Sunday, August 23, 2009

Building Capacity from Within (Part 7) - 7 Steps

In meetings recently with several local school districts, I've been discussing sustainability models for professional development and empowering the teachers to become leaders in their own right.

I've talked about how creating and maintaining leadership from within helps with district initiative buy in by giving teachers a voice that they may not have had before, and creates a systemic basis for change with ripple effects that last for years. Positive ripple effects lead to tidal waves of change.

So how exactly does a district begin the process of building that internal capacity? I've created a list of seven steps that districts could consider when they seek to encourage leadership in their staff and promote sustainability around professional development and district initiatives.

1. Identify a Need
2. Identify Key Players
3. Create the Connection
4. Develop a Plan
5. Implement the Plan
6. Reflect on the Plan
7. Transform, Redirect, and Grow

Identify a Need:
Jumping on the latest bandwagon or deciding on professional development because the school down the street did it is hardly a way to decide a direction. Depending on trends or gaps in data or responding to new research that seems to have strong pedagogical value are better reasons for deciding on something new.

Needs Assessments are also a good way to determine what districts should consider bringing in, asking the teachers what they would identify as a priority needs area. These assessments could be done in a group as a discussion, or a formal survey to start or end a school year.

Identify Key Players:
This is not necessarily about identifying who your natural leaders are, but also who stands to benefit most from a collaborative relationship. Pairing your leaders with your most likely candidates for implementing a new practice creates a large pool of action for developing the next level of impact around an initiative. Your trainers train the next wave of trainers--create a sustainable cycle of action, with many go to people as you work through bringing the entire staff on board.

Create the Connection:
You could simply identify a need and discuss ways to improve it, but I like the analysis of positivity rather than just a focus on what hasn't or might not work. Specifically, I like the "Success Analysis Protocol" (S.A.P.) outlined in Lois Brown Easton's book Protocols for Professional Learning. In a nutshell, S.A.P. is about sharing the best of what teachers do, specifically as it relates to a new initiative. (And specifically gleaned from what your first round of trainers have experienced first hand.) Everyone gets a chance to share their positive experiences, ask specific questions about WHY something worked, then come to a common consensus around what those successes have in common, so that they can be replicated.

Develop a Plan:
From that common consensus, teachers develop a plan for implementing strategies to affect classroom instruction around need areas based on components that pointed to success for others. That plan may be a lesson plan, the integration of a new strategy, the introduction of technology, planning for ongoing collaborative meetings, etc.

Implement the Plan:
Then teachers try it out! They take what they've learned, what they've synthesized and created, and just do it!

Reflect on the Plan:
Then the cycle begins again. Trainers and teachers come back together, using the Success Analysis Protocol as a reflection tool to talk about what worked. They again determine what their successes have in common and seek to integrate those commonalities into their everyday instruction, creating sustainable change as EVERYONE understands how the professional development or district initiative is going to impact them personally. Note that this is a different model than "drive by" professional development, where trainers are in and out without continued support. This is more of a coaching event where successes are celebrated, and reflective practice is highly valued as an integral component of implementation.

Transform, Redirect, and Grow:
This is the easy part. As teachers become more comfortable with changes in their practice based on their professional development, they begin to see value in what they know and are able to do with their students. This growth becomes the catalyst for change for their colleagues as others are brought on board to experience the positive impact that the professional development opportunity is providing. It's not something that is meant to happen in a few days, but rather months, even years perhaps. Slow change is sustainable change. Slow change is systemic change. Slow change is valued change.

Within these steps are evidence of each of Angela Maier's Classroom Habitudes: Imagination, Curiosity, Self-Awareness, Perseverance, Adaptability, and especially Courage.  Each of these can easily be professional habitudes.

Building capacity from within also takes being honest, being willing to have hard conversations, identifying roadblocks and overcoming them, actively listening to all stakeholders, and believing in the change districts want to see.

It's not about just the "doing." It's about the learning. Several weeks ago, someone on Twitter asked the question that students should be asking their teachers all the time: "What do I have to LEARN in order to improve, versus what do I have to DO?" If professional development is just about a series of tasks, how in the world can someone really and truly make that work? It's true for students AND teachers. But, if teachers (like students) can identify what they need to LEARN in order to move forward, how valuable will that ultimately be, and what kind of impact will that ultimately make on student learning and achievement?


"Dancing with the Starfish. on Flickr - Photo Sharing!" Welcome to Flickr - Photo Sharing. 23 Aug. 2009.>.
Easton, Lois. Protocols for Professional Learning. 1st. ASCD, 2009. Print.
Maiers, Angela. Classroom Habitudes. 1st. Angela Maier's Educational Services, Inc, 2008. Print.
Tomlinson, Carol Ann and Susan Demirsky Allan. Leadership for Differentiating Schools and Classrooms. ASCD, 2000.

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