How Do I Use Tools for Teaching?
A Plan for Professional Development
The Principal's Role
We have structured as many paths to success as possible. Yet, it stands to reason that the more resources we give teachers, the more likely they will be to learn new skills and use them in the classroom. Consequently, the best odds of success belong to a district with a clear vision of staff training and a school site with an experienced training team and a principal committed to long-term follow-through.
Organizational Change to Support Personal Change
The principal is the key decision maker for training and follow-through at the school site. Tactical decisions that are made before training begins often determine its ultimate success or failure. Here are some key tactical decisions:
Principal Participation: The principal determines whether professional development will be on the front burner or the back burner. If professional development is not on the principal's front burner, it will not happen. Principals, therefore, must be advocates. Giving permission is not enough. They must provide time for training, protect it from being cross-scheduled, and participate so they are as knowledgeable as their teachers.
School Site Focus: Training is best done by a team of mentor quality teachers at each school site. Not only will they draw colleagues into training by word-of-mouth as they use the program in their classrooms, but they will also be close at hand to problem solve with trainees. If a trainee has difficulty with a new procedure, they either get help quickly from a friend, or they are likely to dump it. Consequently, school site training teams serve one of their most important functions during follow-through.
Build on Strength: The most willing and able teachers should be trained first. Often they become co-trainers, thereby expanding the school site training team. In addition, their success should be shared with the faculty so that more hesitant colleagues say, "Well, if it can help them, I guess it can help me too." While well intentioned, the decision to train the most needy teachers first can reduce faculty buy-in by stigmatizing the program as remedial.
Make Training Voluntary: Changing habits is never easy. Teachers must want to change. They must focus on new ways of doing things every day, and this requires a high degree of motivation. Mandating that teachers participate usually backfires. It is better to create a critical mass of success with strong teachers, and then wait for colleagues to be drawn to the program. Occasionally, however, especially at a fairly small school site, the faculty as a whole may vote to do the program which sweeps nay-sayers along with little resistance.
Start Slow, Go Slow: One of the hardest things for administrators and school board members to do once an effective program demonstrates its merit is to slow down. "Let's train everyone in the district" is usually a call to disaster with volunteerism being the first casualty. Successful training requires patience. Haste preempts the systematic process of training and team building that allows a program to gain strength as teachers achieve genuine mastery.
Train and Retrain: Our tradition in professional development is to train teachers in one program and then move on to the next program never looking back. Yet, we know that skills are built slowly and incrementally. Teachers pass through predictable stages on the road to mastery which might be characterized as, 1) What is it? 2) How does it work? and 3) How do the pieces fit together? Genuine mastery requires that teachers be trained repeatedly.
Focus on Follow-Through: Think of successful professional development at a school site as being a 3-5 year process. While some teachers succeed beautifully from the beginning, most will need more time to internalize new skills, break old habits and iron out wrinkles in classroom application. Build a process of growth and change, and let that process provide integration of new learning over time. Structure for that process is described below.