We often hear -- from a wide variety of educators -- that the most common post-professional-development feedback is, that was great, but how am I ever going to apply it to my classroom? By establishing a learning community within the school (see Part 1 of this article), leadership can provide opportunities for relevant hands-on learning to take place.
The model presented here represents an easy-to-implement program. All thats necessary is for leadership to provide the time for staff to come together in a safe community forum to experiment and challenge assumptions, to discuss observations, critique new research, and form new partnerships This model makes disseminating information all the more personal, practical, and applicable.
Information-sharing is the lifeblood of the teaching profession. Providing the time, space, and climate for educators to share ideas and best practices ensures the professional progression of the school.
Setting the climate for educators to openly discuss strategies, techniques, and challenges requires peer support and the exchange of information. Allocating time and space for structured sharing can be a challenge -- for administrators and teachers alike -- given that only limited funds and a limited number of professional development days are available.
The key to overcoming those challenges and achieving success is to find a way to build time into the schedule when everyone can come together to discuss the information presented during a workshop or training (or any other medium used to share new knowledge about education). Allotting time for those discussions during routine staff meetings demonstrates that information-sharing is important -- and a priority. An authentic learning community is only made possible when people are given a forum to share ideas.
Research, for the purpose of this paper, refers to further thinking and testing of the concepts presented during training. It might be as easy as searching the Internet for tips or journal articles. Finding additional information, or generating new research, to support concepts or ideas presented in professional development seminars answers the question of why the theory or strategy is important. Research can validate the information and provide a springboard for further thinking on the subject.
Brainstorming answers the question of how the concepts, skills, or knowledge can be integrated into the classroom. The gathering of research should be followed by a session that promotes discussion of how the idea might be brought to classrooms. During that brainstorming session, predictions, possible challenges, and all implementation details should be discussed.
This step refers to the actual performance of the tasks introduced during the brainstorming session. This is where teachers become more like researchers; carefully observing to see if the predicted outcome materializes in the classroom. This part of the process converts the one who is usually disseminating knowledge into a researcher collecting data for analysis.
The evaluation stage is crucial. This is the time to take an objective look at the relative successes or shortcomings of the new skill, technique, or information that was integrated into the classroom. Simply put, did it work?
The evaluation stage opens the door for another unique opportunity. Given the necessary time, space, and resources, this would be a prime opportunity to have the professional development trainer (or the person who presented the information to the staff), return. Very rarely is a training session or staff development workshop given a follow-up -- a time when teachers and administrators can revisit the originating idea and re-assess its proper implementation with the person with whom it originated. Having to report back and evaluate the quality of information given during staff training holds both participants and trainer accountable for the information.
Reflection involves closely looking at how a task could be done differently or more effectively. Simply put, this stage answers the question of why the experiment was or was not successful. In hindsight, the details that were overlooked in the brainstorming process come into clear view. This is the time to change, troubleshoot, and discuss the steps necessary to improve the overall adult-education experience.
Training participants should be provided the opportunity to reconvene and communicate what strategies worked, and most importantly why they worked. Communicating what didnt work and why assists in moving future staff development in a more effective and practical direction.
The idea of education being a life-long process requires that all professionals establish a community that promotes learning among adults as well as children. The completion of a standard certificate, masters, or doctorate should not end the yearning for best classroom practices.
In order to provide our children with the most effective teaching practices, our teachers need to see themselves as part of a learning community. Supporting a learning community requires that teachers feel empowered to educate one another. Becoming a life-long learner requires that one has the capacity to find the potential for learning in every new event and every iteration of the environment. As we live, we learn our way into new possibilities for ourselves . As educators of teachers, providing the time, space, and supportive climate for active, efficient staff development reaffirms that education is not preparation for life, it is life.
Rossitier, M. (2007) Possible selves: An adult education perspective. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 114, 5-15.
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