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
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I am a coordinator in the Department of Professional Learning at the Washoe County School District. We are provide professional learning activities this year using a “tight/loose” model that fits the baseball cap analogy in this post. The “tight” portion is the content, which is focused on the Common Core State Standards with connections to other components such as formative assessment, 21st Century Learning, Gifted and Talented education, Special Education, ELL strategies, culturally responsive practice, etc. The “loose,” or flexible, piece is the “how” – that is how the professional learning activities are delivered. Each month teachers on special assignment provide customized professional learning for their staffs. Teachers also have a variety of times to complete professional learning activities, and a large variety of topics are offered. We are also provided connected professional learning activities for principals and education support professionals.
Tom, your district sounds like a great place to teach and learn.
Sorry Toni, didn’t mean to refer to you as Tom.
It is ever wearisome to read and hear EdD’s and PhD’s in education cite “research” as the authority, and proceed immediately to castigate non-believers. If ever there was an oxymoron it is that called educational research. Nothing substitutes for subject matter expertise and real, boots on the ground experience. Now there’s a wide open depository for research, and a contemporary education PhD wouldn’t dare touch it. Enough is enough, and the damage has been done.
David, thank you for commenting. I don’t know if you were referring to me, but I have neither an EdD or a PhD. In fact, I have been six credits shy of my director of instruction license since 2011. I am aware of this research because I read a lot. I am unaware of any damage that has resulted from these inquiries.
Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t finished my post-graduate program. Maybe it is because I grew tired of sitting in the same classroom reading the same type of text. Just getting the A isn’t cutting it for me anymore. I need to be challenged to think, collaborate, create, and reflect. I am no longer comfortable with doing the time to get the credit/degree by simply listening to a very knowledgable and experienced teacher. Why go to school to receive information that I could readily find with a simple Google search? I fear this type of instruction is going to become irrelevant very quickly, if it hasn’t already.
Let me know how that works out for learning something like the Structure theorem for finitely generated modules over a principal ideal domain, or the various particulars prerequisite for fields of engineering, medicine, or systems analysis. I read my students’ faces to discern difficulties in their efforts to understand, and coach them in real time. This is a bit difficult to do via google and Khan Academy via youtube. I’m not anti-technology, rather against the wholesale mindless march to the altar of its worship.
David, I want to highlight a few of your comments:
“the various particulars prerequisites for fields of engineering”
– This sounds to me like direct instruction. You and your department seem clear about what students should know at each stage of learning through modeling and guidance toward independence.
“I read my students’ faces to discern difficulties in their efforts to understand…”
– You describe a formative assessment strategy. Communication is largely nonverbal, and you recognize that.
“…and coach them in real time.”
– Feedback at its finest.
“This is a bit difficult to do via google and Khan Academy via youtube.”
– I have no idea what “Structure theorem for finitely generated modules over a principal ideal domain” is, so you are probably correct. But what if a kid missed your instruction and could access a video recording of it online at a later date? Or, what if you shared your lesson prior to instruction, expected students to watch it before class, and then worked more closely with the students who need more of your support during class? Just thinking aloud.
“I’m not anti-technology, rather against the wholesale mindless march to the altar of its worship.”
– I am with you on this one Robert. Technology is a tool. It can enhance and even redefine learning when used strategically. But there are some instances when technology is a hindrance. Your critical eye in this area is refreshing.
I am not trying to come across as glib; I am only suggesting that we may be on the same side of this coin. Thank you for your thoughtful discussion.
I called you Robert. Sorry David. I see I am having some difficulties with names in this post + comments. All apologies.
Thanks, and I do appreciate your tone and approach.
“- I have no idea what “Structure theorem for finitely generated modules over a principal ideal domain” is, so you are probably correct. But what if a kid missed your instruction and could access a video recording of it online at a later date? Or, what if you shared your lesson prior to instruction, expected students to watch it before class, and then worked more closely with the students who need more of your support during class? Just thinking aloud.”
Yes sir, I think your approach here is understandable, and my point is there are elements within particular subjects and then there are abstract subjects that only the most precocious students could learn through recorded lecture/presentation, from the internet or otherwise. My point is simply that a one size fits all philosophy is anathema to my view of being authentically human.
Point well taken David. Thank you for the lively discussion. It doesn’t happen often enough.