As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression – and this is certainly true in any school leader’s first moments with their staff following summer vacation. So, how can leaders maximize summer professional learning with their teams to not only build teacher skill but also plant the seeds of trust and rapport? This month’s installment of FCInsights will offer one take, supported by research and clinical observation of top leaders in action.

This post follows our May blog, where we outlined the foundational moves school leaders can leverage to support teacher development. If you haven’t yet read that, we recommend it as a starting point. High level, that post shares that by applying a “learn from the exemplar” cycle to professional learning, leaders can create an aligned vision of exemplary instruction (“see it”), codify the techniques in shared language (“name it”), and practice until mastery (“do it”). Backed by research, these moves establish the baseline that enables adult learning.

In our next two posts, we’re rounding out the discussion of adult learning with two additional elements of effective professional development: building trust and rapport with your teaching team during these sessions and bringing the content to life via storytelling. Today, we’ll tackle connection building and return once again to the examples of two master facilitators, Paul Powell and Jesse Corborn, in their work with degree candidates in Miami Dade College’s School of Education.

Technique 1: Monitor to Connect

Paul executes a typical “see it” to frame his session on responding to error trends in the classroom.

In this first clip, we see Paul execute a typical “see it” to frame his session on responding to error trends in the classroom. After showing a video clip that acts as an analogy to the day’s topic, Paul sends participants into a turn-and-talk. His next move is simple yet powerful: rather than standing up at the front of the room and providing a brief pause for conversation to take place, he circulates and monitors the ensuing discourse. From a content standpoint, this allows Paul to eventually elevate responses to the whole group that will build the key takeaways of the session – but there’s an additional relationship-building component here, too. Paul is able to recognize an individual both privately (“That’s a really powerful takeaway. Do you mind sharing with the group?”) and publicly (“So well said”) as a result. And while this moment may appear small enough, scale it across the entirety of a session and we can see the magnified impact: twenty or so tiny touches, each of which helps participants feel seen and heard.

Technique 2: Embed Participant Names & Ideas

Jesse calls on Julia, who surfaces an important takeaway that hadn’t yet been shared

Next up, we’ll head into a later portion of the session where participants are reflecting on a model video that highlights how to pause student practice to address a trending area of struggle. During the video share-outs, Jesse calls on Julia, who surfaces an important takeaway that hadn’t yet been shared. Jesse responds, “Brilliant,” – and while he could’ve stopped there with this small moment of celebration, he instead returns to Julia a few minutes later while narrating the key takeaways from the discussion, saying, “And Julia brings up the crispness of that moment!” By recalling Julia’s reflection a second time and after some time has passed, Jesse further conveys the value of her contribution: he not only remembers her remarks but uses them to impart the session’s content.

Technique 3: Teacher Spotlight

Jesse enacts one more powerful rapport-building move when he spotlights a teacher.

Finally, as practice gets underway, we see Jesse enact one more powerful rapport-building move when he spotlights a teacher. Clearly, Jesse thoughtfully planned for this moment: he reviewed pre-work, identified a strong example, and showcased it for the larger group as part of his deck. In addition to showing Julie’s artifacts visually, when Jesse arrives at this moment of the session, he passes the mic over to her and asks her to share any context on her lesson’s standard for the larger group. This acknowledges Julie’s experience and indicates her expertise to the group. Jesse underscores this sentiment a moment later when he refers to Julie as a “specialist.” While this version of spotlighting takes significant planning, there are other ways to leverage this technique impactfully during a session, including asking a teacher to live model for the larger group or having the room watch one strong group’s practice of the technique.

Each of these three examples reveals the art of Paul and Jesse’s facilitation, but I hope they also help to unpack the science: the concrete, replicable moves you can customize – in your own style, of course – to build relationships with your teams not just during the first days back this summer, but in the years to come. Wishing you a wonderful break and much success in making your first impressions for 24-25 – and I can’t wait to see you back next month!