We train. We provide materials. We offer additional help. And we hope. We hope that our staff development efforts make a difference. But how do we really know? Included: Four strategies for assessing the success of your staff development program.
Assessing the success of staff development has never been easy. Some tasks -- such as training teachers to enter grades into the new student management system -- are specific and observable and simple to assess. At other times, the results of our training are less quantifiable. How do we measure precisely, for example, whether teachers are using a new instructional strategy successfully?
Effectively gauging the success of an entire professional development program, therefore, requires a combination of techniques, including
Interviews can be as formal or as informal as you like. Chatting with a teacher in the hallway about how things are going can be a great way to assess the success of your staff development. With evaluating large numbers of teachers or when you need to obtain more quantifiable data, formal interview instruments such as e-mailed or printed questionnaires or online self-assessment instruments are more useful, however.
Profiler Pro is one such online tool. Profiler Pro's basic features, which are free to all educators, allow a school or district to create and administer a staff survey and create a graph comparing individual results. Staff trainers benefit by learning how each staff member sees his or her own understanding and implementation of the training topic, and staff members benefit by immediately seeing everyone's result. A teacher who is having difficulty in one area then can find on the graph the name of a colleague who feels confident in that area. The peer "expert" then can serve as a mentor to help the struggling peer succeed.
One caution about self-assessments: the results (not surprisingly) are not always reliable. Overly positive reports might indicate the teachers' need to look good to supervisors rather than reflect the actual success of your training. Overly negative reports might be a sign of frustrations unrelated to the staff development, such as time constraints, equipment failure, additional duties, and so on.
Interestingly, staff training in technology can present self-assessment results that are skewed for another reason. Often, those who know only a little about a topic report that they know more than they actually do, while those who are close to mastery in the same topic underestimate their competence. Why? The old maxim applies: the more you know, the more you know you don't know!
Despite the unreliability of the data, self-assessment can be a valuable first step in evaluating your program's success; teachers will feel as though their input is valued and results are immediately obtained. Consider using self-assessment in conjunction with one of the following assessment strategies.OBJECTIVE ASSESSMENT
Was the form completed correctly? Did standardized test scores rise? Are teachers displaying revised standards on their walls? Sometimes the success of staff development is easy to assess. Completion of the tasks and/or implementation of the initiative can be quickly and easily observed from a district office or a walk-through of the school.
Furthermore, data from those kinds of assessments can be valuable when justifying training efforts, assessing long-term training effectiveness, and conducting action research or case studies of your efforts. Try to keep the manner in which you record those results organized and standardized, so that months or years from now, you won't have to go back and try to figure out what an "x" or checkmark meant on that assessment tool as compared to another assessment tool. Taking Measure: Map Out Evaluation Goals from the fall 2002 issue of the Journal of Staff Development, is an excellent resource for planning for such data collection.
One caution about objective assessments: be careful to not ignore variables that might explain low or high success rates. Were teachers asked to complete a task at the beginning of school, when time is at its most limited and attention split among many demands? Did a planned visit by the district superintendent prompt a change in the classroom environment that was atypical and quickly replaced after the special event? Knowing what factors affect the results is vital to their interpretation and to their use in shaping future training efforts.CRITICAL FRIENDS
One more recent addition to assessment strategies is peer evaluation. Often, teachers seem to be completing a new task successfully or they are reluctant to share their struggles with a supervisor. On closer observation by a friendly face, however, the needs of that educator become clearer. Critical friends help the teacher first, and the staff developer second, to identify strengths and weaknesses and provide guidance for future growth.
The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory provides information and a form for use when implementing a Critical Friends approach. Their Tips for Critical Friends shows how a teacher might observe a fellow educator and write down in a helpful and directed manner what is seen and experienced. Other peer coaching materials can be found in the article, The Good Mentor, on the George Lucas Educational Foundation's Web site.OBSERVATION
The Critical Friends approach offers a friendly way to assess the results of staff-development; however, a peer often might be unable or unwilling to be completely honest about the struggles a teacher is having implementing a new skill. At that point, observations by a supervisor, staff developer, or other non-peer might be necessary. That usually is the best route to take, in fact, when stakes are high and the topic is not one easily assessed through objective data. Examples of those types of professional development issues might be ways to include all ethnicities and genders in classroom discussions, or how to implement a new character education program within the regular curriculum.
Keep in mind that, as in the other strategies discussed, unseen variables can confound your results. Even unplanned observations can result in subtly changed instruction methods that falsely indicate adoption of a new curricular focus. And, as we all know, the 15 minutes you spend in a class might be the very 15 minutes when things don't go as planned; those 15 minutes might not reflect the many hours during which your staff training efforts are being implemented effectively.ASSESSMENT IS KEY
Despite the drawbacks of each strategy, knowing how successful training has been is key to providing effective training. Too often, we hold the workshop and leave the campus, not knowing if we were understood or if our training was implemented. The goal of staff development in K-12 education should be to enhance the learning environment for students. If we are unable to correctly assess how close our efforts came to reaching that goal, we have wasted time, energy, and resources.
A combination of the four strategies discussed above, however, will help you determine where you are, modify future development efforts accordingly, and get one step closer to achieving your goals.