Monday, April 8, 2019

I Know This Training

Half of having a good professional development experience is going into it with an open mind, giving the presenter the benefit of the doubt.

The other half is the professional development actually being worth a damn and being presented in a way that engages those in the seats. But that's out of my hands as the person sitting in it, so let's talk about the half we can control.

I need my students to meet me halfway when it comes to lessons and projects. Yes, I feel like it's my responsibility to engage them and draw them in, but it's so much harder of they've got their heels dug in before I even get there. It's hard to teach past "This is stupid, why do I have to learn this?" We explain it and all that jazz, but having to justify my existence takes time that could be used moving things forward.

So it goes with professional development. We all have had to sit in training sessions we weren't looking forward to. Oh, who's it gonna be this time? The Expert who hasn't been in a classroom in a decade. The researcher who can't talk to humans. The Icebreaker. *shiver* But then we get to be pleasantly surprised. Hey, this is good stuff! I can use more than 25% of this. Sweet. If I start those days thinking about how I can use the material, I normally have a better day. A bad presenter can still torpedo it, but at that point I feel like I've done my work. I came in caffeinated and fed, I left those tabs on my computer closed, I raised my hand. I'm here with you. Now it's your fault.

Being trained in something I don't know well also makes that easier. When something both has value and is new to me, it's easier to be on task and engaged. We covered what a bad presenter can do. So what about the other way? What about when you know the material that's about to be covered? What about if you've run sessions on the material about to be covered? That's a different ball of wax.

This is not, as I'm sure you can tell, a hypothetical. This week I'll be spending three days at a Fancy Institute Training for Project-Based Learning. I'm looking forward to it, because I like PBL. I'm having some trepidation about it because I do PBL. Like, a lot. Like, it's what most of my class revolves around. I do run conference sessions about Making and Projects. When I told my kids why I was going to be out they raised their hand, "Don't we do that?" Yes, yes we do. "Then why are you going?" I gave them both honest answers, because they deserve both of them- First, because I can always learn more. I'm not an expert on this, I just do it a lot. I make you reflect after every project so you can improve. I reflect after every project so I can improve. This training is another step in that process, hopefully I'll come back with even cooler ideas and better academic ways to integrate projects into our work. And second- and then a kid interrupts me.

"Is the second one that you're gonna have your hand in the air the whole time going 'I do that! And that! And that!' Is it?" I'm honest with them, like I said. So I nodded and smiled. Of course! It's fun to be That Kid in the class sometimes!

I want to go to this training because even though I do a lot of projects I know I'm not doing them as well as I could be. I know that my years of experience doing it have gotten me quite a long way, and then my connections to others who do it both in my school and on social media have moved me further along. I also know that I'm not technically formally trained in it, and if I didn't think there was something to being formally trained in something then I have no right to be teaching in public school because that's kinda literally what I do for a living. I'm all for "Hey maaaaaaan, just do it and learn from it that way maaaaaan. Like, follow your instincts and reflect and it'll all come together." But I know that's not the only way to learn something and trying to do that exclusively will hurt in the long run.

I'm worried about this training because what if it's a bunch of stuff I already know? At least if it's stuff I know then I'm getting reinforcement. That'll be good, at least for a day. Worse though, what if it's really stuffy and formal and takes this free, exploratory learning that I love so much and codifies it into little boxes on forms to the detriment of the process as a whole? What if it's humorless and takes PBL serious as a heart attack? I'll still be able to learn from it, of course, that's what we do as professional teachers. We extract useful information from anything. That's why some terrible presenters still have jobs- we vampire out anything useful from the eight hours and discard the rest, and then three perky teachers happily tweet, "OMG Life Changing Revolutionary Where Have You Been All My Life."

I present on project-based learning, and one of the major facets of my sessions is always having the participants DO SOMETHING. Why listen to me talk about it? If you teach it, have them do it. Don't watch me build a Google Slide Show, you build one. Don't listen to me go on and on about the benefits of PBL, build something and then you tell me what you learned and how you can use it with your kids.

I recognize my hesitance when it comes to this training, and by seeing it and acknowledging the truth of it I'm able to suppress it enough to be open to the training. I can't fake excitement if I'm not excited. But I can see the value for my kids in this. And that's good enough for me to get into it.

At least for a day. For three whole days it better be real good.

If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.

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