Professional learning is not only a huge investment for a school district, it’s also a great opportunity for teachers to grow in their profession. Because it’s such a critical part of improving the educational experience for our students, we are looking at how to make it most effective for our teachers. In the first two parts of this series, we covered issues with professional learning and how to make learning more timely for teachers. In this third part of the series, we’ll focus on the implementation portion of any professional learning. We hope to answer the question of how teachers can practice and implement the new strategy in the most effective way.
Teachers need time to implement any new learning that they gain (for more on strategies for this, be sure to read part one), but they also need the ability to practice implementation. I would contend that if a training does not have a practical application in the classroom, it should be questioned as to why the teacher is learning about it in the first place. Any new learning should directly affect students—and that impact should be visible in the classroom. So how do teachers go about doing this? Some of it comes down to time, but it’s also needing the support of the administration.
It also requires a growth mindset model. As teachers are practicing something new, they might fail. It might not go as well as they wished, and this can make teachers nervous. Personally, I feel this is a great model for students. Teachers can tell students they’ve learned something new and would like to try it with the class. This kind of transparency helps students to see how learning works—it can show that it isn't just students who are expected to learn and try things outside their comfort zone.
How to Support Teachers
In this process, the role of the principal is critical. If there happens to be any failures in the classroom—which are really just learning experiences—teachers need to know that they are supported through those times. And even if teachers feel they have the full support to try and fail, they still need help and structure to actually have the opportunities to practice and implement.
Here are some different avenues to consider:
- Classroom coverage: Administrators can cover classrooms so teachers can either observe other teachers or have time to plan. Administration can also play a key role in coaching teachers. By giving teachers a deadline of three or four weeks to try a strategy and then scheduling an observation of that strategy, admins can help make sure that any new learning is not forgotten.
- Providing feedback: As we consider the model of new learning with our students, we should think about the need for our kids to have feedback about their learning—the same is true of teachers. The challenge for school leaders is that the strategies are so diverse and varied that it can be hard to coach a teacher on a particular strategy if it’s unfamiliar. There are different ways to attack this issue. First, online collaborative communities are great resources for troubleshooting and answering questions. Teachers can access articles as well as post questions and responses as their schedule permits. It’s more timely and relevant to learn from expert peers than it is from a leader or coach who is less familiar with a strategy. Another idea would be to elicit feedback from fellow teachers within the building. Most teachers would be very willing to visit a classroom for 10 minutes and give some tips and insight on what they see and how it’s going.
- Recording lessons: Another great tool—but one that many teachers shy away from—is the use of video recording for improvement. Most adults hate to see themselves on camera, and teachers are no different, but this is one of the very best tools for improvement. The camera doesn’t lie, and teachers can really dig into how it went by playing back and reviewing specific parts of the lesson.
- Assessing impact: Part of the model in our state for professional learning is that a teacher can double or triple their professional development points by collecting data about the impact. Teachers can use data or assessment to measure the impact of anything that they learn. It doesn’t have to be complicated, either—a simple pre-test and post-test can help the teacher to reflect and see if the implementation was going as planned or not.
Teachers who learn are teachers who are growing and modeling for their students. But just like our students, teachers need to practice new strategies and have feedback about their progress. Hopefully, some of these ideas will help teachers transition from one day of professional learning to long-lasting impact for the students in the classroom.
Want to learn more about professional learning solutions that offer opportunities for practice? Check out these training solutions.