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Mindset & Motivation   |   Jul 9, 2013

How to completely waste your time in PD sessions

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

How to completely waste your time in PD sessions

By Angela Watson

Most of us will have to take part in professional development sessions either this summer or the week before school starts, and let’s be honest, much of it won’t be very interesting. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how teachers can get more out of these mandatory inservices, and I’ve realized there are a few choices participants can make that will determine whether the training is at least moderately valuable or a complete waste of time. The tips that follow are things I’ve observed teachers doing (and have done myself) that resulted in PD being only slightly less painful that stabbing yourself in the eye with a fork. Try them out at your own risk.

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Give your administrators full control over your professional learning.

Refuse to implement any new technology or teaching strategies until you’ve received more boring PD on it. Make it your mantra that you will only learn what you’re told to learn. Let your principal decide what is important for you to be an expert in, and only attend trainings on those topics. After all, building your own professional learning network (PLN) and reading books and blog posts on professional topics you care about gives you ownership of your learning and empowers you as an educator. Is that what you really want?

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Just because you don’t get credits for what you’re learning on your own doesn’t mean it’s not valuable!

Immediately point out all the reasons why a new idea won’t work.

I’ve totally been guilty of this. In fact, I thought I doing the group a favor by saying what everyone else was thinking but was afraid to speak out loud. Now, I realize I was just derailing the learning of the entire group by forcing them to think about the limitations before they’d fully considered the possibilities. I’ve found that I learn a lot more when I just listen, reflect on all the options as they’re presented, and then brainstorm with the group or a colleague at the end of the session.

Focus on the three kids in your class for whom the new ideas will be completely ineffective.

It’s tempting to block out the fact that the majority of your class could really benefit from the strategy, and spend the entire PD session fuming about how useless it is because little Johnny will never go for it. But let’s face it: there will always be at least three kids in your class with whom ANY teaching strategy will crash and burn. There are no teaching strategies that work 100% of the time with 100% of students, so it makes more sense to listen to the PD session with a full range of kids in mind.

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Hold side conversations the whole time.

This is a fantastic way to ruin a training, because talking will ensure that the PD becomes useless for your colleagues, as well. Bonus points for holding side conversations about how the ideas you’re hearing will never, ever work with your students. However, even on-topic side conversations will be enough to distract everyone around you and throw your presenter slightly off of his or her game. There’s nothing more awkward than one adult trying to get the attention of other adults in a professional setting, so chattering endlessly is a great way to make your presenter resort to annoying kindergarten-style attention grabbers which you can also complain about.

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Jot down notes on a piece of paper and stick it in your file cabinet, never to be seen again.

If you do manage to learn something in the PD session, be sure to keep it to yourself! If you blog about it, share it on social media, or talk with your colleagues about their thoughts, you’re likely to encourage them to try new things and improve their teaching. Sharing your learning also gives you the opportunity to reflect on what you heard and figure out how to apply it to your classroom practice. So, if you want to make sure the principles you learned never have an impact on students, bury those notes in a folder! Sharing and collaborating will only lead to more learning.

What’s your advice for teachers on how to get more (or less!) out of the professional development they attend? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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Discussion


  1. Focus on the three kids in your class for whom the new ideas will be completely ineffective.

    Yikes. I’ve been guilty of that. It’s easy to get discouraged and downhearted at PD. Thanks for keeping things positive. I’ll have to look back on this in a few weeks.

    – @newfirewithin

    1. I’ve been guilty of that, too, Justin! I know I missed out on a lot of great ideas because I was too busy thinking about how they wouldn’t work with my most challenging kids.

  2. Oh, my goodness- when I saw the title of this blog post, I nearly snorted all of my coffee right out my nose! This was hilarious, from start to finish!
    I think you could add a section here: play cell phone games in your lap the whole time. How about that? I’ve done that before! You can play Words With Friends, Scrabble, Boggle, heck, you can even spend time on Pinterest, and that is WAY more fun that sitting through a mandatory staff development presentation designed for some other grade level than the one I teach!
    Actually, my district has gotten better and better at planning meaningful staff development days, so I really can’t complain- although the side conversations in the room rarely stop, and that is incredibly irritating for me as a person with a hearing loss. I actually like bringing a fidget with me, such as silly putty or “Floam.” (I must have ADD!) One group of teachers used to bring things to COLOR while they sat and listened… and even got permission in advance from their principals to do so! Can you imagine? I was surprised that it was allowed… and a wee bit jealous! LOL!
    Heidi

    1. Hah, thanks, Heidi! The cell phone thing is an interesting point. I have found that if the principal does not specifically say, “Phones, laptops, and tablets away”, teachers will multi-task. I have mixed feelings about that–when I’m presenting, I like to have people’s full attention, but when I’m attending, I like to take notes and tweet out important ideas. I would find it frustrating as a learner if I wasn’t allowed to access any devices during PD.

      I wonder if the group of teachers you know who got permission to color while listening allowed the same for their students during class lectures?

      1. Better still, take interactive notes: with graphic organizers and diagrams and lots of bright color. Use colored pencils and highlighters and post-its and and create your own creative working document in a notebook or composition book.

  3. I laughed too as I read your post, Angela. I know we are all guilty of these, and other, diversion tactics. I think you have a point when you say it’s better to listen and decide how a particular strategy would work with our students before resorting to complaining about how It won’t work. We never do something as it’s presented. We always adapt to the students we have at any given time. Later, in conversations with colleagues, we can debrief the pros and cons of the PD. I would only beg to differ with this approach to PD if it would be completely detrimental to students. Then, I think I would have the moral obligation to voice my dissent but I would do it by asking questions of the presenter rather than whining about it. Make sense?

    1. I think you’re totally right about the moral obligation to voice dissent when an idea is detrimental to students. The problem for me is that I am naturally a very critical person and can see the flip side to pretty much any point, so I find myself trying to pick apart holes in people’s theories and thinking of examples in which their ideas won’t be effective. That’s not a bad trait in and of itself (someone needs to be thinking critically and not blindly swallowing everything they’re told, after all), but I know it has inhibited my own learning on many occasions.

  4. Trying to look interested when the PD is for classroom teachers only and you are support staff.

    What frustrates me the most is when the PD is info for classroom teachers such as what to do with teaching materials. Half the staff is sitting there bored out of their minds for 2 hours while the rest of the staff is engaged. Or when presenting info about state testing for 3-5 teachers and the k-2 teachers are sitting there doing nothing. WASTE OF TIME!

    Administrators really need to look at who benefits from the PD and make alternative plans for those that have nothing to do with the info presented.

    1. Rebekka, I agree that PD needs to be differentiated. It’s hypocritical to tell teachers they have to teach in small groups and meet individual needs, and then provide the same training to every single staff member every single time. PD needs to model what teachers are supposed to be doing in the classroom. I’d like to see the edcamp method used more (in which teachers choose and lead their own sessions).

      1. This is exactly the point that I was going to make…differentiation. As teachers, we should be giving the students pretests to determine what they know and what they need to know. The administration does not do that very often. While I understand that at some times, all staff members need to hear a similar message, this is not always the case.

        In addition, in my classroom, I teach the students that fair and equal are not the same. If all students receive the same amount of help, the same resources, etc., that would not be fair. I do many lessons that teach those concepts and they need reminders throughout the year. I think that as teachers, we need to remember this also. Sometimes, when P.D. is differentiated and some members are allowed to “do something different”, other staff members become upset. Just as in our classroom, the staff should only get what they need. As teachers, sometimes we ask for differentiated PD but then do not like how it is implemented because it doesn’t seem “fair.” We need to accept what we need, especially if needs are assessed by surveys, data, etc.
        (Hopefully that made sense!)

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