Reflections from a Teacher Trainer

10rulesI am guest blogging for Lynn this month, which gives me a chance to reflect on our professional development work in CI&A. We have had an astonishingly busy year this with the explosion of Project-Based Learning, as well as ongoing work in literacy, Responsive Classroom, coaching and support for Common Core instruction and assessment, and collaboration with other departments. In my 16 years here at BOCES as a Teacher Trainer, I cannot remember a busier year or a time when I have been more proud of what we have accomplished with our small but dedicated staff. Whatever the initiative from the state, whatever the request from our schools, or whatever the support needed by our teachers, we have tried to provide the most effective professional development possible. It has also been a tremendous opportunity for me to continue to learn from my colleagues and the teachers with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the years. Lucky me! So what have I learned? Too much, I’m afraid, to capture completely in a short blog, but I will share some of the Rules of Professional Development that I keep in mind when planning a workshop or working with teachers. Some are serious, most have an element of humor and all are based on personal experience:

  1. Professional development is about change and change is hard. Even if the change is for the better and everyone is on board and committed, change is difficult. People can only handle so much change, and we have witnessed massive changes in the last three years. It has certainly made our lives as teacher trainers very interesting.There is no way to make people like change. You can only make them feel less threatened by it. -Frederick Hayes
  2. Teachers tend to behave like the students they teach. This is definitely not meant as an insult. I think it means that teachers understand their students and can relate to them. It also means that I need to keep the characteristics of my audience in mind when I am planning.
  3. Teachers do not like to write on handouts. It’s amazing the length to which teachers will go to not write on a handout! I always plan to have extra “clean copies” for the teachers or to have the resources for them electronically.
  4. The hardest teachers to work with are the ones who already think they are excellent. If you already think you know everything, then you have nothing left to learn from me or anyone else. A corollary to this is that teachers who are truly outstanding always feel like they have something more to learn. These are the teachers who are wonderful to work with!Anyone who isn’t confused really doesn’t understand the situation. – Edward R. Murrow
  5. Even the crankiest, most negative teacher has something to offer. It’s difficult, but approaching a teacher with a positive attitude, even in the face of serious disgruntlement is often a way to open a productive dialogue.
  6. Not everyone will be happy. This one is always difficult for me to accept because I want everyone to be happy! The reality is that nothing is ever 100%. Someone leaves with unanswered questions, or unfulfilled expectations. The challenge for me is to learn from every situation and keep moving forward.
  7. Teachers ask hard question for which there are no easy answers. The questions in education, especially these days, are complex and difficult and I am not an expert on everything. I tell people that I know some things and I have opinions about a lot of things, but I will admit when I don’t know and offer to try to find out more information. I think people like to know that I am learning along with them. A frequent outcome of me not knowing everything is that other teachers will often offer information and input. Collaboration is wonderful thing!It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers. – James Thurber
  8. The thing that you most want to remember to say or do will almost certainly be the one thing you forget. I have written myself notes, put important information on slides and on handouts and I still forget the important resource, article, or evaluation. I shrug and resolve to do better “next time,” although as a teacher trainer there is usually not an actual “next time” with the same people and the same material.
  9. Always use humor. This may be particular to my style of teaching, but I think learning is, and should always be, fun. Not necessarily easy, but fun and energizing, with laughter and cartoons and word play.
  10. Never think you’re finished. Teaching and learning will never be done. There is always something more to know, new ways of thinking about education and so many new books to read!! And isn’t that great?When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t. – Thomas Edison

Feel free to add to the list from your experience with teaching and learning! Lynn and I wish everyone a wonderful and productive summer! Fanelli_Jen_WEBJenny Fanelli Teacher Trainer jfanelli@ocmboces.org

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