Shouldn’t Staff Development Model What We Want to See in the Classroom?

Recently I was asked to return to work with a group of high school teachers who were in their first year of transition to teaching in a block schedule. During my first training visit with them 6 months ago, my goal was to give the teachers the experience of utilizing a variety of learning situations of varying lengths. I wanted them to see the learning strategies in action, but I wanted them to leave with more than just teaching ideas. I hoped to provoke their ongoing reflection on what happens when students have more time to take ownership of the content, process and evaluation of their learning.

So when I was asked to conduct small group (with 6-10 participants) follow up discussion groups with the same teachers, I thought the best approach was to model it in a typical block format with three different activities that demonstrated real-time transitions in an 80 minute block. For more on my approach to professional development see my post: “A Guide to Designing Effective Professional Development: 15 Essential Questions for the Successful Staff Developer”   

I choose activities which would facilitate our discussion and feedback on how “teaching in the block was going.” But I also wanted to use activities which teachers could easily adapt for use with their student in a variety of classrooms. The teachers were first asked to participate in the activity to gather feedback and then to reflect as observers on ways they could use the activity with their classes. 

Here’s the three activities / prompts I used:

1. We opened with a “Brainstorm-Group-Label“ activity. The prompt I gave them was to list all the thoughts that came to mind when they reflected on the first semester of teaching in a block. As you could imagine the results were illuminating and ran the gamut from strongly positive to negative. This activity helped us probe larger issues of what was / was not working in the transition to the block.

2. Our second activity was a “Fishbowl Discussion.” A few participants volunteered to debate the statement “Student-centered instruction is great in theory, but in reality most students are not willing (or able) to take responsibility for their learning.” Other teachers served as observers who were assigned the task of tracking the arguments they felt were most compelling. Then the “observers” were asked to synthesize their ratings and share back their assessment with the entire group. This brought our feedback discussion closer to exploring the underlying assumption about the efficacy of the student – centered approach that underlies a block instructional schedule.

Diagram  3. For our last activity, I gave a teacher volunteer a simple diagram. See sample diagram at left.  I asked them to instruct the rest of the group how to draw it. Download Communications exercise. They could not show the diagram to the group, nor look at the progress any group members were making in recreating the diagram. Then we shared my diagram and the group member’s attempts to “copy” it. The exercise proved to be a bit frustrating for the volunteer and the rest of the group who had great difficulty getting it right. 

Why the last activity? In my mind it mimicked what the traditional classroom lecture does every day  - make the assumption that you can teach something by simply telling it to someone else. Thought I’d leave them with food for thought.

5 Replies to “Shouldn’t Staff Development Model What We Want to See in the Classroom?”

  1. Peter,

    Thanks for the great reminder on the importance of modeling. We (I guess I use the collective pronoun to avoid saying I) do a terrible job with staff meetings and dept. head meetings in regards to being an instructional leader. I know that when I finish a meeting and say to myself, “I would be very disappointed if I saw a teacher doing that in the classroom,” I have failed in my role.

    Thanks for the concrete strategies to add to my repertoire as I continue to evolve as an instructional leader.

  2. You are so right. But most often, teacher professional development doesn’t look like this. It is a large group in a room (ballroom even) or auditorium with someone standing in front of you flipping through 50 powerpoint slides all the while telling you to make your classroom engaging and active. I can count on one hand the number of interactive PD classes I have attended…and they were great and meaningful and readily applicable.

    But sadly, they are not the norm!

  3. Hi Patrick,

    Thanks for the honest self-assessment. Being an instructional leader brings challenges and opportunities. Teachers are a tough audience – but if you can get them engaged in an activity as part of doing business, you re-affirm the challenges they face every day in the classroom. You don’t just preach “community of learners.”

    As someone once told me “If you can’t fix it, feature it.”

  4. Keishla,

    You bring back memories of my 25 years in the classroom. No wonder teachers (like me) sit in the back of the auditorium and bring papers to grade!

    What I hated the most, were the presenters who were preaching a particular strategy in classroom, but not using it in their presentation. The usual excuse is the faculty audience is too diverse in grade level or content area to use this strategy. Yet they expect teachers to differentiate in the classroom??

    Every gathering as a learning opportunity with it’s unique challenges. Why bring in the parents for an open house and lecture at them? It’s another chance to model good instructional practice. Same goes for faculty and admin meetings. As an assistant superintendent, I even taught Bloom’s taxonomy to the school board.

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