The best professional development is a comprehensive, ongoing sequence of events, planned to support staff and organizational goals. Most of us know this, but putting it into practice – given competing priorities – is the challenge.
We recently published an article to help you design an effective and practical PD plan: “7 Questions for Your Best Professional Development Plan.” But I thought it would be even better to get additional PD planning tips from someone who works with hundreds of districts to help them develop such plans, make the most of their assessment data, and build a strong culture of data use.
I caught up with NWEA professional development facilitator Patricia Reeder, who has been working with districts for more than 5 years. Below is my four-question interview with her, where she shares:
- a powerful (unexpected) analogy for PD planning
- one district’s success story
- four of her personal favorite PD planning questions
NZ: Why is it essential to plan professional development ahead for a year or more?
PR: A plan provides a structure that enables all of the individual pieces to have greater meaning and application in practice. If something is worth doing, it’s worth planning the time to make sure you do it right. If districts aren’t able to plan PD up front, later on they run into trouble finding time for PD in their schedule. And we know from the research that this additional time for practice and coaching is critical for change to take place. Initial PD that’s followed by coaching has a close to 90% probability of being applied.
Think of PD planning like building a walk-in closet. If you don’t have a closet – a structure – to hang your individual items of clothing, they’ll be in disarray. But when you have a closet, each item has a place to hang. It’s easier to see what goes where, plan an outfit, and identify anything that doesn’t fit. The same is true of a great PD plan – it serves as the structure – the ‘walk-in closet’ that helps you see each individual workshop in context, as part of the whole. NZ: Have you worked with a particular district where you saw the positive impact of comprehensive PD planning?
PR: Absolutely. There have been so many! One that comes to mind is a large regional district I’ve worked with for several years. When we first started collaborating, the district didn’t have the time to develop a unified PD plan for the year. I’d be asked to plan one workshop at a time, coming back every three to four months to address the latest learning needs. Due to turnover, I was delivering much of the same content to new staff.
However, this past year, the district succeeded in allocating its schedule and funds to plan comprehensively upfront, and it made a huge difference. The director and I sat down to review what they hoped to accomplish, beyond simply wanting kids to do well on the state test. We established a shared vision. That enabled me to plan a more customized sequence of workshops and data coaching tailored to their goals and the specific audience in each session. I now have greater confidence in knowing that I’m delivering what they need in the long term.
NZ: What were the main aspects of the professional development that improved?
PR: When we discussed the district’s long-term vision, we uncovered three key areas where we could make adjustments to improve the overall PD plan: 1) time, 2) content and 3) audience.
NZ: What tips would you give to district leaders who are struggling to find a manageable starting point for comprehensive PD planning?
PR: I always ask district stakeholders to reflect on four key questions in advance to help frame an initial planning conversation:
- Two years from now, describe your vision for the culture of data use in your school district.
- What are your best hopes for the ways this culture will contribute to the greater good for your students?
- Starting with that vision for the future, what will the district culture of data use look like …half way through THIS school year? …by the end of the NEXT school year?
- What is the current reality around this change initiative?
I recommend that every district asks these questions before kicking off their PD planning. The first question helps to frame the long term vision; it’s all about starting with the end in mind. The second one relates this vision back to specific benefits for kids. The third one uncovers interim goals that will help you get there. The fourth one establishes a common understanding of the starting point.
And make sure it’s a group effort. It’s ideal to have some teachers and instructional specialists in the room for that planning conversation. Everyone should come with their answers prepared.
Do you have experience moving from ad-hoc PD planning to developing a comprehensive plan upfront? What improvements did you notice? We’d love to hear from you, so please share your experiences in the comments below.