Professional Learning that Teachers Won’t Hate

Dear Teachers,

This week I’ve been reflecting on creating conditions for better professional learning, and is there a teacher alive who doesn’t want THAT? It’s been pretty well established that the traditional “sit and get” style of professional learning just doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of changing a teacher’s practice or impacting student learning (Gulamhussein, 2013; Hill, 2015; Walker, 2013). Whether it’s the annual blood-borne pathogens meeting or an event featuring a flashy guest speaker, the lecture style of PD session with no follow-up is as common as it is ineffective. Even if that expensive keynoter got your attention during his or her presentation, how much of what was said actually got implemented in your classroom? Do you even remember the content a week or two later?

My team and I have been talking a lot over the past several weeks about John Hattie’s research. It’s been only fairly recently that I’ve become aware of his work, and it makes me seriously question why, because he has uncovered some great stuff! He has over 20 years of data about the things that are shown to have an effect, positive or negative, on student achievement. One of my colleagues did a presentation at TCEA last month where she spoke extensively about the two top-ranked influences that can have a positive effect on students. Those are teacher estimates of achievement and the very closely-related collective efficacy, which is the school-wide belief that teachers, working together, can make a positive difference for students that will counteract any negative impact of the student’s home or community situations.

Think about that for a minute. Teacher estimates of achievement means simply that teachers believe that their students will achieve. And collective efficacy means that when everybody believes that students will succeed – and acts as though they will – then any other negative factors in a student’s life that are adversely affecting learning can be overcome. And these two things don’t make just a little bit of difference; they make a LOT of difference.

So if it’s true, then, that teacher attitudes about their own ability to affect student learning outcomes is so important, wouldn’t it make sense to promote professional learning that fosters and develops that collective efficacy? It certainly seems that way to me. Teacher-driven and teacher-developed PD, based on what they believe their students need to succeed, would build that collective belief that they can and will make a difference.

We have a small-but-mighty Professional Learning department in my district, and they do a terrific job providing district-level learning experiences for teachers. Building-level PD is a little less consistently great. I created a “commercial” that is directed at principals to encourage them to focus their building-level PD on teacher-led experiences that will be personalized to the needs of their students. This already happens, at least in some small way, on many of the campuses, but hopefully those principals who need a gentle nudge will be encouraged to at least think about the benefits of teacher-driven professional learning.

In addition to promoting the idea of the importance of collective efficacy, I think this approach to Professional Learning also addresses all five of the key principles of effective PD (Gulamhussein, 2013):

  1. The duration of professional learning must be significant and ongoing to allow time for teachers to learn a new strategy and grapple with the implementation problem. 
    The collective efficacy approach to professional learning by nature is an ongoing commitment and mindset.
  2. There must be support for teachers during the implementation stage that addresses the specific challenges of changing classroom practice.
    The collective efficacy approach to professional learning provides support at every stage because it is ongoing and addresses the teachers’ specific needs.
  3. Teachers’ initial exposure to a concept should not be passive, but rather should engage teachers through varied approaches so they can participate actively in making sense of a new practice.
    The collective efficacy approach to professional learning means that all educators are actively involved in the process of continual improvement.
  4. Modeling has been found to be highly effective in helping teachers understand a new practice.
    The collective efficacy approach to professional learning invites educators to model for each other what works best and to coach each other into better practice.
  5. The content presented to teachers shouldn’t be generic, but instead specific to the discipline (for middle school and high school teachers) or grade-level (for elementary school teachers).
    The collective efficacy approach to professional learning is designed to be specific to the unique needs of each teacher on the campus.

It’s my hope that my little commercial will encourage principals who want to make a change in their campus professional learning initiatives to give teacher-driven PD a chance. Principals who support their teachers as they work to design the solutions that will benefit their students the most will likely be pleased with the resulting improvements in student achievement. It will likely be trial-and-error in some cases; principals will need to encourage risk-taking and trust the process. I’ve seen this approach work, and I’d like to see it in action on more campuses!

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I often get asked how I create the videos I’ve gotten fond of making lately. I figured that my current favorite (FREE!) video creation tool, Adobe Spark, would work well to create this commercial because I knew the message I wanted to convey and the images I needed to use to support that message. Fortunately I had been poring over pictures from some of our previous department-led PL sessions just last week so I knew just where to go to retrieve the images! Adobe Spark works on a desktop or with the app on a mobile device and syncs in the cloud, so it doesn’t matter where your pictures are saved. You can edit the project from any device. Each scene has its own narration, so if when you stumble on your words, you can re-record only the portion where you messed up instead of having to do the whole thing over again. It’s nice being able to do the recording in small bites.

With Adobe Spark, you select the images you’d like to use and decide on the best layout for each slide. When an image is selected from the timeline at the bottom, it appears in the middle of the screen. To add narration to that image, just press and hold the microphone as you speak (don’t forget to allow use of your camera and microphone, if prompted), then release it when you’re done.

File_000

You can also select the Theme that works best for your presentation.

Spark-Themes

Everything saves in real time in Spark (my undying gratitude to Google for making this the industry standard!), and you can save it to your device or share it in lots of other ways when you’re done. I save my creations to my iPad and then upload to my YouTube account. Pretty fun time we live in to be able to do all that with just a few taps and clicks!

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References

Donohoo, J. (2016, July). Fostering collective teacher efficacy: Three enabling conditions. CorwinConnect. Retrieved from http://corwin-connect.com/2016/07/fostering-collective-teacher-efficacy-three-enabling-conditions/
Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the Teachers Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability. Center for Public Education. Retrieved from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Staffingstudents/Teaching-the-Teachers-Effective-Professional-Development-in-an-Era-of-High-Stakes-Accountability/Teaching-the-Teachers-Full-Report.pdf
Hill, H. (2015). Review of The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about Our Quest for Teacher Development. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from http://www.greatlakescenter.org/docs/Think_Twice/TT-Hill-TNTP.pdf
Lynch, A. (Photographer). (2009, Feb.) Desk nap. [digital image]. Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/adamjlynch/3275087576
Waack, S. (2014). Hattie ranking: 195 influences and effect sizes related to student achievement. Visible Learning. Retrieved from https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/
Walker, T. (2013, April). No more sit and get: Rebooting teacher professional development. NEA Today. Retrieved from http://neatoday.org/2013/04/29/no-more-sit-and-get-rebooting-teacher-professional-development/
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