Create Sustainable Change and Build Capacity
Investing for the future. Return on investment. Goal setting. Meeting demand. This is not an advertisement for financial planning, but rather a description of how districts need to reframe their thinking around meeting the professional development and coaching needs of their teachers. How do we create sustainable change while building capacity?
In his book, What Great Principals Do Differently, Todd Whitaker stated that great principals focus on students by focusing on teachers. He is also convinced that most teachers do the best they know how. If we want them to do better, we must help them improve their skills and master new ones.
In our previous installment, we discussed the 21st century skills teachers will need in order to meet the changing expectations of our profession. The need to reflect on our current practice while preparing for the changing expectations creates both opportunities and challenges. We must continue the compare and contrast between our current practice and the vision of a 21st century classroom. So how do we build capacity around these skills? How are we going to “feed and care” for our teachers?
Read Part I of this blog here, How to Build Capacity for Effective Teaching
There are many items that should make this list: differentiated, ongoing, research-based professional development with accountability, job-embedded coaching, peer observation, mentoring, intentional use of technology, and meaningful practice opportunities (real world application) with reflective feedback, to name a few. Let’s examine some of these. How are these implemented in your district?
Implementing with Fidelity
Differentiated professional development should be based on data, utilize 21st century instructional strategies, skills, and tools, consider teacher input and feedback, and offer opportunities for coaching and practice. Professional development should be ongoing and include whole group, small group, and one-on-one sessions. Monitoring and accountability for implementing with fidelity should be included in any professional development and coaching plan. There should also be differentiated professional development and coaching opportunities for instructional leaders to strengthen their leadership skills while monitoring initiatives for implementation with fidelity.
I keep using the word “fidelity” because we have all experienced great professional development where we learned new ideas and received a good book, and then we get back to the real world. Fidelity is defined as faithfulness to obligations, duties, or observances. One of the problems with professional development has been the lack of implementation with fidelity. Many professional development initiatives are driven by the district office in a top down approach that is based on the larger, perceived needs on the district.
To be implemented with fidelity, instructional leaders at both the district and building level should participate in every day of the professional development and coaching. It is hard to hold others accountable for something you do not understand at a granular level. Multiple opportunities to measure the implementation with fidelity of the initiative should occur between professional development days using an observation tool as well as teacher interviews and feedback discussions. Researchers Polly and Hannafin found there is a gap that exists between what teachers report (espoused practices) and demonstrate (enacted practices). It is important to communicate a clear and consistent message around the professional development initiative while creating a culture that supports its implementation with fidelity.
Job-embedded coaching that provides meaningful practice opportunities with reflective feedback is another important part of any plan to build capacity and create sustainability. That transfer of knowledge from professional development to practice is a critical step for building confidence and competence around any instructional initiative. The use of Academic or Instructional Coaches is important to ensure the process takes place in a non-evaluative manner that supports growth and professional learning. Connections between practice and performance should be emphasized to strengthen the culture for learning and implementation with fidelity.
In a world where mental dexterity is the new currency, achievement gaps are a threat to educational quality and equity. Differentiated instruction based on data and research-based best practices, along with job embedded coaching, mentoring, and real world application, hold the key for closing the achievement gap for students.