Skip to content

4 Ways for Facilitators to Respond When Challenged in Training

In my career, I’ve been a teacher leader, a technology coach, an educational consultant, a professional learning coordinator, director of a virtual school, and a Director of Curriculum. I have presented on many, many topics to every level of teacher–from PreK all the way to PhD. I’ve had smooth sailing training sessions where everything went exactly as planned, and I have presentations where projectors didn’t work, only every other page of handouts was printed, I had to stand on a broken toe, and more. The most challenging presentations, however, are the ones where there is clearly no buy-in from the staff for the topic of the presentation–and the staff is ready to let me know it. Over the years, I’ve learned some pretty solid strategies for responding, focused on empathizing with the participants and emphasizing core values above all else. Here are some of those strategies.

StrategyExampleWhat to Say
Emphasize What’s the SameDuring your PD on using success criteria: “I don’t see why we have to do success criteria.  I’ve taught for 20 years without them.  Are you saying I’ve been teaching wrong all these years?”“You know, you’ve probably been using success criteria the whole time; we’ve just gone and confused everything by calling it something new. How do you know that your students “got” it at the end of a lesson?  That’s your success criteria; that’s really all it is.  The only new portion is a slightly increased emphasis on being intentional in the way we communicate the success criteria to our students. And if you already do that consistently—rock on.  You’re already doing this and we need to pick your brain for strategies.”
Value their StrengthsDuring your PD on using games in the classroom: “Excuse me, but you taught third and fourth grade.  Why are you telling me what to do with my high schoolers?  It’s a completely different world.”“You’re 100% right…my experience is different from yours.  And you’re right that I don’t have all the answers; even if I taught the same subject and grade level as you, I wouldn’t have all the answers—because only YOU know YOUR kids and what they need.  You’re the expert on them.  There’s no way I could tell you how to teach your class.  But I’ve seen and talked to a lot of teachers and learned, if not the answers, a lot of great questions that can start us brainstorming together.” 
Witness their StrugglesDuring your PD on aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessments: “The problem is that we focus too much on standardized tests. Are they really the best way to measure student learning?”“That’s a really great question.  It’s obvious you care a lot, and we need more people asking these types of questions.  Unfortunately, it’s such a big question that I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do it justice in the 20 minutes we have left for today—I mean, we could do an entire 3-credit graduate level course on assessment and probably still not have all the answers!  I would love to discuss it more with you after the presentation if you’ll come find me.”
Get Back to the “Why”During your PD on PBL: “Why are we spending all this time on learning about project-based learning if administrators and the public only care about standardized assessment results?”“I love that you said this. This is something that I have to ask myself all the time. Why ARE we doing this? And then I think about my kids, and all those young people that I taught, and my hopes for them. I want them to pass their SOLs, of course, but even more, I want them to be critical thinkers. I don’t want them swayed by any clickbait article that comes their way. I want them to come up with creative solutions to the problems we see everyday. I want them to talk to each other and collaborate to make real changes. And none of that, unfortunately, comes from being prepared for a multiple choice test. So yes, we have to pass the tests. But also, we need critical, creative thinkers to meet all the challenges of this world head-on.

(For those who are wondering: yes, I have been asked some version of each of these questions while conducting a professional learning session.)

Another challenge in training sessions is when people ask you a question and you don’t know the answer. While sometimes they may be trying to trip you up (especially if they’re not thrilled with the training topic), most questions are genuine–and all should be treated as such, regardless. Here are some techniques for handling a question you don’t immediately know how to answer.

  1. Praise the participant and/or the question. (This helps you get your bearings while you figure out what to say next.) Examples:
  • “You know, you’re the first person to ask me that question in all my presentations!”
  • “Wow, what a great question.”
  • “That question shows that you’re really thinking deeply about this.”

2. Choose one of the following responses, based on the type of question.

  • You can get the answer quickly: “I’m not sure about the answer, but I know who to ask. Let me send a quick text/look it up/make a call on our next break and I’ll let you know.”
  • It’s a big, thorny question with no immediate answers: “You know, we could probably spend all day just talking about that. Given that we only have X more minutes for this presentation, let’s you and I chat about it during one of our breaks.”
  • A question that you don’t have personal experience with: “Let’s see if anyone in the audience has this answer.”
  • A question where you don’t have personal experience, and probably neither does anyone in the audience: “You know, I’m not really sure. Tell me more about what prompted you to ask this question and maybe we can figure out where to go next for an answer.”

Of course, it’s never easy to deal with challenges or tackle difficult questions in front of a group, but having these kinds of strategies in your back pocket helps. And like with anything, the more you present, the better you’ll get, and the easier it will be to handle these situations. The key is to remember to never take it personally, to empathize with participants, and to remember that questions mean the participants are engaged and care enough to seek the answers. And that’s always a great starting point.

Kate Wolfe Maxlow is the Chief Creative Officer at eObservations and DCD Consulting. She has worked as: an elementary school teacher; an instructional coach; a Director of Innovation and Professional Learning; and a Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. She can be reached at,, or at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *