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  • Writer's pictureKjell Fenn, M.Ed., M.A.

4 Guidelines for Providing Meaningful and Engaging PD

by Kjell Fenn, M.Ed., M.A.

Did you ever watch a young kid pretend to be a superhero? They almost always find something to act as a cape. It could be a kitchen towel (like my kids did!) or an extra shirt or even a couch pillow. Anything that resembles a cape. Why? Because capes symbolize superhuman strength, flight, and powers. Someone who has to present information to a group has to use superpowers to get it done well and effectively. It’s not enough to have the information; the information must be delivered with expertise. That’s why teachers are heroes! [Besides that fact they have to be nurse, counselor, mother/father, coach, mechanic, etc.]

Teaching teachers is a massive challenge because it’s like teaching superheroes how to be more super than they are. I have been presenting and delivering PD for almost 25 years. It is a passion of mine, partly because my parents were teachers and I saw their dedication and love for the craft. But passion is not enough. There are a few guidelines I follow in every presentation, whether it’s a one-shot, 90-minute training or a year-long series of trainings and feedback. These guidelines are simple, but incredibly effective – and quite intuitive for classroom teachers. Effective and meaningful presentations must be contextualized, rooted in andragogy, include process time, and be engaging. As a good teacher does, I turned the guidelines into an acronym: CAPE.

The guidelines are in no particular order. Each of them builds on the other. They are additive and symbiotic. As one is employed, the other is strengthened. Often it’s hard to tell the difference where one starts and another ends. Below, CAPE is briefly explained.


For professional development to be meaningful, it must be contextualized. In other words, a canned presentation will not provide the same level of significance as a presentation that has been customized for a particular audience. The fundamental content may be the same, but the delivery, examples, and nuances of the content will be different for each group of participants.


Malcolm Knowles, an American educator, referred to adult learning as andragogy, the art and science of teaching adults. Knowles proposed four principles that must be applied to adult learning. 1). Adults need to know why they are learning something. 2). Adults learn experientially, including mistakes. 3). Adults learn best when the content has immediate relevance and impact to their jobs. 4). Adults learn from a problem-centered approach rather than a content-based orientation.

Process Time

For teachers to learn, not just hear information, they must have time to process the information. Embedded into each training session there must be times for experimenting with, treating, handling, manipulating, and apprehending the information so that it becomes knowledge. Process time includes silent times of reflection, small and large group discussion, hands-on activities, planning and organizing for classroom use, and handouts, forms, and written journaling.


Meaningful PD has to be engaging. The time between presenter and audience has to be enjoyable and interesting. The delivery of content has to be done in a captivating way verbally (e.g., dynamic vocalization), visually (e.g., professional presentation), and actively (e.g., relevant activities). Engaging content needs to be founded on research, theories, and experientially-validated practices.

Dr. Toby Travis has a great article entitled The ROI of Teacher Compensation and Professional Development. He explains that business owners and leaders understand the importance of Return On Investment, or ROI. They know that effective training for their employees needs to have measurable and positive ROI. The same holds true for schools and professional development for their teachers. For professional developers, then, we need to assess what the training was supposed to provide. Did my presentation(s) provide what I and the school wanted? What are the products or results of the training? The school invested in me and my skill. Did I deliver on that investment? ROI adds to engagement because the participants know that both the school and I are invested in them. Assessing builds trust.

To effectively provide meaningful professional development, it is critical to be as super as the teachers. Therefore, wear your CAPE!

One more thing!

All meaningful professional development presentations are “twice taught.” In other words, the content is the obvious thing that is taught. For example, I teach the skills and theories from my book Engage: Motivational Strategies for a Dynamic Classroom. That’s the stuff on the PowerPoint, it’s what I am talking about, and it’s what the group is processing in activities. But the second teaching is the actual use of activities, strategies, techniques, and methods in the training itself. Often, I will point out to a group that I am utilizing a particular strategy. This “twice taught” reinforces the relevance, usefulness, and efficacy of the strategy.

When a presenter wears his/her CAPE, super things happen!


This article was authored by Kjell Fenn, M.A.

© by SchoolRIGHT, LLC., unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved.


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