Planning the AR Study

Some initial thoughts on my action research design as I get ready to write up the study methods and timeline:

  • Since I already have data to look through, I'm starting to focus in on a mixed method study, looking at past data and teacher feedback to plan out future sessions for comparison.
  • Since we have data to start with, I'm planning on an exploratory mixed-method design.
  • I think exploratory is more beneficial in the long run because I'm interested in mechanisms and structures which increase implementation of ideas by teachers, not just explaining why they do or don't implement.
  • We're finishing workshops this year and already planning for summer work. If I can identify some patterns and structures and correlate the level of implementation, we'll have a good starting point for aligning all PD, not just my teams, to the new structures using data-backed conclusions.
  • Given the timeframe, gathering consent forms right now is difficult, considering we're coming up on spring break and the testing windows. Doing aggregate, anonymized data analysis will allow us to draft a descriptive letter before the summer PD series begins and we can make informed consent a part of the workshop instead of a mass email.

More Redefinition…

From a post last week where I continued to refine my research question:

How does continuity of study (ie, a PD sequence rather than a one-off workshop) affect implementation?

Is there an ideal timing? How often (in a series) seems to be effective?

What does the interim look like in between workshops?

Are volunteers more likely to implement training? Or are groups, even if they're elected to come by leadership?

How does the group dynamic affect buy in or implementation after the fact? Would establishing norms at the outset remove stigma?

I thought I was going to use, "How can my role effect change through professional development?" which isn't a great question for research. It's good for reflection, but it's too specific to me and not great for sharing in a collaborative environment (my team, for example).

Based on some of my literature research, I'm going to broaden back out to generalizing PD structures as a practice rather than focusing on my own role within those structures. Right now, I'm thinking:

How will aligning our professional development programs to goal-oriented frameworks affect implementation by participants?

I'm feeling good about this question for a few reasons:

  1. Much of my day to day work is with individual teachers. They often have a larger focus and I spend my time helping those teachers find solutions or methods to reach those goals.
  2. I am involved in building-level discussions through departments or administrators. It isn't as frequent as one-on-one contact with teachers, but I do work with administrators to help their staff reach collective goals.
  3. My team is housed at the district level, not individual schools. My involvement at the highest level eventually trickles down to buildings and individual classrooms.

We've never done a full, research-based survey on the PD activities we offer in order to evaluate whether or not our work is effective in changing instruction at any given level. Using academic research for a guide, we can begin to evaluate and categorize our work in view of larger goals. Hopefully, we are able to identify patterns, strengths, and weaknesses as individuals and as a team as we begin planning for next year's programs.


This is a copy/paste of a post I wrote in a graduate class. I'm posting it here so I can get back to the ideas after the blackboard course finishes.

I'm still working on my lit review and I've come across two articles that propose classifications of types of PD typically offered in school. Hargreaves & Dawe (1990) discuss "coaching" as a larger construct. The term has been used more recently (even my title has "coach" in it) but it's been poorly defined in terms of the job description and my actual, day to day work. The authors cite Garmston's (1987) model, which defines structures: technical, collegial, and challenge coaching. Hargreaves & Dawe describe each model and then evaluate its effectiveness in changing school culture. The article is timely because I'm asking similar questions as I reflect on my own work with teachers.

The other helpful article (Kennedy, 2005) I found provides a framework for analyzing and qualifying nine models of professional development and proposes a structure for analysis of effectiveness with teachers. Categories align with Hargreaves & Dawe and provide more nuance in determining the type from a teacher's perspective rather than the coach's. 

Two do not represent a statistical sample, but both articles reach similar conclusions nearly 30 years removed from one another. Development for teachers must include reflection not only on individual practice but processing the political and power structures in place on the teachers and their functioning within those structures. Challenging the status quo through methods like peer review, paired or collaborative action research, or even something more elaborate like instructional rounds, is critical if lasting change is going to take effect.

Hargreaves, A., & Dawe, R. (1990). Paths of professional development: Contrived collegiality, collaborative culture, and the case of peer coaching. Teaching and teacher education6(3), 227-241.

Kennedy, A. (2005). Models of continuing professional development: A framework for analysis. Journal of in-service education31(2), 235-250.

Revising the Question…Again

I started a series of professional development workshops with teachers this week. It's a series of half-day work sessions with full departments and I'm focusing on active learning and assessment techniques all centered on literacy within the content area. It's really a part two to a full-day conference we held for teachers earlier this month and my task (and goal) is to make sure teachers are equipped with the how after hearing the why at the kickoff. 

My original question was framed as a negative: Why don't teachers implement learning from professional development? I think this has an inherent bias, assuming that teachers don't try to use what they've learned. Based on my work this week (and looking ahead), there is definitely a desire to do things and it seemed that the lack of planning time with colleagues was a bigger cause of inaction than not trying.

I'm going to adjust my question: How can my role effect change through professional development?

I want to move away from what other people do to how I can help impact their habits through strong professional development. I'm still not thrilled with the wording, but I'm interested in what structural components make a program effective when it comes to implementing ideas. To start, I brainstormed some gut feeling indicators and questions that (I hope) will guide some of my research.

  • Relationships: I know my teachers and they trust me and my instruction.
  • Instructional focus: Everything I do has an instructional lens or context. I do not rely on technology gimmicks to increase buy in.
  • Application: All of my workshops bring a heavy focus on in-the-classroom application of ideas through modeling or case study examples.

Some other related questions:

  • How does continuity of study (ie, a PD sequence rather than a one-off workshop) affect implementation?
  • Is there an ideal timing? How often (in a series) seems to be effective?
  • What does the interim look like in between workshops?
  • Are volunteers more likely to implement training? Or are groups, even if they're elected to come by leadership?
  • How does the group dynamic affect buy in or implementation after the fact? Would establishing norms at the outset remove stigma?

The featured image is IMG_6750, a flickr photo by classroomcamera shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The Why Loops

I spent some time last week running through some "why" loops to hone in on reasons behind my potential research question. I think the question is broad enough to allow for several avenues of exploration, but it was insightful to run through the cycle several times (below). We've actually used this mechanism as an instructional coaching team in the past and being familiar with the process helped me focus on larger issues. Granted, some of the issues contributing to some of the behaviors we see are well beyond my specific purview and definitely outside the scope of my AR project.

Below is a straight copy/paste of my brainstorming. I think items two and three are most within my realm of influence. I can use my time to focus on teachers who have recently participated in PD to help provide that instructional support. I can also work proactively with principals, helping them follow up with their staff members learning new methods or techniques and recognizing those either with informal pop-ins to see students in action or public recognition in front of their staffmates.

Why don’t teachers implement the training they’ve received in PD?

  1. Teachers don’t put their training into practice   
    • There are good ideas presented, but no time to work on building their own versions.   
    • The PD was focused on the why, not enough on the how   
    • Teachers don’t understand why they need to change practice   
    • The district’s communication about the offered PD is lacking clarity   
    • There is a lack of leadership when it comes to instructional vision.
  2. Teachers do now show evidence of putting training to use with students.   
    • Teachers don’t know how to implement ideas they’ve learned in the workshop   
    • There are so many demands on their time, planning new lessons falls to the back burner   
    • In-building support systems are lacking   
    • The district is strapped for money and hiring instructional coaches isn’t a priority.
  3. Teachers do not put learning from PD into practice.   
    • There is no outside pressure to implement ideas learned in training   
    • Principals are spread too thin to pay close attention to inservice teachers are attending   
    • Principals do not know what to look for after teachers attend inservice.   
    • Teacher evaluations are based on outdated expectations and promote superficial expectations.
  4. Teachers do not communicate implementation of learning   
    • Workshops in the district are often standalone with no formal structure for long term support   
    • The resources committed to PD for several years were focused on one-off training   
    • The district lacked a vision for teacher development as a continual process   
    • District leadership did not see the value of instructional support as a formal position in the district.
  5. Teachers do not implement learning from workshops   
    • No one follows up on the learning from the PD   
    • There was no formal method for recognizing PD   
    • There is no formal expectation of implementation from supervisors (principals, etc)

"Loop" by maldoit is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

Checking Implementation

Running PD for an entire district is a challenge. The biggest gap I see is knowing how or when teachers actually use what they've learned in a session or a series of sessions. We have automated systems in place, but it doesn't give us information on the effectiveness of our instruction.

We coach our teachers to check for understanding and watch for application of learning with their students, yet this is something I have not done well with the teachers I work with. Granted, I work with all five secondary buildings (and teachers in general with my partners), so geography and time are a challenge in gathering and collating the right kind of information.

I'm interested in what kinds of supports we provide will help teachers actually use what they've learned. We run several programs, but which ones are the most effective at engaging and enabling our teachers to make changes to their teaching? What kinds of environments or availabilities are the most helpful to the staff?

Homing In

I haven't defined a specific question yet, but several I'm thinking about include:

  • How long do teachers wait before implementing training they've received from the district?
  • What professional development structures or systems best enable teachers to implement skills or strategies learned in professional workshops?
  • How does student engagement or learning change as a result of a specific instructional change by a teacher after attending a training event?
  • What are the reasons teachers do not put strategies or systems in place after a workshop?
  • Do professional development workshops make an impact on day to day instruction by the teaching staff?

My main concern is that several of these questions are very subjective. Measuring the result - either quantitatively or qualitatively - will be difficult and rely on select groups of teachers self-electing an evaluation tool. We already send a basic implementation survey to teacher three weeks after an event, so my intent is to go through all of those records and begin to identify the response rate as well as the most common responses for implementation vs non-implementation by teachers. I'm also hoping to gain some candid insight on the state of our professional learning opportunities from teachers' perspectives.

Potential Action Research

Cobblestone walk in France

I'm taking a graduate course this semester on action research, part of which is defining and designing a question to tackle. Most of the coursework relates to classroom-level research by teachers to drive reflection and instructional change, but I'm not in the classroom right now. I'm thinking through what kind of teacher-focused research could help me in a coaching role.

  • Can reflection be an emergent property in teaching given the right context to grow?
  • How can formative data push teachers toward ideas in contrast with what they think is the "best" instructional habit?
  • How do PLNs (local or digital) change teacher practice?
  • What conditions are favorable for teachers starting - and completing - PD regimens?
  • Are mixed-format (online, self-paced, in person) PD sequences more or less effective than single-format (single sessions)?
  • What kind of follow up intervention or touchpoints can spur implementation of methods or ideas learned in professional development?
  • How do student results from trying new methods impact the type and frequency of PD offered to teachers?
  • How does implementing a new lesson or instructional method impact teacher satisfaction or overall morale?

This definitely isn't exhaustive, but it's a start. There are some others floating around my head that I can't quite verbalize yet. Much of what I'm interested in surrounds teacher intent to join PD, their actual attendance, and then, most importantly, their implementation of the methods and techniques learned together. What kinds of prompts or supports are needed to ensure follow through?

At face value, it seems collaborative action - longitudinal groups of teachers - working together has a high impact on implementation. But, given time constraints (including perceived time restrictions) on the part of teachers, this is hard to get off the ground at a systemic level during the school day.

The district as a whole is ripe for this kind of problem solving. Department and cross-department PLCs are forming and they are given freedom to choose how to spend that time. Perhaps a good way to start is to identify a team at each building willing to go through a more formal process. While their focus is on student improvement, I'm more interested in the supplemental activities I can provide as a coach to develop the action research mindset of the teacher.

Featured image from Unsplash by David Papillon