08/24/2015  |  By Dr. Michael Moody

With a growing body of research showing that teachers are the most important determinant of student achievement, new and more rigorous teacher evaluation systems and policies have been implemented across the country. At the same time, many educators feel they lack the right resources and support needed to meet the demands of today’s classrooms and heightened learning standards.

In order for professional development to work, leaders must address high-yield instructional strategies aligned to the specific needs of their staff in a positive, supportive and collaborative environment.

No one would ever expect a golfer to improve his score by taking away half of his clubs, so how can anyone expect a teacher to do more with less support? While there’s certainly no lack of professional learning programs and resources available, most unfortunately prove to be inadequate and ineffective at stimulating real growth.  

Multiple studies have confirmed in the last several years that the quality of support a teacher receives is directly correlated to his or her effectiveness in the classroom. But this doesn’t simply refer to one event in time. Rather, it’s about the larger plan and support system consistently in place for educators and whether or not a true culture of growth exists across a school or district.

In order for professional development to work, leaders must address high-yield instructional strategies aligned to the specific needs of their staff in a positive, supportive and collaborative environment. This may seem like a daunting task, and it is. But the start of a new school year is an opportune time to set the right tone and roll out a targeted, meaningful, and sustainable PD program that propels teachers’ growth and accelerates student outcomes.

When planning for professional development, it’s absolutely essential for district and school leaders to be intentional in aligning programs to the greater vision, acutely aware of teachers’ real needs, and focused on growth. Just as we understand the benefits of backwards lesson design when planning instruction for students, the most successful PD is developed with outcomes in mind.

If you’re interested in building a truly effective, super-charged professional development plan for the upcoming school year, here are the things you need to focus on now and why.

1.Establish a Growth-Based Mindset

Stanford University Psychologist Carol Dweck has determined that people fall somewhere on a continuum between two opposing mindsets —  fixed and growth— that is based on their understanding of where ability comes from. Not surprisingly, their mindset has a significant bearing upon their understanding of success and failure. While Dweck’s work is most often applied to student learning, it equally applies to teachers’ professional learning.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic abilities, intelligence, and talents are inborn traits, and therefore fear failure and believe weaknesses reflect badly upon themselves as individuals. People with a growth mindset, however, understand that they can develop their intelligence and abilities over time through effort and persistence, so they embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Just as educators can model a growth mindset with students, school and district leaders can model this belief through their actions. In doing so they cultivate a community of practice that values new ideas, risk-taking, and feedback.

Above all, administrators and teachers must see themselves as learners.

To foster a growth mindset, create opportunities that encourage colleagues to have ideas and best practices with each other in a comfortable, non-threatening environment, and allow time for meaningful self-reflection. For this outlook to permeate the school or district, it must be purposefully built into the professional development plan and program.

2.Conduct an Instructional Needs Analysis

Professional development programs should not be merely a collection of disconnected events. They should be part of a coherent, focused program that drives toward particular outcomes for each staff member and serves the overall vision for the school or district.

Similarly to educators differentiating instruction for students in their classrooms, professional learning opportunities for teachers must also be tailored to their unique needs and classroom environments. To achieve this level of specific city, school and district leadership must have a full and accurate understanding of state needs coupled with areas of opportunity identified through:

• Student achievement data

• School improvement plans

• Teacher goals and evaluation data

• District/community/school initiatives (e.g.,Common Core,innovation with technology, blended learning)

• Research and best practices

• Teacher/participant feedback and needs assessments (e.g.,surveys) By ensuring that professional

By ensurring that professional development content is directly applicable to teachers’ individual practices and establish high expectations for follow-through, participants will be engaged in the learning rather than simply compliant.

Remember that for it to lead to lasting improvement, professional development needs to be inextricably linked to real needs and shared visions of success of each unique school or district.

3. Provide Ongoing, Differentiated Professional Development Offerings rings

Once learning goals, instructional skills and needs are identified leaders can begin to develop a strategic, long-term program of professional development focused on continuous learning and systematic change. Keeping in mind that programs should build upon existing skills rather than replace them, professional learning plans should emphasize continuous development, rather than one times it-and-get experiences.

Teachers need the opportunity to evaluate the effects of new information and acquired strategies, with the mutual understanding that adjustments can be made along the way and new lessons can always be learned.

Once leaders move beyond thinking of professional development plans as just a checklist of topics and practices that are trendy today, they can take planning one step further by focusing on selecting and implementing actionable, practical offerings that are highly flexible in format and delivery based on educators’ learning styles and preferences.

Any training should follow the same standards expected of teachers with students and involve various facilitation techniques to target all learners, including whole staff programs, small group exercises, job embedded coaching, review and reflection on instruction.

4. Create a System of Regular Observation and Feedback

To say that educator evaluation is a controversial topic today would be putting it lightly, and there are certainly many factors involved in the debate. But ultimately, evaluations should be systems of growth, not “gotcha,” and a central component to any professional development plan.

In particular, observation and feedback processes shouldn’t be adjust a rigid, regulated opportunity for weaknesses to be pointed out based on some decontextualized rubric. Instead, observations should be treated as an ideal opportunity to build professional relationships focused on growth and reaching goals together.

According to Jim Knight, director of the Kansas Coaching Project at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, the success of teacher evaluation and observation is fully dependent upon the frequency and quality of support provided educators through timely, relevant and actionable feedback. Specifically, this means:

• Building trust by ensuring confidentiality

• Setting aside the time needed to be fully present and responsive

• Providing specific examples that align with feedback

• Modeling practices and being an active member in a growth centered culture.

Once that “gotcha” mentality is gone, and a growth-mindset is in place, observations can play a major role in professional development plans by opening channels of communication and providing data to gauge teachers’ capacity and growth.

Obviously, this is all easier said than done. It is well understood that many teachers are resistant to feedback and have a hard time accepting and/or incorporating it into their practices. Observations also take a great deal of time and are plagued by a host of logistical constraints in most schools. However, video has proven to be a promising professional learning solution and is quickly gaining a lot of attention for its ability to enhance observations and promote growth.

With video-based observations, there is a common piece of evidence that observers and teachers can review together and reflect upon, leading to more open, productive dialogue that encourages teacher acceptance. Video can also be used privately for self-reflection, with colleagues in PLCs, and school- or district-led professional development. It’s also possible to share videos with content area experts within the district, and even qualified third party observers for the most relevant and transformative feedback.

In 2014, Newton County School System in Georgia started using video for content-specific coaching.  e district's algebra teachers recorded lessons and shared them with a coach from Insight Education Group, who was able to provide detailed and actionable feedback that the district did not have the resources to do on their own. Results were noticeable almost immediately. Teachers reported feeling more con dent and the district’s coordinate algebra pass rate grew three times higher than the state average.

5. Ensure Observers and Instructional Coaches are Well Trained and Supported

Research from Harvard and Stanford Graduate schools of education indicate that observations can in fact be key levers for the improvement of teaching and learning. However, for teacher observation and evaluation to produce such results, these systems must incorporate three key components:

  1. Subject-specific observation instruments that provide concrete guidance on desirable teaching practices
  2. Content expertise for accurate and usable feedback
  3. Continuous observer training and calibration processes Now to the last point worth repeating. When planning professional development that includes observation and feedback processes, don’t forget to address the unique needs of observers and instructional coaches as they work to support teachers.

Now to the last point worth repeating. When planning professional development that includes observation and feedback processes, don't forget to address the unique needs of observers and instructional coaches as they work to support teachers.

School and district leaders may also consider the use of outside observers who can offer teachers the content-area expertise and relevant feedback that is essential for improving practices. In addition, external observers make it possible for principals to spend less time on paperwork and more time on what matters the most for their teachers and students.

Great Teaching and Student Outcomes

The link between teacher quality and outcomes for students, specifically their chances of graduating high school and attending college, has been well established. As A result, more than two-thirds of states have made significant changes to their educator effectiveness systems in the last five years.

Unfortunately, however, there does not seem to be consistent evidence that teacher quality is actually improving — likely because implementation at the school and district level often lacks a focus on holistic professional development planning that focuses on real needs and growth-based feedback to meet shared goals.

Just imagine the impact on student outcomes if these e orts were carefully considered, planned and rolled out in every school district. Incorporate the components of super-charged professional development planning this fall to fuel great teaching throughout the year.

Dr. Michael Moody is the Founder and CEO of Insight Education Group. His experiences as a classroom teacher, school and district administrator and consultant have given him a unique perspective on both the challenges and opportunities in education today. Dr. Moody is always excited to start or join a conversation about helping educators grow. He tweets at @Dr. Michael Moody.—In order for professional development to work, leaders must address high-yield instructional strategies aligned to the specific needs of their staff in a positive, supportive and collaborative environment.

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