I love working with my fellow teachers. I believe that teachers are some of the most insightful, caring, strategic people I know. (Full disclosure: I AM a teacher!) My colleagues come up with amazing solutions in spite of seemingly insurmountable challenges, often with a smile.
However, after conducting a series of collaborative, interactive professional development sessions with some teachers, I'm often asking myself the following question:
WHY AREN'T THEY USING IT???
Whether it's Understanding by Design, iPads, or teaching with multimedia, I find that teachers don't use what they've learned very often. This is a problem.
After doing a little bit of informal research, here are the top reasons why teachers don't try out what they've learned in PD:
- They're busy!
- They're still a little skeptical that the new strategy will actually work.
- There is a systemic factor stopping them. (i.e., the schedule, the test, software, etc.)
Often, the design of professional development doesn't support the level of transfer required for classroom innovation to happen. The way that we design learning experiences for adults must intentionally support the transfer of learning. Here are 3 important elements that can make transfer more likely:
- Provide many examples and ask teachers to generalize from those examples. One of the hardest things to do is to visualize what a new strategy or technique will look like in YOUR classroom. In professional development sessions, show teachers lots of examples (video is best) from many different grade levels and subject areas. Then, have your colleagues make generalizations about what this strategy would look like in their own setting. The Teaching Channel is a great place to find examples!
- Give time for teachers to practice and receive feedback. In Doug Lemov's book, Practice Perfect, he describes how teachers actually try out specific strategies using role play. This is really important so that they can receive some immediate feedback about their performance. This helps you to understand what a correct implementation actually feels like.
- Ensure that the system supports the new strategies. Be intentional about what happens when teachers return to their classrooms. Does anyone notice that they've taken a risk and tried a new strategy? Does anyone compliment them on their hard work with the new strategies? Do they have the time and resources that they need to try out what you've taught them? Putting the right environmental factors in place can make transfer happen.