Professional Learning

5 Ways to Make the Most of Any PD Experience

two people talking

It’s no secret art teachers used to suffer from a major lack of relevant professional development opportunities. Through the development of the AOE Magazine, Art Ed Now Conference, and graduate level courses, the landscape began to change. And now, with the newest release of Art Ed PRO, the on-demand library full of hundreds of amazing video tutorials and resources, art teachers have more options than ever.

However, there may still be times you won’t be able to choose what you do during required PD hours. Sometimes districts set up presentations or events that are mandatory for all staff members to attend. In those cases, it’s wise to have some strategies about how to make the best of the situation.

Here are 5 tips for dealing with less-than-ideal PD sessions.

1. Turn off negative thinking.

“What a waste of time!”

“I could use three hours in the art room instead.”

“Why am I here?”

How many times have you walked into a PD session about a new math program or reading initiative armed with these negative ideas? It’s easy to get frustrated before you even start. As specialists in the arts, we’re used to being lumped in with “more important” subjects and left out of big decisions because we “just teach art.” It’s understandable we’re a little jaded.

But when you begin any experience with a million reasons why it’s going to be terrible, it is absolutely going to be terrible. It’s like diving into a swimming pool in a ball gown; you’re going to sink no matter how hard you try to stay afloat.

The next time you get slotted for a PD session that looks like it won’t be useful, ask yourself these three questions:

  • How can this PD help me to better understand my colleagues/my kids/my school?
  • If I had to find a connection to my art curriculum, what would it be?
  • How will looking into this other subject take me out of my comfort zone or help me flex brain muscles I don’t normally use?

2. Use it as an opportunity to connect with colleagues.

Outside of the teacher’s lounge, how often do you get to connect one-on-one with the other professionals in your school? Professional development days are the perfect opportunity to meet new people, get to know people with whom you haven’t spent much time, or reconnect with colleagues you don’t get to see very often.

two people talking

Treat it like a networking event. Put your best foot forward and take it as an opportunity to show how invested and hardworking you are as an art teacher. Let people know you’re a team player who can thrive in all sorts of situations. It’s a unique opportunity to share your strengths and shine! At the end of the day, if all you’ve done is make a good impression and a few new professional connections, it was a day well spent.

3. Make yourself heard.

As art teachers, we have unique strengths and needs. If the person running the PD session doesn’t know you’re attending, there is no way they can use you as a resource or connect the content to your classroom.

Before the PD session begins, take a minute to introduce yourself to the person running the PD. Let them know you’re excited to see how the content they are sharing can connect to your art curriculum. Offer up your expertise in the field of arts integration and hands-on project-based learning.

If they seem excited to have you, great! This is a perfect opportunity to flex your leadership muscles. If not…..

4. Pack a bag (as a last resort).

Okay, so at the end of the day, PD is only as good as the person teaching it. If you have tried everything in your power to get something out of the day and it just isn’t working…have a bag ready. Fill it with some non-intrusive to-do items and a small sketchbook where you can make plans or do some brainstorming.

packed bag

Yes, this is rude. That’s why it’s an absolute last resort. If you started with the intention of making the most of the day and you’re still not able to be involved, it’s up to you to make the decision to develop professionally on your own.

5. Be proactive about your next PD session.

Chances are, your administrator wants you to have a good PD experience but just doesn’t have the time or effort to seek out presenters or topics specific to art ed. The good news is that now they don’t have to! With PRO for Schools, your administrator can easily buy you a subscription to Art Ed PRO and provide you with relevant PD for the whole year!

This solution is a win-win. You don’t have to sit through irrelevant meetings anymore and your administrator doesn’t have to worry that your PD needs aren’t being met. You can direct your administrator to the PRO for Schools page to learn more.

In addition, you can look at local museums and art centers or check out other online classes, conferences, and workshops.

School-wide PD won’t always be catered directly to art teachers. We are in the minority and subjects like math and literacy take precedent. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of what’s thrown our way and shine our brightest. We’re art teachers for goodness sake! We make magic happen every day.

Don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard. Seek out PD experiences you feel excited about and pitch them to your administrator. You never know what might happen!

How do you make the best of any PD experience?

What’s your worst professional development horror story?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Kelly Phillips

Kelly Phillips is an elementary school art educator and a former AOEU Writer. They strive to create an environment where all students can become independent, self-directed risk-takers.

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