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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