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At the Bell, Please Move to Your Right

Effective professional development should have only two rules for history teachers: leave everything at the door and hold on tight. I’m convinced all history teachers would benefit from training that is run like an elementary school classroom, led by a team of instructors from multiple content areas.

Instructors who lead professional development need to ramp up their skill set. Never have I been contacted in advance to determine specific needs I might be pining for.

At present, I remain ever hopeful that I have endured my last PowerPoint—font neutral, text-laden, generic clip art. The clever groupings that have me emigrating from one group to another throughout the day, and labeling these excursions “brain breaks.” Word-for-word narration from outlines. Scribbling my participatory responses onto off-brand stickies. The ceremonial tacking of my stickies onto chart paper where they shall mingle with scores of others. The traditional march around the room to view and rank the collective charts. Photocopied and stapled articles (copyrighted?) requiring each teacher, at each table, to read a sliver of text and report out to everyone else. More stickies emerging from those slivers. All championed by one lone instructor. Curiously, my experiences are by no means isolated. Colleagues across the country report experiences that are eerily similar; professional development that steadfastly withstands the buffeting winds of change.

These types of top-down development models only connect with audiences at a surface level. The result: teachers who hear only what they want to hear and then slide into cruise control. Participants might pick up a new nugget of information, but no new skills.

Instructors who lead professional development need to ramp up their skill set. Never have I been contacted in advance to determine specific needs I might be pining for. Yet with tools like SurveyMonkey available, it’s easy to poll registrants in advance to gather pertinent information, then semi-customize that upcoming session. Think of it as an updated KWL graphic organizer.

Today’s classrooms are differentiated instructionally by learning styles, multiple intelligences, and ELL strategies. With the sheer volume of history content available online, teachers not only want to know how to use primary sources but want guidance for content-specific documents, stories, images, projects, learning extensions, and new methodologies.

Involving teachers in multiple learning style content groups boosts their retention big time.

And this is where implementing a development model that runs like an elementary classroom can whip a few old notions into shape. K–6 classrooms teach multiple skills to students who are culturally and intellectually diverse. High-value instruction is achieved through grouping like learners and rotating them through various learning centers. Imagine, teachers at their next professional development working in small groups creating sample interactive salt-dough maps as a way to teach geography. Later, moving into a center to work with documents, images, and artifacts. Then off to learn about multi-tiered timelines and ways to color-code documents that will create learning chains up and down those timelines. A technology center where teachers use content from previous rotations to create Webquests, and are given templates for student-friendly technology projects. Plus, a session on differentiating all that content for ELL and gifted students.

Most importantly, a rotation between rotations—where teachers have a chance to reflect, discuss, and write notes. All led by a team of instructors who understand that great history education is truly cross-curricular.

Teachers learn in context just like their students, and this style of “imprinting” helps teachers experience, organize, develop, or tweak history content to reading, writing, geography, and economics. Plus, involving teachers in multiple learning style content groups boosts their retention big time. Follow-up development or question sessions can be done through strategic interactive webinars.

Well-paced, action-packed, content-rich professional development can do nothing less than excite and motivate teachers. If teachers develop more skills from professional development, their students will flourish and so will our next generation of history teachers.