“. . . Several studies over the past few years have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers.” Hechingereport. Just think of all the time and money consumed by PD activities each year with such disappointing results. This is tragic, especially because we have the knowledge to significantly improve teacher training. But this knowledge is rarely used. This post applies this knowledge in mapping out 4 steps that will lead to an effective professional development program for your school.
1. ARE THEY READY
This step is often overlooked. Someone comes up with a idea for PD and a decision is made to focus on that topic for the year. A top down approach to teacher training rarely works. If you want teachers’ commitment then they need to be included at the beginning of the project. To obtain teacher support for the PD program they must believe that it is relevant to their teaching and will benefit their students. This may take time to accomplish, but it pays off in the end. It’s important to take the time to get staff buy-in to whatever teacher training is being proposed. Working with your leadership team, you might review formal and informal assessment data that will give rise to a consensus as to the school’s priority for the next school year(s).
2. WHAT’S THE PLAN
Here are questions that provide focus to create an effective plan:
* What is the length of time it will take to fully implement this plan?
* What is the schedule of activities needed for effective implementation?
* Who will do the training? Inside or outside presenters?
* What support will be provided to staff during the implementation phase?
* What materials and monies are needed?
* How will the project be evaluated?
3. MOVING IT FORWARD
The training begins and at some point the staff is expected to implement new skills and knowledge into their classroom lessons. Some teachers will take to the new program like fish to water. Others will have more problems translating strategies discussed in the workshop to the classroom. At this initial stage of implementation, it is vital to reduce teacher fears of inadequacy and being judged by their peers or the school administration. Coaching and peer support become essential to the success of adoption by all teachers involved in this PD. One option is to establish a visitation schedule where teachers observe their colleagues who are successfully implementing the new approach to teaching.
Other ways of follow-up to the initial training can take the form of: additional workshops; discussions at faculty and other meetings; and informal chats with the principal. Quick anonymous surveys eliciting feedback and suggestions from teachers with appropriate responses from the leadership team can help lead to needed mid-course corrections. At some point in this stage, a written school-wide agreement as to what the new program will look like in every classroom should be drafted. This agreement is negotiable, but the essence of the new program must be retained in the agreement. It commits every staff member to follow the new guidelines.
Finally, congratulate the staff for their hard work and the success they have had in implementing the PD program.
One of the most difficult questions facing school principals is how to maintain effective programs over time. Say that you’ve done Steps 1, 2 and 3 to a tee; what will this program look like in 5 years? Will it have been watered down? or become non-existent. Here are some ways to sustain the program that you and your staff worked so hard to implement:
- Booster Shots– in the years following implementation, provide a couple of mini-workshops on the topic
- Review the written agreement early in the school year with all staff and at new staff at orientation sessions
- Periodically email readings to staff about the topic
- Provide coaching for new staff as they implement the program
- Include it as part of the teacher evaluation process.
The above is not theoretical. It is based upon real-life experiences that made my staff and me proud of ourselves and our school.
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