Those dreaded Professional Development days

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Professional Development was a term used in my kids' school system

I've been a work at home dad for years, and when my boys were in grade school, I needed a way to handle Professional Development days. Perhaps you are not familiar with the term. It may be different where you come from. In any case, this is when teachers get the opportunity to band together and prepare lesson plans, review policies and procedures and the like. I have no idea if they actually do that but is doesn't matter here.

When a Professional Development day rolled around I was spared the routine of having to get the boys off to school, but was left instead with the dilemma of having them under foot. Leaving them to fend for themselves was not an option. The television is not the best choice and if it was raining, then some healthy outdoor fun was nixed.

What to do?

I am a creative person in that I write software, as well as this stuff, so I apply similar principles and logic to solving many problems. In this case the issue is getting the boys attention, holding it for a significant period of time and keeping the noise level within a manageable range. There is nothing worse than attempting analytical thought against a backdrop of random, spiking calls for attention.

Obviously one can't just say 'Do this" and leave it at that. You must accept that you have to make the initial investment in time without feeling rushed. You will win in the end, at least eventually. After they have had a good breakfast, some brain food, sit them down and start a project. With two or more kids you can promote mild competition. With one child, they will be more out to impress you. What's the project?

Pick a topic that might be of mutual interest and have them write short stories about slightly different aspects of that topic. Wow, they want to jump right in don't they. Sure, because they think it will be over in two minutes. You must set the stage immediately. You must be excited about it, give them some resources to work with, and promise them some more time with you when all is done. However, 'done' is subjective, so you must establish some reasonable expectations.

One of the easiest ways to set expectations is to make sure they have a set of guidelines or markers to achieve. I use the Five Ws found at my web-site short-stories-help-children.com/five-ws.html. Each 'W' refers to a simplified element of short story writing that I have explained for kids and parents. Just tell them that they have to spend x minutes, or so many lines on each 'W' section. Ultimately, they must be able to pull the whole story together so that each section is included and the story flows nicely. In a way, the whole exercise is a Professional Development itself.

The next step, when more than one child is involved, is to have each read his or her story aloud to the other(s) and the other(s) then ask questions. Each child is to make corrections, filling in the blanks so to speak. If only one child, he or she can have lunch or watch a half hour show and then return to read it aloud to him/herself. The final step is the audience with you. Remember the 'mild competition'? You will judge the stories and because they differ in subject matter slightly, you can easily choose to give them each top marks.

Only if one of the children feels his story was inadequate would you be somewhat agreeable, show areas for improvement and target a better attempt next time. In that case, the other child, the 'winner' cannot be left to gloat. You should indicate how the inadequate story was actually better in some areas, and therefore the 'winner' may not be so lucky next time. If both writers are proud of their stories, again agree, but look forward to even more exciting stories next time. In either case, setting up for next time is crucial if you are going to use this technique over the long term.

If you get this to work the benefits are amazing! They are reading, maybe even researching, and writing. There's no reason to fight. The TV can be off. They can be proud of accomplishments. They may look forward to the exercise next time. And best of all, you should be able to get back to work.

That's it for Professional Development.

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