We’ve all heard the numbers: it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. It takes 5 years for an initiative to take effect. You need to hear a word 28 times to remember it, etc. What do these all have in common? Time and repetition. Add to that support and collaboration and you have a winning recipe for effective professional development.
Here’s the deal. Much of the professional development given to teachers is a one-shot deal, workshop style. Teachers may walk out excited about what they just learned but within days of being back in the classroom, the luster of learning fades and teachers fall back on what they already know. Teaching and learning are very complex tasks and require much more than a workshop to change. The hard truth is that much professional development in which districts invest do not impact teaching practices and, therefore, do not impact student learning.
CREATING LASTING CHANGE IN PD
So what can schools and districts do about this? It’s a tough recipe to follow as many districts are ready each year with a new focus or initiative. They are also on a budget so they fall back on the cheapest options. While the answer is relatively simple, the implementation is challenging. Still, if we are serious about supporting our teachers to be the best they can be and, in turn, supporting their students to be the best they can be, we need to slow down, focus and dig in.
1. Choose a focus and stick with it.
Do the research and choose one initiative that fits the needs of your staff and student population. Plan to support teachers through this process for 5 years. That doesn’t mean that teachers cannot pursue their own interests or receive training in best practices related to their areas but the school and/or district needs to plan to support the implementation of the initiative over time if it is to have an impact.
2. Provide interactive training.
Lecture is not going to cut it. Have the teachers doing, reflecting, asking questions, meeting in grade level teams to discuss implications on their curriculum, etc.
3. Provide modeling.
The presenters should model the very strategy they are introducing. After all, if this is an effective way to teach, they should be using it too! They should also be providing examples or experiences of what it looks like with actual students.
4. Provide on-going professional support.
Coaches or mentors in the initiative or strategy should be hired to go into teacher classrooms to model and give feedback on teacher implementation throughout the process. This will motivate teachers to actually try the strategy and give them personalized feedback so they can more effectively implement the strategy.
5. Provide planning and collaboration time.
Teachers need to be able to share their experiences of implementation. They need to have time to plan together, to develop ways to assess student performance together and to share results together. They need to watch one another in action to learn from one another and share insights with one another. This needs to happen both within grade level teams and in the school as a whole. This can be tricky both to schedule and to finance but there is no substitute for it.
6. Involve administration in the training.
The administrators need the training too. Even if they are not directly implementing it, if their teachers are being expected to use it, the administrators need to understand the approach at a deep level in order to support their teachers.
7. Evaluate and reflect.
First, teachers need to integrate the strategy into their teaching practice. Then they need to assess the impact on student learning to be sure the strategy is having the intended effect. If not, teachers need to time to determine why and try to improve their implementation with the help of one another and the coaches.
8. Celebrate success!
Both teachers and their students need time to reflect on the successes along the way and celebrate them. While students (whether they be the teachers or their students) gain valuable information from making mistakes, they need to celebrate and be celebrated when they learn from them! Seeing growth is an incredibly motivating experience.
All of the above require great effort, time and money. It can be tricky to achieve that trifecta in schools and districts where turnover among staff and students may be frequent and where every penny matters. But the truth is, if we want to effect real change in our schools and truly improve the quality of the teaching and learning that happens within those walls, we in the world of education need to be ready to commit to all three.