If you're an educational leader, you've no doubt been involved in developing school improvement plans, following those frameworks that suggest our work can roll easily if we just follow the cyclical arrows: collect the data, identify the implementation needs, train the staff, take action, reflect, revise, and so on...
Continuous improvement plans have good intentions. Making significant changes in teaching and learning means that educators need to speak a common language, have common expectations, and develop expertise in common effective strategies and instructional moves. It makes sense that we would follow an organized plan with timelines and outcomes, including opportunities for professional growth. Yet, when embedding professional development activities into school improvement planning, the reality sometimes looks more like this:
Feel like you're herding cats? Fantastic! When planning for school improvement and professional learning, educator needs, background experiences, and learning styles vary-- just like those of our students. If we keep our targets in mind, however, we can design plans that allow us to differentiate professional learning opportunities while still addressing the goals of school improvement.
So How do We Round Them Up?
1. Identify and communicate the expected targets.
I worked with a school district in my county to plan professional learning for their K-5 staff. The SIP team had identified Tier 1 reading instruction as an area where they needed to ensure that teachers were using evidence-based practices, and that students were receiving quality reading experiences in each and every classroom. At our first session with staff, we shared a framework of balanced reading instruction, and provided explicit descriptions of exemplary practice. Teachers talked in small groups about which areas they felt most confident, as well as those about which they wanted to learn more.
2. Ask teachers to self-assess.
Professionals are often more willing to participate when they've had the opportunity to reflect and address their learning needs. We then used a survey asking teachers to identify their level of implementation for each component of the framework, using the following levels:
- Not Practiced: I do not use this practice and/or I have very little knowledge of this practice.
- Beginning: I am learning about this practice and am just starting to try some things, but I still feel I have a lot to learn.
- Progressing: I have been working on this for awhile, and am beginning to feel comfortable in my understanding and practice. I would like to further hone my skills and knowledge.
- Implementing: I have a deeper understanding of this practice and it has become a part of my instructional routine. I still have some “fine-tuning” to do.
- Innovating: This practice has become a regular part of my teaching repertoire, and I am comfortable in adjusting it based on my student needs. I have a deep enough understanding and expertise level that I could advise others.
The survey also included a place to prioritize topics for further study, as well as space for open-ended responses.
3. Provide multiple opportunities for professional growth based on teacher-identified needs.
4. Remember that it won't happen in a one-day in-service. Nor a two-day. Not even a three-day.
Educators may not be cats, but they aren't cattle, either. They need relevance, engagement, ownership, and an opportunity to interact with colleagues within the context of their work.
We don't want our professional development to look like this: