It can be a challenge to design a CPD session that participants want to be involved in and feel welcome to contribute to as it takes place. From my experience, getting participants involved in a CPD session requires a combination of planning and preparation beforehand and some facilitative approaches for the session itself.
1.Pre-session communication to diagnose needs and interests
When you’re designing a CPD session, it is very helpful to get an idea of the participants’ experiences and views of the topic as it enables you to select content and tasks that are more likely to be of relevance and interest. This information can be gathered through a pre-session survey, a self-assessment task or even a quick email with question prompts, if you are not able to talk to the group face-to-face in a scoping meeting.
- Ask participants to bring something along to share or review
This might be a classroom resource, samples of learners’ work, an assessment tool, lesson plan or Scheme of Work. Rich, contextually situated conversations can take place when you ask people to relate their situation and teaching resources to content that you have covered in the training.
- Balance input with high quality discussion in groups and pairs
One of the common complaints that I hear about CPD sessions is that there is too much sharing of practice and too little content from the trainer. I think that the person leading the session needs to bring something into the room. It may be research insights to discuss; it may be messages about practices from the wider sector; it may be a practical approach or activity that is modelled and evaluated. People often want to come away from a CPD session with something new to try out, a different perspective on a familiar area of practice, something to explore through reading, a shift in approach, otherwise there is little chance of development in future.
This does not mean that the trainer needs to dominate the session with ‘trainer talk’ and never involve attendees in debate, group discussion and pair dialogue. It just means that there is some balancing of ‘sage on the stage’ with peer conversations in different forms. One of the skills here is ensuring that the paired/group conversations are purposeful and have reflective depth. Using tasks that tap into higher order thinking skills can be helpful here e.g. Asking participants to identify pros and cons of an approach or activity for different scenarios or inviting them to critique some resources in terms of how well they would meet the needs of their learners.
- Incorporate reflection and application slots
My experience is that attendees in CPD sessions participate more actively when they have the chance to think and talk about how the content relates to their practice/context. There is an energy and dynamism from thinking through those connections and a creativity that can emerge from those discussions. As the trainer, it is good to look for spaces and opportunities to bring the participants’ reflections and ideas for practical application into the room. Some of the most actively participative sessions that I have run recently have involved attendees in evaluating their resources and planning classroom activities for future use.
- Respect and harness the expertise and experience in the room
This may seem an obvious point but it is an important one to note. The most engaging trainers I have seen are interested in what the participants have to say as well as interesting in terms of what they bring to the content and style of the session. Rich, complex and thought provoking conversations can take place in CPD sessions if they are facilitated instead of suppressed by the person at the front of the room.