Follow Up Fridays - Quick Solutions for Providing Feedback to Professional Development Participants

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New initiatives in schools range anywhere from a quarterly to an annual event. Some welcome the constant change while others wonder why they are moving on before the previous initiative had a chance to take off. Regardless of what new initiative may be coming next, one necessary component that is almost always involved is professional development.

Professional Development for staff has historically been thought of as a face-to-face event that occurs during the work day or after school once students leave for the day. The problem of course is that these are typically one time events, and it is very difficult to master a concept or new initiative in a one time "sit and get" training.

Over the last few years many new developments have come along that make learning and professional development for educators more of an ongoing process. Chris Bugaj referenced many of these in his post on Spreading the Virus - Professional Development So Easy, a Zombie Could Do It a few weeks ago. He provided ideas such as podcasts, videos, social media, and even meaningful auto-responders that educators are now effectively using to share best practices. Using these tools in conjunction with effective face-to-face professional development in the early stages of a new initiative can really increase an organization's chances of success.

I wanted to add on to this by sharing a practice I used in schools during my time as an assistive technology consultant in Kentucky. Working with over 200 schools I basically ran from one professional development activity to another. Unfortunately due to time I found that I was never able to provide one of the most important pieces of effective training - feedback.

Training individuals how to use a technology or strategy in a classroom, but not observing and providing feedback, is something often missed in professional development. But what happens when a participant misses something during the training, then returns to the classroom only to implement it incorrectly? Many times it may just be that they see little or no results and abandon the tool or strategy, but other times incorrectly implementing ideas can lead to a decrease in achievement. This is why it so important to provide feedback.

Knowing that it was impossible for me to observe and provide feedback to participants that were scattered across 200+ schools, I decided to look for alternative ways to do observations. My criteria was that the solution needed to be 1.) Free or low cost 2.) Easy to implement and 3.) Allow me to observe participants in a classroom setting without me physically being there.

I settled on using Skype, a free audio and video conferencing tool. Since most participants didn't have a Skype account I began spending the last 15 minutes of face to face training demonstrating Skype and how it worked. For participants who did not have a web cam, I was able to either find or purchase inexpensive web cams with a built in microphone that I could send to a school. It then typically stayed at that school and was shared among educators when needed.

If participants had never used Skype I scheduled one initial 5 minute meeting between classes or during a break as a practice session. I typically did this on Fridays, which led me to make Follow Up Fridays a normal part of my week. Once participants were comfortable with answering a call and using the web cam I would schedule a follow up and connect with them during a 15 minute segment of their class. During this time they would implement the strategy or technology learned during training. I then followed up afterwards with an email to provide feedback. In some situations where is was clear things were not going well I would schedule another Skype call or face to face visit to help.

Follow Up Fridays turned out to be one of the most beneficial activities I added to my role. Not only did it increase training results, but it actually saved time! Instead of driving over an hour each way to reach some schools, I now could visit 10-15 sites in one day. This would have been unheard of before I started using Skype.

What tools could you use to provide this kind of follow up? Could you implement Follow Up Fridays or something similar? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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