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?
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.
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