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Teacher Training:
A Matter of Timing

Before school or after school? During release-time or as paid extra time? During faculty meetings or as special in-services? Principals must answer those questions and others as they plan teacher training. Included: Trainer Lorrie Jackson offers tips to get teachers to attend training and benefit from it.

Just when teachers think they have their jobs all figured out, schools and districts spring something new on them -- an important change in district policy; an innovative teaching strategy; new grading software...

Although such changes often are necessary and may eventually serve to enhance student learning, they require teachers to become students -- if only briefly -- as they learn about the required changes and determine how best to implement them.

TEACHERS AS LEARNERS
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Changes in school policy, technology, teaching strategies, and so on, require more from teachers than simply memorizing information and promptly forgetting it. In their own classrooms, teachers know that they can't simply accept rote memorization as a valid product of learning, nor can they force students to understand and apply knowledge. Teachers realize that for change to be lasting, students must be motivated to learn. So too, educators or administrators who are in charge of staff development must motivate teachers to want to learn and apply new knowledge.

What motivates teachers to embrace change in the workplace? The top two motivators in teacher training are money and release time. In fact, time and money are so critical to the success of staff development that the National Staff Development Council recommends that "school systems dedicate at least 10 percent of their budgets to staff development and that at least 25 percent of an educator's work time be devoted to learning and collaboration with colleagues." ("Dollars and Sense," the Journal for Staff Development, Summer 2003).

If either or both those motivators are used, the chances for successful teacher training -- and program implementation -- are great.

RELEASE TIME/PAID TIME

Release time-- in which substitute teachers replace classroom teachers, freeing them up to learn during the regular school day -- is a very successful training model. Many teachers view release time as an unexpected "gift" and are thrilled with the change in routine. The "mental health" day such release time provides motivates them to benefit greatly from the training sessions.

The NSDC Standards

The National Staff Development Council has developed 12 Standards for Staff Development that will improve the learning of all students. In this series, staff development expert Lorrie Jackson discusses those standards and their practical implications for the educators in your learning community. For more information on the 12 NSDC standards for staff development, go to http://www.nsdc.org/standards/index.cfm.

Other teachers, however, feel the need to guard each instructional day carefully; they are reluctant to lose any time in their classroom, even to a qualified sub. The time it takes to prepare explicit plans and help students recover from the break in classroom routine make a release time an unattractive training option. For those teachers, motivation often comes in the form of paid training during non-school hours.

Most teachers -- especially the best teachers -- are underpaid for the amount of work they do. So whether the training takes place on Saturdays, in the evening, during the summer, or at some other time, the extra compensation is always welcome. Rates for compensated training vary widely, ranging from $25 to $100 for a five-hour day.

Family obligations, vacations, or part-time jobs might conflict with the scheduling of such training for some teachers, however. Administrators should determine the consequences for those who do not attend paid training based on the value of the training to the entire school or district.

Compensated training also offers the opportunity to acquire teacher-created products. Because teachers are being paid, it is reasonable to expect them to provide concrete evidence that they learned something. Lesson plans, project outlines, and teaching materials all can demonstrate the teachers' understanding of the concepts taught.

AFTER SCHOOL/BEFORE SCHOOL

Realistically, however, schools rarely are able to hire substitutes or to pay teachers extra to learn. So, how can schools who cannot provide additional pay or release time motivate their teachers to learn? Offering training at times that are most convenient to most teachers is a step in the right direction.

Many schools opt to train teachers for 15 to 30 minutes before or after school. Because most districts require teachers to be on campus 15 minutes or more before and after school, the teachers are there anyway -- and "on the clock."

Some teachers enjoy training immediately before or after school. They have a chance to relax with a soda or cup of coffee as they learn -- with minimal interruption to their daily routine.

For others, however, the timing couldn't be worse. Responsibilities to supervise extracurricular activities, coach sports, or even carpool one's own kids can make training before or after school unrealistic. Even teachers with no specific duties have chores to attend to: parents request conferences, extra worksheets need to be printed, peers need to be consulted, students need to be mentored....

One of the easiest ways to make after-or before-school training successful is to schedule regular weekly or monthly sessions on a specific day or days. That allows teachers to plan ahead and reschedule regular meetings and/or responsibilities. Also, if you're relying on before-or after-school sessions for your teacher training, try to offer multiple training opportunities, so teachers who have to miss one session because of school-related tasks can make it up. Finally, as always, recognize that teacher time is precious; limit training to a few vital points and get the teachers out quickly!

FACULTY MEETINGS/INSERVICES

Mandatory meetings, of course, ensure a captive audience. Because all teachers must attend, whatever needs to be taught can be accomplished in one fell swoop. Also, faculty meetings and inservices generally offer longer blocks of time, allowing for hands-on sessions and opportunities for discussion and questions.

Take a look around your next faculty meeting, however, and see how interested the audience is. Often, papers are being graded, off-topic discussions are occurring, and an atmosphere of exhaustion and boredom pervades the room. A captive audience increases the opportunities for teaching, while reducing the motivation to learn.

To make teacher training during mandatory meetings successful, first make sure that the topic you're covering applies to everyone in attendance -- or that you offer enough topics to cover the needs of everyone who must attend. Second, keep training relevant and fun; provide time for attendees to share their ideas, successes, and failures. Finally, always start on time and end as early as possible!

ONE-ON-ONE TRAINING

One of the newest models for staff development is one-on-one training. Teachers contact the staff development expert or trainer and schedule an individual training session for their prep period or free time.

One-on-one training enables each teacher to focus on exactly the information or skills he or she needs and to ask questions that specifically apply to that teacher's classroom. One-on-one trainers also are in a better position to ensure that each teacher understands and can act on required changes.

One-on-one training, however, works best on a limited basis, as a follow-up to group instruction; it offers trainers the opportunity to make sure each teacher is following the "game plan." Few schools have the manpower to schedule multiple individual sessions on a regular basis. In addition, if all teachers must learn the same basic information, holding dozens of training sessions on the same topic is not an effective use of trainer time.

HANDOUTS

Are the logistics of getting your entire faculty together for training simply too difficult? Did some of your teachers unavoidably miss a training session? Do you train teachers who learn best from reading materials on their own and working independently? If you answered yes to any of those questions, printed or digital materials might be a great option for you. Handouts provide teachers -- and all other learners -- with an additional means of visualizing and understanding new information.

When using handouts, make sure you divide the concepts into small, class-period-sized chunks. Provide clear and simplified instructions -- with pictures or screen shots -- to make it easier for teachers to apply knowledge. Don't try to provide detailed explanations about the why's of each concept; focus instead on the hows of implementation. Troubleshoot your handouts by asking a teacher to read the information and complete the steps without help from you or another staff trainer.

Reliable delivery of the materials is key to the successful use of handouts. If your school or district provides universal technology access or an internal network, put all materials in a standard location. That not only will save on paper; it also might encourage teachers to extend their technology use.

Paper handouts are fine, of course, as long as you are sure teachers won't simply throw them away. Provide binders or some other means of storing staff development materials, so teachers always know where to look for needed information.

DIVERSIFY, DIVERSIFY, DIVERSIFY

In the end, a combination of flexible times and techniques offers the best chance for successful teacher training. Even when provided with ideal timing and multiple training sessions, however, teachers can make challenging students. Some won't "have the time" no matter what options are available; others will resist all change for reasons that cannot be foreseen or overcome. Scheduling training at times that are most convenient to most teachers, however, will make the path to change that much clearer and the job of teacher training that much easier. Good luck!

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