If you are an administrator deciding what professional development will most effectively build your teachers’ instructional capacity, you know that deciding what is going to be the most helpful and productive source is challenging. You have limited resources, and want to ensure that you use those resources to positively impact teachers and students. I have found through my work as an instructional coach at BetterLesson that personalized, continuous professional development through 1:1 coaching is very effective at supporting teachers to implement new strategies and tools in their classrooms. In this blog post I share three reasons why personalized, ongoing coaching might be the best investment to help you reach your goals.
1. Tailored Support That Isn’t One-Size-Fits All
When a district or school is making decisions around how to provide teachers with professional development and training for a big initiative, that support is often not personalized. For example, I work with teachers whose schools are shifting classrooms to blended and personalized learning and equipping teachers and students with devices. Teachers often tell me about how they attended a training over the summer, but in that training they weren’t given any support around how to use technology to build on what is already working well in their classroom, and how to apply their learnings to their specific context. The work we do with teachers at BetterLesson allows us to tailor our coaching to the individual teacher.
For example, Justin, a middle school social studies teacher in Washington D.C. was given training on a learning management system. After the training, he wasn’t sure how to use the LMS’s features to support students with the skills he was teaching. We were able to identify those skills, examine the features together, and then use backwards planning to identify different strategies he would try to use the LMS features with his students. The training Justin went to didn’t address his specific questions or provide him with an implementation plan for his classroom. It was working with a coach that led to that plan and clear next steps. Justin and I met every two weeks this year, and in each of our meetings I was his accountability and thought partner, making sure that he had consistent, ongoing support.
2. Teachers Have Different Needs
I work with many teachers whose schools are trying to build capacity towards the same initiatives. Even though these teachers are in different states and in different types of schools, the end goal is the same: meaningfully integrating technology into the classroom using 1:1 devices to blend and personalize learning. What surprises me is that the professional development and training that these teachers receive doesn’t take into account their prior knowledge and experience, as well as their specific skills and knowledge gaps. If teachers are provided with a one-day training, but they leave that training and think, “I already do that” or “I already knew that,” then that wasn’t a valuable use of time or resources. One of the challenges in building teacher capacity towards a big initiative is that the teachers have different areas of expertise within that initiative, and they need to learn different things. In my coaching, I am able to spend the first meeting learning what a teacher already knows and hearing what specific skills the teacher wants and needs to develop. I can then tailor my coaching to meet that teacher where she is at, and use my resources and expertise to support her growth. This is something that only continuous personalized professional development offers to teachers through 1:1 coaching.
3. Consistency is Key
Let’s go back to that summer training. When you are making decisions around the type of support you will provide for teachers, it is important to think about how often that support will be provided. If teachers receive a training over the summer, but they don’t have another training until mid-year, then while teachers are in their classroom teaching, they don’t have support as they implement new strategies and use new technology. Unanticipated challenges are inevitable whenever we try anything new. We believe that continuous personalized professional development is essential in order for teachers to try new strategies, gather data about the effectiveness of those strategies, and reflect on modifications for future implementation. We meet with a teacher twice a month for thirty minutes, which not only holds teachers accountable for their goals, but allows us to address the challenges that are coming up in the classroom in real time. Instructional coaching provides the ongoing support that teachers need when they are working towards a big initiative like going 1:1 or blended and personalized learning.
A one-size-fits all training or professional development workshop that isn’t ongoing or personalized is not going to provide the level of support that teachers need to try new strategies and tools. It is only through ongoing and personalized 1:1 coaching that teachers will have the support they need to make big shifts in their practice--shifts that ultimately will keep teachers excited about their work and shifts that will result in student progress and achievement. It’s worth every penny, and might be the best dollars you’ve ever spent.