Friday, December 7, 2018

Sustaining Change through Support Over Time

In recent weeks, I’ve posted about how to sustain changes that lead to improved student learning.  In order to stay the course in educational change, teachers need the opportunity to engage in ongoing, focused, challenging, professional learning.  Teachers’ professional learning can (and should) take many forms, however, sit-and-get is not one of them. Passive professional development experiences tend to result in more frustration than change.  Instead, teachers benefit from the opportunity to think and talk together, to try the new ideas they will be using, and to have time to plan for their revised instruction.

These opportunities can occur during released-time trainings and summer institutes. They can also be job-embedded, supported by instructional coaches and department heads.  Planning periods, PLC time, and faculty meetings can be oriented toward professional learning. 

During the first year after we created our shared vision for literacy instruction, our district kicked off the change process by bringing all administrators and literacy teachers together for a full day prior to the beginning of the school year.  Literacy coaches and other lead teachers met together frequently, and quarterly grade-level trainings focused on our implementation benchmarks. We charted our course together as we discussed what the new practices looked like in our classrooms. Trainings were also held at each building during faculty meetings, led by the coach or another instructional leader.  Collaboration time that focused on achieving our future vision was built into team meetings. In year two, similar experiences occurred, with three districtwide, grade-level, half-day trainings. The plan for year three focused on sustaining change and supporting flexibility.  Districtwide, this included a “Literacy Summit” in the fall, onsite support during calendared collaboration days, and optional lab visits to allow for observation and deep learning.

Active and purposeful professional learning for teachers supports educational change. When teachers work together toward clear goals, they “can find better ways to answer the learning needs of students.”* Effective professional development provides opportunities for collaboration, is focused on student learning, and is sustained over time.

Full Steam Ahead

During the literacy adoption in my district, there was a lot at stake, and I felt the burden of stewardship – for the funds we were spending, but, more importantly, for the students whose lives could be shaped by how these materials would be used.  It was a chance for change, and it seems that it worked.  Visiting classrooms, the difference was visible: powerful, engaging vocabulary instruction; common language so that kids were clear about learning targets, and a focus on meeting the needs of individual learners.  State test scores (all-important to district administrators) also showed significant increases – a needle that is hard to move in a large district.

In your school or district, communication, shared vision, and ongoing support can sustain change that makes a difference in students’ learning. As an instructional coach or team leader, your influence could make the difference. Set your sail on a steady course that is grounded in best practice and responsive to your local needs, and encourage those around you to do the same. Share the research about sustained change and the need to hold steady once a course is charted. You can assure that the latest innovation, if it’s a good one, is given a fair shake. Instead of focusing on the next new thing, teachers can be given the chance to do this thing right, whatever it is.  If we are stubbornly persistent, we will see the differences we are hoping for.

* Lieberman, A. & Wood, D. (2002). The National Writing Project. Educational Leadership, 59(6), 40-43.

This week, you might want to take a look at:

What makes professional development effective:

Jim Knight tells principals how they can support coaching:

The role of identity in learning:

When conferring is an interruption:

And some beautiful images and music for inspiration:

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!

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