Just the other day, a colleague asked for my insights into a scenario she had encountered. In this blog entry, you will find part of my response as well as my attempt to clarify requirements for successful professional development.
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One of the tough aspects of asking others to change is when you haven’t walked the walk. Consider this story about Gandhi:
Mahatma Ghandi was not just a political and spiritual leader, he was also quite wise, and people traveled from all over to ask his help with problems both large and small. One day a peasant woman came to visit Ghandi. She brought her son with her. She told Ghandi that her son was addicted to sweets. The sugar made him hyper and too wild to attend school. She hoped Ghandi would tell her son to stop eating sugar. She was sure that her son would listen to him. Ghandi paused and then told the woman to come back in three weeks.
She came back three weeks later. Ghandi took the little boy, sat him on his lap, and said
simply, “Please do not eat sugar. It is bad for you.” The boy smiled, promised to stop and returned back to his mother. His mother was understandably stunned. She had traveled over 100 miles—twice. It was a difficult journey. Bewildered, she approached Ghandi and asked, “Why didn’t you just tell
him to quit eating sugar when I first approached you three weeks ago?” Gahndi smiled and said patiently, “Three weeks ago, I was still eating sugar.”
In Ghandi’s words, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Scenario: Clarifying PD Models
During a meeting with key stakeholders in your District, it becomes clear that “professional development” has different meanings to different people. The representatives ask you to create a brief presentation to share at the next meeting “clarifying professional development models.”
Considering this scenario, I thought it might be fun to look at it from a different perspective. There are many things we expect teachers to do, but when asking people to change what they do, it’s often best to focus on one or two.
Identifying Vital Behaviors
“Vital behaviors,” share the authors of Influencers, “are the smallest set of actions that lead to the results you want.” In working with my colleague, I suggested that she ask participants what vital behaviors are the ones that will obtain the results PD models are implemented to achieve.
Then, I said, “Why don’t you setup an activity where they tell you what their top behaviors are for teachers in the classroom, and what’s the best professional development model to use to encourage teacher adoption? They could pretend to tweet it out using a handout like the one shown below:
Below, you will find some of the responses from a few participants highlighting vital behaviors with hashtag of the PD model they imagine would encourage adoption.
Vital Behavior #1: Build Strong Relationships
When teachers build strong relationships between themselves, their peers, and their students, as well as encourage them between students, learners feel trusted and respected. This surprisingly results in students be more receptive to learning opportunities in their classroom. Unfortunately, the respondent did not share what PD Model would best encourage adoption of this behavior. Still, it is clear that collegial coaching would best serve to build strong relationships. This coaching relationship could be enhanced through the use of technology, coach and coachee to take advantage of communication technologies like Voxer, Appear.In, Slack that allow for prompt sharing of ideas.
Vital Behavior #2: Engaging in PLCs to Plan for Instruction
This vital behavior takes advantage of professional learning communities (PLCs) to further ensure planning for instruction. Having witnessed and participated in PLCs myself, I can certainly testify to the power of collaborative planning. Often, teachers work alone to plan lessons, sharing planning load for different subjects. Through the power of a PLC, teachers can engage in data-driven lesson planning, crafting units and activities that address the needs of all students in their care. This helps deepen the relationship between teachers. Although not a recognized PD model, intentional plan could easily be replaced by #plc or #pln to represent professional learning community or professional learning network, respectively.
Vital Behavior #3: That all adults are enthusiastic about improving practice
What saps the enthusiasm of adults? There are many possibilities in K-12 school settings, but continuous improvement, continuous learning remains one of the critical aspects of being a lifelong learner and teacher. The PD model I would recommend for this would be #peerobservation. The reason why is that peer observation helps teachers step out of their isolated classrooms and see what other teachers are doing. It also “improves their game” as other educators step in to watch. When both engage in joint reflection, then teachers are able to improve. As John Dewey says, “We do not learn from experience, but rather, by reflecting on that experience.” Observation (including analysis of audio/video of a lesson) and reflection (whether one on one, a blog or reflection journal) will improve the quality of lessons and help teachers better be prepared.
Vital Behavior #4: Amplify student voices
Granting students (and teachers) the authority to speak, to find and nurture their voices can be quite powerful. Rather than passive objects to be schooled, human beings and voices are amplified. Coaching can enable this because it focuses attention on teacher’s (or student’s) growth:
A Collegial Coach not only helps teachers uncover their beliefs about effective learning and teaching, but also gathers data to facilitate the self-evaluation process. Once teachers have clarity about their driving motivations, the Collegial Coach acts as a ‘mirror’ in the classroom, enabling teachers to see how closely their behaviours support their picture of the classroom they want. This becomes “reflection on action,” keeping control in the hands of the teacher. Source: Collegial Coaching
Professional Development Models
are the most effective, while school visit and workshop lag behind.
As an extensive array of research has shown, there are some tried and proven ways of approaching professional development or professional learning. Here are some of the requirements for professional development that works:
- Supportive of teacher collaboration via coaching and mentoring
- Job-embedded and specific to academic content
- Ongoing, sustained, intensive (40+ hours), and includes technology
- Focused on implementation in classroom
- Strong assessment component for both teacher and student
- Supports reflection on strategies and implementation
- Creates a culture of continuous professional learning
New shifts and reforms “represent a retreat from the traditional rote, fact-based style of instruction toward teaching that fosters critical thinking and problem solving” (Source: Teaching the Teachers, Center for Public Education report)
- Engage with Problems: Engage learners in the authentic purpose of solving a problem (problem-based learning/inquiry-based learning).
- Encourage Collaboration & Implementation: Encourage and support adult learners as they collaborate on projects–sharing their own life experiences–focused on the creation of tangible product(s) with modeling and safe implementation opportunities.
- Amplify Learners’ Voices with Tech: Amplify human voices with technology as they gather stories and share them (blogging, podcasts, video, media collections).