This is the second installment of a blog series about educators love/hate relationship regarding Professional development. In case you missed the first piece: here , I will catch you up.
In the first installment, I described the two types of educators:
- People who love PD
- Everyone else.
I went on to describe some traditional methods of PD that are really only effective with the crazies in group one. In this part, I would like to suggest an alternative form of PD to help our teachers in latter group.
While I consider myself one of the crazies in group one, I have endured my fair share of time-wasting PD ranging from PD on things I already knew how to do, things that didn’t apply to me as a secondary English teacher, and things that… Well let me just insert one more quick anecdote…
Having 4 or 5 years under my belt as a teacher in addition to completing graduate coursework had made me into a pretty good teacher. During the summers, I spent time attending PD when I could, reading some professional literature, and going over my curriculum ready to start some new and great things for my students. Fast forward to the first day teachers are back in the building. You know the day when teachers are excited to get into their rooms, arrange furniture, make a ton of copies of syllabi, interest surveys, and all the other first day of school regulars. Despite the desperate need to work on all of these things, Admin seems to always have an equally desperate need to keep all staff members in the same room for PD. You may be wondering “what PD could possibly meet the needs of all the different teachers in the building and make a lasting impact on our students ?”
Team building activities that’s what.
In this particular instance, our Admin went above and beyond and hired an outside consultant to do team building exercises and generally motivate us to change the world. If you are going to do a thing – you may as well do it big… right? Well they definitely went all out with this guy. His name was, and I am not joking, Mr. Happy. Mr. Happy brought out all the stops. He had all 80 of us in the gym, doing the congo, giving each other back rubs, doing the hokey pokey, and of course we had to do that thing where we partner up and study our partners than turn around and change something about our appearance, then turn back around and try to find all of the things that were changed which of course led all the participants to have a earth-shattering paradigm shift about “noticing the little things” with our students.
Armed with this new knowledge and renewed enthusiasm we then strolled out for our hour lunch and returned to our classrooms to “watch” our blood-born pathogen and sexual harassment videos do by the end of the day.
I am sure many have experienced similar pd. I think this is why the amount of teachers in group 2 is so high. We are extremely short sided in what we offer in terms of professional learning. I may go as far to say some simply are happy with just filling the time with “stuff” to do – kind of like the teacher that assigns busy work to make sure they are going bell to bell.
I would like to advocate for something different. Treat professionals like professionals and offer them some voice/choice with regard to their own learning.
The way I would suggest going about this new and improved PD plan would be to use “instructional coaches.” Instructional coaches are pedagogy and communication experts – meaning they are very familiar with best practices and are able to communicate them to others. They are the ones who experiment with new ideas in the classroom and reflect on data to determine what worked and what didn’t work. You may already have these coaches in your building without knowing it. They may be principals, assistant principals, or teacher-leaders. While each of these people already have plenty on their plate, they somehow find some time to mentor other teachers. However, the most effective coaching programs involve hiring full time coaches who aren’t limited in time due to grading papers, disciplining students, reasoning with parents, or searching for the culprit who sprayed fart spray in the elevator.
So how is instructional coaching better than traditional forms of PD?
In short, instructional coaching is needs-based, job embedded, individualized, and it’s always a choice. There is emphasis on that last bit about it being a choice, because I believe some think “coaches” are the people who go in and fix all the bad teachers. That could not be further from the truth. It is very dehumanizing to take away a teacher’s right to say “no.” While all professionals SHOULD be committed to improving, being coached is only one way for that to happen.
What is Instructional Coaching, according to Jim Knight, in 3 simple steps:
Coaches help teachers to
1: identify student-centered goals
2: learn specific strategies to meet those goals
3. reflect on progress and make adjustments in order to improve.
Identify –> Learn –>Improve
How would instructional coaching benefit each of the 2 groups?
Instructional Coaching for Those who LOVE PD.
If there is one thing that the people who are in this group really love (besides per diems) it is feedback. Feedback is addictive. It is one of the reasons people play video games. People like knowing they are getting better, or if they are struggling, they want to know what to do to fix it. Most video games keep score, or provide increasingly difficult levels (think Angry Birds). These components that provide consumers with instant feedback are the thing that makes video games addictive. No one would play Angry Birds if it was the same level the whole time or there was no score to beat.
Instructional coaches provide teachers with this instant feedback that helps teachers understand their current reality. This is different from evaluative feedback. This isn’t you did good or bad – this is “Wow, 90% of your students were engaged! What do you think you did that excited them?”
For those who are always trying new things, instructional coaching provides them an audiences and means to reflect on the impact of all of the new things they try. Coaches will ask tough questions for teachers to really consider if these strategies need to be changed, scrapped, continued, or presented at a conference because they are so awesome.
Instructional Coaching for the “Everyone Else”Group
For our highly skeptical friends, instructional coaching ensures that teachers aren’t getting trained on stuff they already know, stuff that doesn’t relate to them, or stuff that they just don’t care about. There is no “death by power point”, or “my way or the high way” directives. The focus is not on test scores, but on goals the teacher comes up with. The the teacher is in the driver’s seat of their own learning when working with a coach. The major appeal for our friends in group 2 is that instructional coaching is a pd model treats professionals like professionals by offering them voice/choice in their own learning.
To learn more about instructional coaching, I highly recommenced the work of Jim Knight. Jim Knight has researched and written several books about coaching designed to address needs and hurdles associated with the complexities of adult learning. Read more here. Did I mention that Jim Knight and I are besties…? Here is proof.