you control that? Do you need to address that? If the session must be mandatory, create a game they can play. (Try Kahoot) Give away prizes. Provide chocolate. Read a hilarious picture book and show the pictures. Ryan T. Higgins’ new book, Be Quiet! is perfect for a read aloud.

Last year, I took 100 flights. I’m on track for the same this year. People ask me “how do you do it?” I’m tired. I’m a newlywed and a new grandmother. I need a GPS in my own hometown. Yet, I know that what I’m doing is important. In November a public librarian attended one of my events. At the morning break she told me that before that day, she had planned to quit. She had lost all hope. Now, she felt affirmed, informed, and inspired. She told me she had more children to save and more parents to encourage. We both cried.

You have the same opportunity and you don’t even have to leave your building. Make time to inspire, encourage, and affirm your staff. Give them snippets of coaching they can use tomorrow. Make it fun for them and it will be fun for you. Let my lessons encourage you not to give up, and in the wonderful words of E. B. White,

“Hang onto your hat. Hang onto your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.”

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