October 4, 2017 by

Leading the Learning: Tips to Providing an Effective In-Service to Peers

Research has shown that when teachers work together and learn from each other, this collaboration results in rising student achievement (Leana, 2011; NCTE, 2010).  Because of the demonstrated benefits of teachers as leaders of school improvement, teachers are more often asked to present to their colleagues on professional development days or after returning from a conference.  No matter the size of the group (grade-level team or all district math educators), teachers should model best teaching practices for their peers, who are also adult learners.

Modeling Best Practices

At times educators overthink how they want to present information to peers.  If the goal is for the participants to actually learn something, then don’t overthink it- just keep being a good teacher!  Be mindful of your adult audience, who will bring with them varying levels of experience and learning needs, but who are also your peers and can contribute to the learning experience.   Leverage their prior knowledge and experience to help them connect with the content of your presentation to make the learning collaborative.  The following list, summarized from the book Success for Every Student: A Guide to Teaching and Learning, provides some key points to consider :

  • If you don’t already know everyone who is in attendance, get to know them. Show up early and talk to participants to find out what they know and what they are hoping to get out of the presentation. Use name tags to call on participants by name.
  • Set the tone. Have fun and add levity to your presentation, but make sure that engagement activities and personal stories tie back to the subject matter. Make participation expected but also enjoyable, just as an effective teacher would in the classroom.  Build participation into the session as you would for student engagement; make engagement activities enjoyable and relevant to your adult participants so that they are motivated to participate.
  • Model Think/Pair/Share.  Provide time in your presentation for participants to reflect on how the content relates to their practice, pair up with a neighbor, and share what they have learned. Walk the room and write some of the audience responses on an overhead, a paper, or a tablet.  Share these responses with the group.
  • Chunk information in the presentation and give participants plenty of time to process the information.  Incorporate wait time if you ask a question. Scaffold the skills that are being presented.
  • Avoid “death by PowerPoint.” Slides should be comprised of talking points. Try to have no more than three or four sentences per slide, avoid paragraphs, and use a clean, sans serif font, such as Arial.  Combine the slide presentation with hands-on, meaningful learning activities.
  • Continually assess the audience for understanding and provide examples of successful learning.  If possible, in addition to a slide presentation, use a document camera or another device that can show participant responses and products that the participants create during presentation activities.  Make sure that the participant responses displayed to the whole group are accurate/correct.
  • Wander the room, but stop and stand in one place when talking.  Walking and talking at the same time can be distracting. State key and crucial information from the same location or spot in the room.  This is usually in the front of the room where most of the participants can see the presenter.
  • Stick to the parts of the presentation that matter and are applicable to the audience. Also, due to the limited amount of time, keep a pace or rhythm in the presentation.
  • If possible, provide electronic copies of your presentation to participants. Save a tree!

The Tough Cookie

Occasionally, there will be an audience member who disrupts the flow of your presentation.  For example, maybe a participant will ask too many questions that are so specific to his or her situation that the answer would not be applicable to anyone else.  Veteran educator and presenter Anita Archer offers the following routine for when these situations arise:  First, listen to the question and never get angry.  Look at the participant who is posing the question, then turn toward the entire audience.  Generalize the question and give an answer to the entire group.  Lastly, if the participant keeps repeating the behavior, politely explain that due to time further questions about that specific issue will need to be addressed after the presentation.   Make sure to then follow up with the individual when the event is over and address the questions as promised.

Although many of the best practices for teaching children are similar for presenting to adults, there are a few differences.  Following the tips described in this article will increase the possibility of creating a great learning experience for peers as well as a greater likelihood that your new information and strategies will become part of your school’s common classroom practices.


Oran Tkatchov is a former teacher, school administrator and director of professional development at the Arizona Department of Education.  He currently supports professional learning at the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.  Shelly Pollnow spent over 20 years of her education career teaching diverse learners. Prior to retirement, she was the Arizona Director of the National Assessment of Educational Progress and international assessment programs from 2011 to 2017. Their latest book, Success for Every Student  – A Guide to Teaching and Learning, is now available.