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Building Community Through Professional Development

Wednesday, 03 May 2023 09:37

When you hear the words “professional development”, what do you think of? If you imagine sitting in a classroom or listening endlessly to a monotone lecture, you’re not alone. When we surveyed our partners, they confirmed our worst fears – the most available PD is one-and-done workshops that don’t allow time for discussion, practice, and follow up.

We know it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, PD can provide space and time for colleagues to learn and grow together as individuals and as a collective. We’ve trained over 35,000 professionals, learning a lot along the way. Here are five tips to build community through professional development.

Be Prepared

As a former Girl Scout, “be prepared” has been ingrained in me since childhood and couldn’t be more relevant than when it comes to PD! Having an intentional plan for both the content and the human elements of the session goes a long way. Is there time to connect? For meaningful discussion? For fun? Preparing answers to these questions will lay the foundation for an inclusive, joyful experience.

Honor Authentic Voice

In addition to norms like “one mic” and “stay engaged”, we recommend setting an expectation that everyone is invited to be themselves. This provides space to feel comfortable and engage with colleagues in a way that’s real. This is not the same as forcing participants to share things that are personal (hello, boundaries!) but it does signal that we recognize each other as whole people, not just as staff.

Support Belonging

In our self-paced training on Belonging and Engagement for youth, we draw on the TIES Center’s 10 Dimensions of Belonging. This framework suggests that, to feel like we belong, we need to be: Present, Invited, Welcomed, Known, Accepted, Involved, Supported, Heard, Befriended, and Needed. We think staff also need to feel these things during PD and everyday.

Find Flow

Think back to a time when you were so engaged in something, you lost track of time. You were in flow! This term was coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe a state of being completely immersed in an activity or experience. If you want to build an engaged community during PD, offer opportunities for groups to work on a hands-on project or action plan.

Make it Social

Both kids and adults learn through observation, which is a key idea behind social learning theory. PD provides an opportunity to showcase staff and partners, and we recommend giving them time to model best practices for others to learn from. It’s also a great way to celebrate your team, which is sure to bring people together.

Blend it!

Technology provides endless opportunities for online learning, which is often done independently. Through our Change Up Learning platform, we often combine anytime, anywhere learning experiences with team discussions to unpack and extend what was learned in the virtual space. This approach borrows from the flipped classroom model, where information is learned independently and time spent together such as staff meetings is used for discussion and action planning.

At Change Impact, we’ve built a learning cycle to support youth-serving organizations and schools plan effective PD that centers and celebrates staff with self-paced courses, live discussions, practice exercises, and coaching sessions. At the heart of our work is a network of youth champions – people like you – who form our community committed to advancing ourselves to help kids thrive.

Contributed by Change Impact CEO Jen Curry, Ed. D. As seen in the Spring 2023 edition of AfterSchool Today.