"I hope this PD will allow me to leave with something I can actually use in my own classroom!"
Most of us have thought or said this out loud on our way to a professional development (PD) session. While we like being taken to new places and exposed to practices we might not have thought about before, we are often wary that a PD may not create a space for us to connect these new ideas with our practice.
Having led Design Workshops for BetterLesson for over three years now, I have looked closely at the feedback from our participating teachers, and I have noticed a definitive pattern. What they consistently appreciate the most in our sessions is our three-step progression for strategic instructional growth. This begins with defining a new practice and the teacher’s unique vision for it, and then it moves to exploring concretely what this new idea looks like in classrooms. We complete the progression by prompting teachers to build resources that they can use right away in their own classes. We call this progression a Define-Explore-Build workshop (DEB), and it is now one of our public strategies on the BetterLesson website.
Jelena Byers is one of the (amazingly talented) Instructional Coaches who I coach this year. Jelena decided to use the DEB structure, and four of our most popular BetterLesson strategies, to build and implement a series of workshops for her teachers. These workshops supplemented her coaching around the theme of differentiated instruction. The interview below will allow you to learn how she did it, what she learned from it, and the impact she saw in her teachers' classrooms.
Romain: When I presented this idea of a Define-Explore-Build progression of workshops on differentiation, what appealed to you?
Jelena: Well, I felt like this was a way to create a PD process for our teachers during which they would actually have a choice between a few concrete ways to approach differentiated instruction in their classrooms. Similar to how students enjoy having choices in their classrooms, I think our teachers want this and thrive when they have agency.
Romain: What did you build to support these choices?
Jelena: I selected four BetterLesson strategies that I felt would be great steps toward differentiated instruction. Then I gave teachers a brief presentation on each of them so that they could make an informed choice as to which one they wanted to focus on during our sessions.
I then built Google “hyperdocs” for each of the four strategies. These were the roadmaps that allowed teachers to define the strategy, explore what it looks like in practice, and start building their own version of it.
I definitely think those Define-Explore-Build workshops were key to making this PD experience more actionable. Besides that, teachers could go back to view them on their own, even after the session was over.
Romain: The first two workshops allowed teachers to start building their own version of the strategy of their choice. What did you do after this second workshop to support the implementation?
I sent out a survey at the end of the second workshop that asked what I could do to support each teacher further in this endeavor. I reached out directly to teachers who said they wanted one-on-one coaching. Eighteen teachers requested coaching, and about half of them invited me to watch what they were doing in the classroom. Some teachers also wanted to meet one-on-one with me to talk through their plan before trying it with their kids.
The final workshop was designed to allow groups of teachers who had tried the same strategy to reflect together and learn from each other. Then each group shared with the other three what they had learned through their experimentation.
Romain: What are some lessons for you that will go beyond this series of three workshops?
I definitely want to continue using the Define-Explore-Build framework in future sessions, as well as the idea of hyperdoc pathways to support choices and implementation.
As a next step, I think I’d shift the final workshop to focus on sharing impact and reflections from their experimentation cycle. I want to make sure the groups are the right size and that they are provided with a structure that allows them to present their reflections at the end. These presentations could really help sell the strategy to other groups.
I also want to continue encouraging my teachers to think about leading these PDs. We have so much talent in our schools, and we want our teachers to share in the creation of meaningful professional development for their peers.
Jelena Byers is a secondary coach for the School Town of Munster in Munster, IN. She graduated from Valparaiso University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with a middle school math endorsement. After fourteen years of teaching and the completion of a Master’s degree, she left the classroom to become a coach in her district. She loves learning about classroom technology, project-based learning, and inquiry-based learning.