Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

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It’s 3:00pm on a Thursday afternoon. Seated at a professional development day for educators, you’re trying to come to terms with how the next 60 minutes will be spent. This late in the day, it’s fairly challenging to stay focused. Information has been in abundance throughout this mandatory in-service day.


As the final session begins, your head spins and you begin to scan the room. The educator to your left is checking social

media. Someone is grading tests to your right. You happen to hear a peer behind you mumble “this presenter has never taught.” Glancing at your watch, you recall that the typical day for you would be ending in five minutes. How in the world will you maintain focus?

By applying strategies to stay engaged, educators can get the most out of training—even as the day grows long and distractions rear their ugly heads. The rub is to approach each session with purpose. Employ the following four points of action, and get the most of out of your next professional development session.


1.   Keep an Open Mind

Can a science teacher learn from a guidance counselor? Can a University Philosophy Professor teach something to a Middle School English teacher? If you are in the business of helping students, then the answer is undoubtedly yes.  Don’t allow your personal biases to get in the way of learning. 


Keep an open mind and be receptive to new ideas. Simply put, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Operate on the assumption that whoever is presenting has something positive to offer educators. The first step in utilizing wisdom is receiving it.


2.   Tuck It in Your Pocket

At a typical professional development session, you will receive handouts, folders, or binders (oh my). Focus on the main idea behind the takeaway if you’re not sure exactly how it fits into what you do right now. Never fear, as good ideas need time to develop.


Assessments? Projects? Instructional strategies? It can be unsettling to hear about a best practice for educators if you are unsure of howit would fit into your class. Focus on the big picture, and perhaps just tuck it in your pocket for a future date. Keeping it simple as a basic topic makes it easier to reference sometime down the road.


3.   Put Your Mark on It

Part of the fun of being an educator is putting your spin on an idea, a lesson, or a delivery method.  Inspiration is everywhere, and searching for it during a session is a smart way to stay in the moment. This provides you with a reason to stay engaged.  Be on the lookout for refreshing takes on content, dynamic instructional strategies, or unique presentation styles.


During the session, brainstorm which pieces you would like to repurpose for you or your students. Jot down items of interest in real time during the presentation. Then put your mark on it. Make notes and process how you can incorporate these bits into your specific class. However, remember to cite your inspiration when borrowing with integrity.


4.   Ask Questions

Ask questions to clarify information during the session. The presenter may not say it, but they want a dynamic exchange. After all, you are here to consume, process, and learn from the experience. Questioning is an art. Steer clear of inquiries that produce basic yes or no responses.


Question using how and what…How would you incorporate this best practice into higher education? What are some examples of using this project in a middle school classroom? How can you organize a lecture to foster engagement? Chances are if you are curious, others in the room are too.


Educator professional development sessions are as varied as the presenters that facilitate them. What do you look for in an ideal session? How do you get the most out of professional development? Post a comment in the space below, and I will be sure to connect with you.


Doug Petrick holds an Architectural Engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from California University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a high school Physics educator at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Doug regularly contributes to a series for educators on the Wiley Network offering practical advice and instructional strategies.


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    Daniel Iknaian
Daniel Iknaian
University of Massachusetts Lowell, Accounting and Information Systems


How many of us have said at some point “I wish I knew then, what I know now?” There are any number of reasons, including, as I found out, not listening to someone older and wiser and not taking away the right lesson from a mistake. I’ve done some reflecting on my past through the lens of being a non-traditional student, and there are a few things I learned that I think might be helpful for new and returning students to know.


1. Find a mentor and ask for help

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As a high schooler, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I always had at least one job during the school year and two during the summer. The feeling of being rewarded for my work and enjoying career success is something I fell in love with quickly. Yet, I needed some guidance to help direct my energies in school. I wish I had done more to find a mentor.


Making the connection between the classroom and my workplace was always a struggle for me. That is why I recommend that younger students find a teacher, supervisor, or any professional person whom you really connect with to go to regularly for guidance and support..

Mentorship creates a long-lasting relationship with someone whohas a wealth of experience in the academic and professional worlds. Mentors provide feedback based on an outside view of your work, thoughts, and actions. I am always working to improve myself in every aspect of life, but until I identify my weaknesses, how can I improve them? Mentors provide an honest view of our weak points and help us improve them.


2. Be Organized, Be Prepared


Part of being an adult is making the best use of time. My desk, briefcase, and laptop desktop are set up in such a way that I can accomplish all my tasks efficiently. I’ve found that keeping my work area clean, organized and well stocked helps me focus on tasks as they arrive. Keep a schedule with due dates of your school work, class times, work times, and appointments. Be realistic with the amount of time you give each project. Don’t try to cram too many tasks in one day or you’ll find yourself cutting corners to get them done. Organizing yourself and remaining focused on a few tasks helps you work more efficiently and, in the end, allows for a better work/life balance.


At the start of each semester every professor provides a syllabus with due dates and expectations. The first thing I do after class is input each due date in my calendar with reminders. This way, nothing is overlooked. My best practice is to try to finish my work early, so I can read ahead and prepare for the upcoming lecture. Reading ahead helps me comprehend a lecture on new material. I go into a lecture with questions in mind rather than trying to absorb everything the instructor is discussing.


3. Beware of the “Comparison Trap”


In high school, I used to envy the students who sat in the front of class, raising their hands for every question, and getting good grades on their work. The voice in my head asked, why am I not as good as them? This is called the comparison trap. I only saw their best moments, the fruits of their labor, without considering the sacrifices they made to achieve it.


What’s a student to do? This is where organization, prioritizing, and asking for help all comes together. I always set aside enough time to study, write down any questions I had while studying, and wait until the lecture to see if my instructor covers them. If any of my questions weren’t answered or remained unclear I knew I could ask my professor for clarification.


Instead of envying the star student and comparing myself to him/her, I found a way to compare my past behaviors to the student I am today. . Over the past two and a half years, I have refined this method and found that it has been the driving force in my success. It required me to do two things:


  1. Recognize my opportunity cost, that is: sacrifice some of my free time now in pursuit of a more successful future, and
  2. Find others around me (like professors, tutors, students, and colleagues) that I could approach and ask for help or clarification.


I understand how difficult some of my recommendations might be. Asking for help isn’t easy, especially if you feel like your question is dumb. If that is the case, write it down and ask someone in a one-on-one setting.


Getting help, being prepared, and evaluating your personal progress as a student can be a clear path to success.. I hope these tips will help guide you in pursuit of your academic goals. Feel free to share your own tips for success in the comments below.

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