In my opinion, our professional development (PD) efforts do not include sufficient attention to supporting teachers’ social-emotional skills, and we need to approach PD from a more wholistic perspective.
In order to support the social-emotional well-being of adult learners, I’ve offered five skills that can be addressed in equal parts during PD, which in the past, has been solely oriented toward compliance, implementation, and change in practice.
The five social-emotional skills include:
In this blog post, we continue to explore why I believe professional development is failing teachers and look for ways to support their social awareness.
This blog identifies opportunities to engage in inner work that will enhance our empathy and deep-listening skills and, ultimately, our social awareness. When professional development targets social awareness, participants are actively engaged in the skills needed for effective teaming and communicating with families.
Social awareness: ability to consider what others want/need and then to take action to meet those needs; ability to demonstrate empathy; and ability to engage in active listening and effective communication skills to meet the needs of others.
Suggestions for PD:
The first suggestion is to design opportunities for adult learners to consider times when they are able to truly empathize with the children they serve, families with whom they partner, colleagues with whom they work, and/or students with whom they train.
A second suggestion to promote social awareness during professional development (preservice and inservice) is to design opportunities for “deep” or “mindful” listening.
Daniel Barbezat and Mirabai Bush provide instructions for “mindful listening” in “Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning.” I’ve adapted, from their work, to create a set of suggestions for use in early intervention/early childhood PD.
- Get learners into pairs where one takes on the speaker role and the other takes on the listener role. If time permits, you can have pairs alternate roles. Further, if you have odd numbers or a large group, you can have pairs in a “fishbowl-type” situation.
- Give the pairs 3-5 minutes to discuss/react to a particular topic. This can take place following a video demonstration of a practice, following a series of PPT slides with content, and/or as a means for debriefing a small group exercise.
- The listener should be reminded to avoid judging, correcting, interrupting, or making it about “them.” Rather, the listener should be curious, listen without trying to predict where the conversation will go, and create space for the speaker to share their ideas and feelings.
- The speaker is given the full time allotment (e.g., 5 minutes) and if they run out of ideas or things they want to share, the pair may sit in silence for the remainder of the time. While silence can be awkward because we practice it so infrequently, it allows the speaker the space to come back to sharing, as they see fit, and doesn’t rush them to have a response.
- When the time is up, the listener restates/repeats what they heard. This isn’t a time to practice paraphrasing or drawing conclusions and parallels about what was said; rather, it is a time to check with the speaker for accuracy in terms of what was heard. The speaker can correct and clarify as needed. If the listener is unsure about something that was said, they can ask the speaker to repeat or clarify their original intent.
- Again, as time permits, the pairs can switch roles to give both an opportunity to practice deep listening. At the end of the exchange, the pairs (as well as observers if doing this in a fishbowl-type situation) can reflect on how it felt to be listened in a deep and meaningful way, why listening skills are important in their work, and how better listening skills will help them to respond versus react in their efforts to become more socially aware.
We spend about 45% of our time listening, but we are distracted, preoccupied, or forgetful about 75% of the time. (Listening Center)
Overall, demonstrating social awareness requires that we have an emotional reserve, a place from which to empathize and care for others. This means that we need to reduce the stress in our lives, get plenty of rest and opportunities for renewal, and make sure there is time for play (even in our adult lives).
To this end, during your next PD event, in addition to the strategies discussed here, make sure you build time into the agenda for quiet reflection, opportunities to move around, design activities that promote creativity, and encourage healthy snacks be provided for participants.
P.S. Continue learning how you can design and deliver PD to strengthen the social-emotional skills of adult learners by reading the next blog post titled, “How to Address the Spirituality of Adult Learners Without Getting “Spiritual.”