Do you know this teacher: “I know these strategies are valuable to students, but they just won’t work with my students.” Or this teacher: “I found the presenters well informed and the material exciting, but I tried it in my classes. Everything fell flat. I feel so discouraged.”
PD on the front end (the presentation) too often fails mid-stream (the classroom) and leaves teachers discouraged and “PD averse” on the back end (the future). Why? The simple answer is a lack of follow-up support for the teacher—probably most if not every teacher. The truth is that even the most marvelous and interactive single-day professional development facilitations require follow up support in the form of coaching and consulting plus strategic mini-learning sessions that emerge out of implementation challenges.
In most PD circumstances, teachers learn new practices with other teachers in a fairly-controlled environment and then proceed to implement them in the dynamic shifting circumstances that are unique to their individual classrooms. However, because all each teacher learns is to implement these new practices exactly as presented during PD, this teacher has only a one-dimensional view of the job ahead, and this is where things begin to break down. While some teachers will be able to interpolate from the PD experience and modify these practices to suit their circumstances and their students, others don’t know how to make the right adjustments and—very important—they don’t have the direct support of a coach or other colleague. The missing piece for them is ongoing coaching support.
Yet the missing piece can be wisely selected and then judiciously inserted into the puzzle. If we want teachers to fully enact new practice, we need to provide long-term support during the implementation phase. Initial PD on new instructional and management practices plus follow-up support and feedback over time increases the number of teachers who implement them with fidelity.
Your challenge as a PD purchaser, provider, or planner is to provide a full experience for teachers. If the experience includes the collaboration of a coach or other consulting colleague, then teachers are more likely to succeed and to feel eager about refining and improving their practice. Why? Because a coach will help them adjust to circumstances and recognize success when it happens. They are more likely to see the differences the PD practices make on student dispositions and learning (e.g., improved mastery of state core standards and shorter-termed formative assessments).
Yes, your initial PD builds knowledge and motivates most teachers to employ the practices, but to make it impactful, you must plan for and implement coaching and consulting cycles over time to help teachers trouble shoot, adapt, and refine those practices to make them their own.
Here are guidelines for any purchaser, provider, or planner of PD to consider:
How To Ensure a Viable PD Experience
1. Identify specifically and set learning outcomes for what you want teachers to learn and implement into their classroom instruction.
2. Plan and deliver effective professional development that engages teachers actively and collaboratively in learning new practices.
3. Use reflective consulting/coaching cycles to support teachers to implement and set time-bound goals to refine strategies that comprise the new practice.
4. Support teachers to meet goals through further reflective consulting/coaching cycles.
5. Provide on-site meta-consulting/coaching to principals and coaches to help them use these processes to support teachers’ implementation.
6. Look at observation data school-wide to see patterns of strengths and aspects of the new practice that may need more clarification. Provide strategic professional development to clarify and deepen teachers’ understanding of that practice.
7. Celebrate! Celebrate! Celebrate! Each step teachers make toward robust implementation of new practices.
Written by Ellen Williams
Edited by Gary Forlini