The first and most critical tweak to make is to know the needs of your teachers. Contrary to popular belief, the best way to know the needs of your teachers is NOT to ask them.
It happens all over the country. Schools hold professional development that is not tailored to the needs of their teachers, administrators do not support the professional development, and time is not provided for teachers to assimilate the new information nor have questions answered after trying the new ideas in their classrooms. Yet these three actions are critical to successful implementation of new ideas and programs deemed worthy to consume limited teacher preparation time.
You can avoid making these mistakes in your school simply by tweaking what you do now.
Know the Needs of Your Teachers
The first and most critical tweak to make is to know the needs of your teachers. Contrary to popular belief, the best way to know the needs of your teachers is NOT to ask them. In cases where your teachers are involved in year-long PD focused on a central theme or topic this will work. Most often however, this is unfortunately not the case.
Therefore, we must have other ways to know what teachers need. The best way to do this is to be in classrooms. Observations, evaluations, and walkthroughs done consistently can give great insight into teacher needs.
Select an area of focus for your class visits based on student achievement data. Then, when you observe, evaluate, or walk-through, do so with this focus in mind. Shut down the distractors of other subjects. As you focus on one area you’ll see more clearly the specifics of what is needed by your teachers.
Then, talk to the professional development leader of the intended session. Convey your staff’s needs and ask him/her to tailor the session. If you are not able to state your teachers’ needs clearly enlist help. Ask the person providing your professional development to come a day early and observe your teachers in action. Then discuss how to tailor the PD to your staff’s needs.
In my work with teachers across the United States I enjoy tailoring professional development to the needs of individual schools. The feedback throughout the day and during the wrap up is always best when I’ve had a chance to talk with the administrator beforehand and plan for the specifics of the school’s teachers. Your energy on the front end makes a huge difference.
Professional development can be powerful and positively affect students’ achievement if done correctly. Invest some time up front in knowing exactly what your teachers need. This will pay off handsomely.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” — Hunter S. Thompson.
Support the Professional Development
The second tweak for ensuring successful professional development is to support it with your presence. I know for some of you the statement above strikes fear, others feel the pressure of time closing in around you, but deep inside you all know I’m right.
“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Let’s don’t argue with Gandhi. If you want teachers to buy into the program or idea, you must show your support of it, not just talk about it.
When I was a teacher I sat in many hours of professional development. As a deliverer of professional development I have been involved in many more hours with teachers. The best results of professional development are experienced when teachers have administrator support.
Your presence says to teachers,
- “I believe in this program/information.”
- “I support your efforts to implement.”
- “I am building my knowledge so I can lead.”
You may have multiple professional development sessions going on during the same day. Make sure to be present. Make yourself available in each session for a period of time to answer questions and share your thoughts.
Put PD at the top of your priority list. Model active commitment and you will see teacher engagement, retention and implementation rise.
Provide Assimilation Time and Follow-Up
Tweak three is to provide assimilation time and follow-up. This tweak is perhaps the most critical to PD success of all. Teacher burnout and overwhelm happens expediently when teachers are not provided time to assimilate new ideas. To keep this from happening, explain to the person providing the professional development that one of your goals for the day is to include time for teachers to talk with one another and to reflect on what they are learning. A good PD deliverer will embrace this goal and will know how to make this happen.
I’ve experienced PD where the presenter crammed an agenda at us and never stopped to be sure we were assimilating the information. Assimilating involves more than understanding. Teachers need time to think and imagine how the new ideas will work in their classrooms.
“The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.” — Time to Think
A second part of assimilation happens after the PD is complete. Rather than rolling from one session to the next back to back, plan for teachers to have think time in between sessions. This will allow them to organize their thoughts and wrap up new ideas in preparation for more. Skipping this vital time causes frustration and overwhelm.
The final part of tweak three is to plan for and provide follow-up PD. The first session of PD on any topic is for explaining the new concepts, ideas or practices. Working with the new practices will result in questions that need to be answered. Very often schools neglect to plan for answering these questions. This is where teachers begin to stray from the path of your intention. This is the time doubts creep into the minds of teachers. If you believe in the concepts, ideas, and practices enough to support them with yours and your teachers’ time and attention, then by all means take the time to follow-up by answering questions, giving guidance, and reassuring teachers they are implementing according to your expectations. The old “one and done” approach will not work in making lasting effective change.
You and your teachers invest time, energy, and money into professional development. Don’t squander. Make these three tweaks and enjoy the rewards of purposeful, productive, and long-term professional development for your success, your teachers’ success, and ultimately your students’ success.