Guest post by Matt Renwick
When you hear professional development described as “one size fits all,” what do you imagine? Heads resting on hands? Glazed eyes? Sidebar conversations running rampant? I can relate – I have sat in too many of these types of meetings myself. However, I have come to think that this type of PD is really “one size fits none.”
Instead, when I consider one size fits all, I imagine a baseball cap with the elastic head band.
This may be a better metaphor for how we might want to approach effective teacher training. These hats can be worn by many users regardless of head size. They adapt to the wearer, but they’re still good hats that get the job done. That’s how I truly see “one size fits all” professional development. Stretchy and adaptable but fundamentally effective for every user.
School’s not a place for lone rangers
Educators need to work more like a team if we expect whole schools to make a lasting difference on student learning. We cannot have lone rangers.
It’s not like the jury is still out on what works. Look at all the research by Marzano, Pickering & Pollock (2001), Hattie (2009), Wiliam (2011), and Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde (2012). They are all pretty much saying the same thing about what best practice looks like:
- Formative assessment
- Feedback and Questioning
- Integrated Units of Study
- Direct Instruction (i.e. gradual release of responsibility)
- Collaboration and Peer-to-Peer Conversations
- Student Interest and Ownership of Learning
- Independent Practice
We can call these things whatever we want: Project-Based Learning, Inquiry Circles, Flipped Classrooms. It probably helps to give these practices snappy names so we can wrap our heads around them during the teaching process. But let’s not mistake them for something new: these philosophies work because they are grounded in the best practices listed above.
We can wrap the Christmas presents in whatever type of paper we want. It’s what’s inside the box that matters. And especially, how well we use what’s inside.
We’re obligated to do what works
When doctors receive training, they don’t go off into isolated corners of the room and do their own thing. They understand that certain methodologies must be adhered to when performing a procedure. Now, there is often more than one way to achieve a desired outcome. But the pathways toward that outcome don’t diverge that far away from each other.
It’s the same with teaching and learning. There should be no one prescribed way to help students achieve their goals. Yet to refuse to learn more about practices that have large amounts of evidence to support their use, and instead stick with what we feel comfortable with, is at best being obstinate and at worst neglectful.
The onus for hosting successful professional development is on two groups: School Leaders and Teachers. School leaders who prepare these activities need to listen to their staff about their interests and requests. Leaders should differentiate what’s offered to ensure that the learning is relevant and applicable for all teachers. But they concurrently have to look at students’ needs, using assessment data, learning artifacts and evidence-based practices.
Where these two areas converge is where staff development should probably receive its focus, delivered through the lens of what a school does well. It’s important that we are all on the same page. If certain practices are effective, shouldn’t we all consider employing them?
We’re not running a lottery
Teachers need to come to this same learning opportunity with an open mind. Maybe the current professional development topic is not what they want to focus on or spend time with. But what if the training is really good stuff that will definitely benefit students? Like focusing on embedding formative assessment within instruction, which can double a teacher’s effectiveness (Wiliam, 2011).
If there are opportunities for staff to voice opinions about professional development, through surveys and by serving on a leadership team, then there is a good chance that what is offered to us as educators will make a positive impact on kids and their learning if applied correctly. The alternative is a lottery system, where if a kid is lucky, they will get a teacher who is using great instructional practices that every educator in the building should be using in the first place.
Photo credit: Eric Molina