A simple idea, elegant execution
Today I would like to share an idea I learned from E.J. Rossi.
Mr. Rossi is the Assistant Superintendent for Instruction in the Atascadero Unified School District. E.J. and I met at a recent training to inform schools and districts about some changes being made in a statewide reporting system. During lunch we engaged in conversation about professional development initiatives his district had instituted since the adoption of the new standards.
Mr.Rossi told me about two things that I believe are worthy of note. First, he reported that his district has dramatically reduced the number of initiatives being implemented. I congratulated him on that. Education experts and researchers talk about focusing on one or two initiatives, but it seems that nearly all schools and districts suffer from initiative creep. This tendency has been witnessed by TESS in many of the Districts we have served.
It was the second idea that I believe was the most simple, elegant, and potentially impactful on the success of professional development.
Instead of having a professional development plan that matched the school year, from August through June, the professional development calendar runs from January 1 through December 31.
Currently, nearly all professional development is planned in a manner that follows the traditional calendar, new important trainings are offered when teachers return for the new school year. Why would such a change be so impactful? The change is impactful because it respects how individuals learn. Individuals learn best when they are not distracted by urgent and important matters.
In most districts in California teachers have two to three work days, aka non-student days, before classes begin. One day is usually reserved for some district event and/or training. One day is usually reserved for a site event and/or training. And one day is usually reserved for the teachers to prepare for students.
If one of those days is reserved for an important training, the outcomes derived from that important training will probably be less than expected. The teachers’ bodies may be sitting in chairs attending the inservice, but their minds are in their classrooms. And, what about the brand new teachers? They are already overwhelmed.
It would be analogous to interrupting a doctor’s preparation for surgery with an hour long training on new surgical techniques.
With the new calendar in mind, January to January, important trainings are rescheduled for January, a much less stressful time for teachers. Any follow up training or coaching occurs during the remainder of the school year.
The end of the year, subsequent to testing, is another excellent time to provide important professional development. Any curricular challenges are still fresh in teachers’ minds. Refresher and follow-up training begins early in the subsequent school year and continues through the end of calendar year.
Two non-trivial issues need to be addressed. First, many districts plan their professional development for the following school year based on student data from the current year. The answer to that is simple: If you do not know, until a big stakes summative assessment, how your students are performing, then you need to look at your instruction and assessment systems. If good systems are in place, there should be very few surprises that are not pleasant.
Second, unless your particular funding source allows it, districts are not typically allowed to encumber funds beyond the current school year. Planning your professional professional development over two school years, i.e., fiscal years, means you need to look a little more long-term at your budgeting.
The bottom line; Perhaps now is an appropriate time to reassess your district’s calendar and your approach to staff development.