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A Model for Teacher Development: Precursors to Change

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Too often teachers are passive recipients of professional development rather than being active agents of their own development and change. Several recent reports have indicated that teacher professional development, as it is being implemented in most schools, is ineffective and a waste of time and money.

Several studies over the past few years that have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers. Only 30 percent of teachers improve substantially with the help of district-led professional development, even though districts spend an average of $18,000 on development for each teacher per year, according to a new report. Most professional development today is ineffective. It neither changes teacher practice nor improves student learning.

The hard truth is that the help most schools give their teachers isn’t helping all that much. When it comes to teaching, real improvement is a lot harder to achieve—and we know much less about how to make it happen—than most of us would like to admit. (New report reveals that teacher professional development is costly and ineffective)

My beliefs around teacher professional development are that it should be:

  1. driven by the teacher, him or herself.
  2. based on change models which result in deep, meaningful, lasting changes.

Conventional wisdom on teacher development tells us that we already know what works when it comes to professional development for teachers—typically “job-embedded,” “ongoing” and “differentiated” kinds of development opportunities, in contrast to old-school “drive-by PD.” (Do We Know How to Help Teachers Get Better?)

I believe that professional development needs to go even deeper than being job-embedded, ongoing, and differentiated. Teachers need to receive training on models of change. Teachers should be trained in identifying their own professional development needs based on their classroom performance, areas that they aren’t performing up to par based on their own personal self-assessments as well as feedback from students, colleagues, and supervisors followed by intentional processes to help make positive changes in their work environments.

The model being proposed is based on a series of strategies for working with counseling clients entitled 7 Precursors for Change. I modified it to be more in line with teacher professional development. This is just an overview. Each step would need further exploration and explanation if presented as a model of change for teachers. Plus, these are not linear and they are all interconnected.

1) A sense of necessity: The educator must see a need for change; that there is a belief that something can be done better; that some circumstance of teaching is not working. Driving questions include:

  • What do you value as a teacher? What are actions are you doing in the classroom that address those values?
  • What do you want for yourself as a teacher? for your students? What are you doing to get it?
  • What is not working for you when teaching your students?

2) A willingness or readiness to experience anxiety or difficulty: The educator must be willing to deal with the inevitable discomfort which arises naturally with the onset of change. Moving from how one typically behaves to how one would like to behave is a process that often involves a difficult transition or a groan zone. It is an awareness and acceptance that change requires going from one’s comfort zone to a groan zone prior to coming into the growth zone. It is about accepting that failure and iteration are part of the growth process.

Any kind of creative activity is likely to be stressful. The more anxiety, the more you feel that you are headed in the right direction. Easiness, relaxation, comfort – these are not conditions that usually accompany serious work. Joyce Carol Oates

3) Awareness: This is simply knowing that a problem in one’s performance related to teaching exists and then being able to isolate what thoughts behaviors and feelings are connected to the problem. This is closely related to accurately perceiving one’s environment. The big driving question is, “When you think about a specific performance problem or issue you are having, what thoughts and feelings do you experience?”

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. Nathaniel Branden

4) Looking directly at the problem: This is when the educator is willing to focus his/her attention on the problem so s/he can fully understand all of its’ attributes. Essentially this is knowing and accepting all the effects of the problem and admitting the truth to oneself. A powerful driving questions is: “If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and the problem was solved, how would things be different?”

The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution. Albert Einstein

A problem well put is half solved. John Dewey

5) Effort towards change is the actual actions taken to solve the presenting problem. This is the actual effort. Changing something that isn’t quite working often takes a series of actions or graduated tasks over time.

We always hope for the easy fix: the one simple change that will erase a problem in a stroke. But few things in life work this way. Instead, success requires making a hundred small steps go right – one after the other.   Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance

6) Hope for change: This is having the belief that change will occur. This is a realistic expectation based on rationale thoughts and behaviors. Hope in this sense is not synonymous with wish. Hope involves seeing how things will change and believing they can be accomplished. It is related to having a growth mindset – that growth and change are possible and probable.

Hope is a vision for a new reality. Hope means to become a steward for a new reality. Again, to hope is not just a wish. It’s full-on engagement with vision and potential. Alfred Adler

Instilling a sense of hope can occur when the educator finds, listens to, and/or reads about colleagues who have gone through similar challenges and change. It provides a type of support as s/he takes action to make changes which directly connects to the final step.

7) Social support for change: This is about finding people in the educator’s life that are supportive of the relevant change to be made by the educator. This is where establishing, connecting with, and proactively using a professional learning network comes into play. Educators working through this model of change should be encouraged to and provided with strategies for building both face-to-face and online professional learning networks.

teacherpd

Implementation of this model  is not a quick and easy fix to teacher professional development. Implementing it will take time, commitment, and struggles but what is the alternative –  costly and ineffective teacher professional development?

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. R. Buckminster Fuller

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Why does there have to be a problem to be solved? The most life changing PD I have ever had was more about expanding my thought process and seeing things in a new light. It transformed what I did in the classroom, but I hadn’t previously identified that there was a problem that needed to be changed.

    Kathleen R

    August 7, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    • I take a broad perspective of problem – it can be an area of needed improvement or even the need to expand thinking to see things in a new light.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      August 7, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      • I agree with Kathleen – I am uncomfortable with a focus on problems. By doing so, you take a deficit-based approach to professional development and change and I think it does the spirit of development a disservice. If we look for problems, we will find them – that is for sure – because we tend to find what we look for. What if teacher development had success as its focus? Examine the things that work well – and then create the conditions for more of that to happen. That’s the direction I like to go in.

        Tracy Rosen

        August 15, 2016 at 7:16 pm

  2. Jackie-

    There’s an academic paper written by Yong Zhao (of the University of Oregon) titled “Teacher Adoption of Technology: A Perceptual Control Theory Perspective” that seems to relate closely to the topic you’re addressing. Although it speaks to classroom technology rather than professional development, his language closely parallels yours. Compare, “The teacher must believe that technology can more effectively meet a higher-level goal than what has been used,” with your, “The educator must see a need for change.” The article is more than worthy of a read.

    Best,
    J.

    Jakob G

    August 9, 2016 at 1:15 am

    • Thanks – I think Yong Zhao is brilliant

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      August 9, 2016 at 5:11 pm

  3. Jackie, as a PhD student myself – approaching the dissertation stage – this the work I am most interested in : teacher belief and behavior on student engagement. So little is done on teacher mindset versus teacher’s trying to impact student mindset. Thanks for sharing this – we need to build momentum on this critical area – without creating defensive teachers, socially desirable responses without true depth, and truly empowering teacher in their roles as change agents. Likely you have heard of John Hattie’s seminal work on what the real teacher impacts are to student learning. Pivotal stuff. I welcome connecting with you on the journey.

    Tammy Fisher

    Tammy Fisher Huson

    August 9, 2016 at 2:02 am


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