In the usual professional development structure, teachers teach and administrators or coaches observe and offer a list of areas for growth. Changing the design so that instructional leaders give teachers the opportunity to self-assess and self-reflect makes professional development more useful and meaningful. A teacher-driven PD plan gets teachers excited about learning and invested in the opportunity to grow.
Take Your Time and Plan
To create a teacher-driven professional development program, allow ample time to create sustainable plans. At my school, the Academy for Leadership at Millcreek Elementary, an instructional leadership team began the process for teacher-driven PD a full year before implementation.
To maximize the program, align the rubric and professional learning plans to any district-mandated professional growth plans. Teacher buy-in is a critical first step in the process. In order to get teachers on board, they need a voice in the process. Tie educational reading during team planning with classroom experience. Use the framework “What makes effective teaching?” to brainstorm goals.
In our experience, five characteristics of effective teaching emerged: differentiation, questioning, feedback, cognitive engagement, and academic rigor. Using the characteristics, we created a rubric to assess the different levels of performance for each one. The list captured what most teachers viewed as best practices.
Create a rubric to assess the different levels of performance for each. For example, we used these assessment criteria: ineffective, developing, proficient, and exemplary. Designing a framework allows teachers to provide input in an objective way. Once the plan is established, work with teachers to determine the best ways to implement what they have learned in their classrooms.
Use Real-World Examples
The instructional leadership team asked all teachers (classroom teachers, special education teachers, special area teachers, and intervention teachers) to videotape a lesson on a typical day of instruction. As a preassessment exercise, teachers watched their video before the professional learning began. The teachers rated themselves in all areas of the rubric. Teachers did this work on their own so that it could be a true self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses on a regular day of instruction.
Several teachers thought of their classrooms as engaging, but after watching their videos and using the rubric, they realized that students might be compliant, but they were not cognitively engaged. Teachers used the notes section of the rubric to provide evidence of each rating. After they rated themselves in the five areas, they identified the weakest area according to the rubric, and the area became their priority component to work on in the coming months.
Teachers are assigned to professional learning groups based on the priority area of growth. Teachers work with other teachers receiving the same professional development to hold each other accountable between learning sessions. Some teachers chose accountability partners for the assignments. Others chose to have a teacher partner informally observe their class to get a perspective on something learned during the PD.
All conversations are structured around the rubric from evaluative to non-evaluative. Create a common language that is used in instructional conversations across the building. Because instructional coaches and administrators lead the professional development training throughout the year, they can use common language in all conversations, from evaluations to informal coaching cycle chats.
Once a month in our school, instructional coaches and administrators provide ongoing professional learning and development. It may be as simple as reading professional literature on cognitive engagement or collaboratively creating high-order questions aligned to specific standards. Because the activities center on areas the teachers previously identified as possibilities for growth, teachers are immediately involved in the process.
Encourage teachers to develop their own practices for assessing what they have learned. For example, teachers in the cognitive engagement PD wanted to see which students were truly cognitively engaged and which were just compliant, so they created a data-collecting tool that could be used by individual teachers to track progress. When they discovered a lack of cognitive engagement, they were able to focus on ways to make their day-to-day lessons more engaging for the students. The tool outlined specific characteristics of a cognitively engaged student and of a compliant student.
Creating a uniform framework for assessing students on these characteristics allowed teachers to observe their classes with specific goals in mind. Because teachers had a say not only in the overall PD but also in specific growth areas, they were more engaged. Establishing a plan with teacher buy-in allows teachers of all levels of experience to engage in professional development through a different lens.