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March 1, 2019
Vol. 76
No. 6

Show & Tell: A Video Column / Leading PD That Works

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Professional Learning
Leadership
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Gone are the days when school leaders naively believed that a one-off staff development event would be sufficient to change instructional practice. These "make it and take it" events had little effect—and no wonder. Teachers weren't given opportunities to practice, reflect, collaborate with colleagues, or witness practices in other classrooms. It was as if the learning practices we knew to be essential for student learning didn't apply when it came to adults.

A Better Way

To avoid this ineffective method of learning, a group of elementary school principals in one district we've worked with takes all of their teachers through a professional learning cycle to carry out any change in practice. These leaders realized that simply providing teachers with professional development events wouldn't allow them sufficient time or support to implement the ideas they learned. The 10-week learning cycle—which includes the same practices, whether focused on promoting mathematical thinking, asking better questions, or any other instructional improvements, and which teachers experience several times a year—allows for changes to occur and to stick.
Teachers experience three of these cycles a year. Sometimes, to master more complex ideas, a cycle extends for another 10 weeks. Following each cycle, an instructional leadership team (ILT) at each school—a group of elected teachers and the principal—reviews progress and decides what to focus on in the next cycle. Each cycle includes these components:
  • Input training: Through professional learning sessions—for the whole school or certain grade levels—teachers receive information about how to implement an agreed-on practice in their classroom. Often these sessions are led by members of the ILT or teachers with skills in a given area. These sessions also include professional readings that are used for grade-level discussions.
  • Safe practice: For two weeks following the input session, teachers experiment with the practice in their classrooms. They talk with peers about successes and challenges they're encountering and reflect on how implementing the information they learned is going.
  • Peer observation: Teachers have opportunities to observe one another and engage in structured reflections and feedback. During this phase, teachers are supported by coaches who engage in cognitive coaching cycles.
  • Collaborative analysis: These weekly meetings occur throughout the entire cycle. In grade-level teams, teachers examine student work and data to identify successes and continuing needs. They also consider implementation data and discuss the impact of their efforts on students' learning.
  • Monitor, measure, and modify. During the second half of the 10-week cycle, teachers engage in learning walks to look for evidence of implementation of the agreed-on practices. The ILT reviews the information collected on these walks to make recommendations about the next cycle of inquiry—and begins to plan the next round of learning, based on the evidence collected.
This model of professional learning isn't strictly linear; some phases are implemented simultaneously. For instance, after the initial "input event," the safe practice, and collaborative analysis phases occur concurrently. Likewise, following the safe practice phase, peer observation and collaborative analysis occur at the same time. Professional readings provided during the input training are reread and discussed throughout.

Focusing on "Teacher Clarity"

Consider an example of this process in action. A team in one of these principal's schools, Finney Elementary in San Diego, engaged in a yearlong focus on teacher clarity. Given the robust evidence about the impact of teacher clarity on student learning, the school agreed this would be their focus for the year. One 10-week cycle was dedicated to the teacher practice of establishing the purpose for learning (sometimes called learning intentions). Teacher clarity involves more than simply expressing learning intentions to students, but students knowing what they're supposed to be learning is important. And evidence suggests that when teachers are clear in both their expectations of what students should learn and instruction, students learn more.

Three Teachers State Their Intentions

The video accompanying this column shows three classrooms involved in this learning cycle focused on establishing a purpose for learning. As part of the "monitor, measure, and modify" process, these teachers were observed for how each of them explored the purpose for learning with their students.
We hope you'll notice that the discussion of learning intentions can be short and may only take a few minutes. (A teacher doesn't need to share the learning intentions at the outset of the lesson, just include them somewhere in the lesson.) The kindergarten teacher in the video is concise, yet clearly communicates to students what they will be learning. This isn't the only time she focuses on the learning intention. She revisits the learning intention at each transition between activities.
We hope you'll also see that learning intentions can be developed in different ways. In the 4th grade classroom, the teacher focuses on something that she noticed in students' learning that she wanted to address with them. In the other classrooms, you'll see learning intentions related to content, language, and social aspects. These teachers are working to ensure that they don't simply privilege the content, but recognize and articulate for students that some of the learning they will be doing is linguistic or social. Finally, we hope this video makes clear that teachers have different styles and the implementation of learning intentions isn't formulaic. In each case, the teacher's personality comes through as she shares the expectations with her students.
As you watch, think about the impact that visiting classrooms can have on the overall professional learning cycle. It's not just visiting to visit or to watch the teacher work. The visits are part of a larger system designed to support teacher learning and student growth.
Our point in describing this approach to professional learning is that teachers and principals have to lead the learning of adults. One-time professional development sessions aren't sufficient to do so; instead, teachers deserve to experience a thoughtful cycle of learning that allows time for safe practice, collaborative analysis, reflection, and refinement as the goals for improving students' learning are realized.
Instructional Strategies

Show & Tell March 2019

3 years ago
End Notes

1 We have been involved in providing input training for some of these schools.

2 Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

Doug Fisher is a professor of educational leadership at San Diego State University, where he focuses on policies and practices in literacy and school leadership. Additionally, he is a teacher leader at Health Sciences High & Middle College, an award-winning, open-enrollment public school in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego that he cofounded in 2007. His areas of interest include instructional design, curriculum development, and professional learning. A passionate educator, Fisher's work is dedicated to impacting professional learning communities and nurturing the knowledge and skills of caring teachers and school leaders so they may help students improve their learning and attain their goals and aspirations.

Fisher is a member of the California Reading Hall of Fame as well as the recipient of an International Reading Association William S. Grey citation of merit and Exemplary Leader award from the Conference on English Leadership of NCTE. Previously, he was an early intervention teacher and elementary school educator. He has published numerous articles and books on literacy and leadership, teaching and learning, and improving student achievement.

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