George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

The Importance of Follow-Through After Professional Development

After PD, teachers need a process that makes it easier to link evidence of student learning to classroom strategies.

March 23, 2023
JackF / iStock

Imagine going to the doctor, and they simply gave you a treatment without taking any prediagnostic information. No questions, no lights in the eye, just medication. Or what if they simply did the precheck and then said, “Have a good day”?

This would certainly be an odd experience. How does this unusual medical experience relate to our experience with department meetings following professional development (PD)? Do we ever look at evidence of learning (akin to a precheck at the doctor’s office) and then not take action in the classroom (think treatment)? Or, do we ever try new strategies that we recently read about in a book or at a conference but don’t check the impact on student learning with evidence (think treatment with no precheck)?

If you encounter any of these issues with linking evidence and action, you are facing an open-loop challenge. That’s when the link between evidence of student learning and taking action is detached. This happens because of one of the following:

  • Pre-assessment challenge. If I don’t preassess student learning, then I will not understand student background knowledge to determine the best strategies to impact learning, nor my impact from my instruction.
  • Instructional challenge. If I provide direct instruction to impact student learning but lack a preassessment or a postassessment, then I will lack an understanding of whether my treatment is leading to the desired impact.
  • Postassessment challenge. If I conduct a postassessment but lack an understanding of student learning upfront from a preassessment, then I will lack an understanding of my impact on their learning.

To remedy this situation and close the loop between evidence of student learning and action, we need to consider separating planning meetings from meetings that are focused on converting evidence to action and action to evidence. We don’t have to add new meetings. We can simply separate the current meetings we have into planning and conversion meetings.

A conversion meeting is a meeting where we are focusing on close-loop processes. A planning meeting is focused on getting ready for tomorrow and making sure that staff is aligned with pacing and programming. When we plan, we tend to get absorbed in the planning process and lose track of the process of inspecting and improving upon our impact.

Once your meeting cadence has been set, the following four strategies may be implemented.

1. Need It

Identify a compelling problem that matters to you and to your team. Identify what the challenge looks like, feels like, and sounds like. Identify evidence that supports your assumptions. What observable evidence can we collect that illustrates this problem?

Challenge: What is a problem that is compelling to you and your team?

Shared understanding: What do key terms look like, sound like, and feel like for us? How do we make those terms observable?

Evidence: What evidence brings this problem into focus?

2. See It

Dig deeper into what the observable outcome is for students, for teachers, and for the task that students are working toward. Focus on what the outcome would be like in six weeks and six months.

Students: If we were meeting the needs of students at the highest level of proficiency in our school, what would we observe students demonstrating in the classroom?

Teachers: What is the educator doing to make these things happen and at what frequency?

Tasks: What are the types of tasks, activities, and assessments that we would see in the classroom that meet the needs of our learners?

Scale: What would we observe in our students, ourselves, and our tasks in six weeks? What is our theory of impact for this time frame?

3. Start It

Lower the threshold for teachers to begin a new strategy to improve student learning and collect evidence. This starts with linking the new strategy to something a teacher is already doing.

For instance, if a teacher wants students to increase complex talk by using conjunctions, then they may link this strategy to when they are taking roll at the beginning of the day. In this example, teachers were already taking roll and, as such, they saw where the strategy might be implemented. The same idea goes for evidence collection. Utilize evidence that you already use. Also, try the work in one class or one subject. Think sample before scale.

Learn: Given the capacity of our team, what do we need to learn or which capacities do we need to build in order to select, differentiate, and execute strategies that have the greatest potential for impact?

Locate: How can we connect this strategy or improvement effort to upcoming learning standards so that this is not more work but rather the work?

Design and implement: How can we design and implement this strategy in a way that makes it doable for us and rigorous for our students?

Observe and document: How can we observe the impact of this strategy in real time? What are samples of evidence (of student work and our practice) that we can collect over time that are heavy with information but light for the team?

4. Show It

Set times throughout the month for teachers to discuss the conversion between evidence and action. Each meeting should start and end with the following:

  • Who…
  • Did/does…
  • What…
  • By when…
  • What was/will be the impact…

At designated times, teams should show their learning with colleagues from around the school. This showcase should be focused on the process of learning. What are we learning through this process? How have we closed the loop?

Connect and reflect: What did we learn? How did our actions contribute to what we observed? What should we do next? What does this tell us about our current instructional model? Do we need to stop, start, sustain, or shift a current practice or set of practices?

Relay and reset: How will we reciprocally share our findings with our colleagues and concurrently learn from their work as a team? How can we transfer impactful practices from one classroom and one content area to all classrooms and all content areas?

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