Since I moved out of the classroom, I am often involved in conversations at the district level about school improvement and improving classroom instruction. When the topic comes up about teachers not implementing quality instructional techniques, the knee-jerk response is often “Well they’ve had professional development on that.” The blame is laid squarely on the shoulders of the teachers, with no reflection to the quality of the professional development given, or the support provided afterwards.
I always like to bring it back to the classroom. If all of the students in the class fail a test, is it acceptable to blame the students, because obviously they didn’t try hard enough to learn the material? Or, would it seem like the logical conclusion to assess the teaching of the material, and figure out where the breakdown came on the instructional end, instead of blame the learners?
I’ve watched too many hours of the DIY Network than I’d like to admit, but there is no way you want me anywhere near construction tools. My husband likes watching cooking shows, but he’s not capable of cooking a Cornish game hen without lots of support. Why do administrators think that just by giving teachers a one-time training on a strategy or tool, that somehow they are then equipped to implement it perfectly?
I heard a someone speak once who put it perfectly. Teachers are often long on professional development, but short on practice.
Just because someone has told a teacher how a strategy or concept works, doesn’t mean the teacher can immediately see how it can be applied to their subject. In presenting the material, presenters should give as many concrete examples as possible for the different types of teachers that will be attending. Give a concrete example for every subject (ELA, math, science, social studies, gym, etc.) or for every grade level. This is the “I Do” stage. You are doing the work, and the teachers are learning from you how they can use this in their classroom.
Just like in the classroom - where students learn at different paces - some teachers may be in this phase longer than others. It may help to extend this phase to modeling the strategy in certain teachers’ classrooms. Instructional coaches, administrators acting as instructional leaders, or master / lead teachers can help accomplish this. The more concrete and applicable we can make concepts, the more teachers can see the value and importance of incorporating the new idea into their classroom.
This is the phase so often left out by providers of professional development. Just because someone has seen how something can work, doesn’t mean they have the tools or skills needed to do it successfully on their own. In this phase, districts need to plan for supports of teachers as they implement new strategies. Within the professional development time, give teachers time to create a lesson or activity using the strategy/idea/technique/tool. Instructional leaders should work with the teachers to do just this, hence the idea of “we do”. After the professional development session has ended, teachers should be given support as they implement this in the classroom. Co-teaching, observations, and non-evaluative feedback should be provided through coaching and instructional leadership. This team collaborative spirit is essential for success in this stage.
At this point, teachers are ready to go off on their own. However, just like in a classroom, this does not mean that you abandon the concept and never provide support for it again. Teachers should have opportunities to reflect and analyze how the strategy/idea/tool is working. New struggles may arise, and teachers need to be supported through these challenges.
Within this model of professional development, we have to recognize that - like our students - teachers do not advance through learning at the same stages. Some may advance to “You Do” right away. Some may stay in “I Do” for much longer than others. But in being proactive and responsive, schools and districts can support all teachers in improving instruction, and will see a more positive changes in their classrooms.