Nearly two decades ago, business thinkers coined the phrase the “knowing-doing gap.” The main idea being that despite all the things we know to be true, there is an inability (or unwillingness) to implement. Surveying the education landscape, there are any number of arenas where this holds true. We know what works, we know what research says, and we know what kids need, but somewhere along the way there is a breakdown. It could be due to bad policy, a failure to communicate clearly, or a lack of funding for quality implementation, but we end up in a professional purgatory between where we should be and where we currently are.
But one area of education that seems to suffer from a particularly potent form of the knowing-doing gap: professional development. For many (maybe even you), just those words invoke scenes of medieval torture devices, specifically and strategically devised in such a way as to maximize pain and agony. Stop me if you’ve heard this one: you show up for PD. The presenter fumbles with the projector while you wait on your colleagues. You spend an inordinate amount of time in an ‘icebreaker’ activity followed by being talked at for longer than you are capable of paying attention, about an idea that is generally impractical to implement with your students. You leave and get back to the real work of grading papers and writing tomorrow’s lesson plans. Sure, they’re not all this bad, but even in your best experiences, you leave unsure of how you’re going to use what you’ve just learned to make a real difference in the lives of your students. At the very least, you know it’s up to you (and you alone) to find a way to make it relevant. After all, next fall, there will just be some other new initiative, right?
It’s easy to be cynical. It’s easy to just wait it out. It’s easy to blow it off and just use the time to get your real work done. But districts are spending thousands, even millions of dollars trying to improve your skills and knowledge as an educator. Instead of addressing the painful truth that what we’re doing isn’t working, we just accept that PD is something that has to be done to us, sort of like an education root canal. We’re sure there’s some larger purpose, but in the meantime, it’s just uncomfortable.
It’s time to change all that. It’s time we look forward to our PD opportunities (seriously) and actually enjoy the process of learning, reflecting upon, and then applying what we’ve learned. Here are three ways the Friday Institute is closing the PD Implementation Gap:
We are absolutely fanatical about this. We think very carefully about aligning what we want you to learn with how you’re going to learn it. For example, if we’re leading a training on blended learning, you will learn about blended learning in a blended environment. We might leverage a station-rotation with a some direct instruction, an engaging assessment (not an oxymoron) of your learning, a video that helps you deep-dive into other blended learning models, and a hands-on activity that helps you plan for classroom implementation. After the activity, we make sure we ‘unpack’ the pedagogy, helping you to see why you learned in the manner that you did so that you have a stronger understanding of how it might work in your classroom.
We know from the work from Beverly Showers and Bruce Joyce that coaching and mentoring are the main keys to implementing newly acquired skills into the classroom. So, when we’re starting a new project with a district or organization, we look for ways that we can help teachers in their physical classrooms. Since many schools don’t have the budget to hire a full-time instructional coach (or three), administrators need to think creatively about One idea is to take teachers on learning walks. This informal, non-evaluative practice helps teachers see how their peers are trying new ideas and sparks conversations about how they might make changes to their own teaching practice as a result of what they’ve seen. If we want to see changes to our practice based on the things we’re learning in PD sessions, it only makes sense that we go looking for these changes. While we recommend that administrators provide a specific, dedicated time for these learning walks (for example, maybe the Principal brings in a couple of subs to help cover classes while teachers spend an instructional period watching their peers in action), the realities of tight budgets and overflowing classrooms means you might want to use one of your planning periods to take yourself on a learning walk. If you think about it, what better way to use a planning period than to generate new ideas for your own classroom?
You just rolled your eyes, didn’t you? It’s ok, at the Friday Institute, we get that a lot. But one thing we know is that measurement and data collection is NOT evil! BUT we do have to measure the right things in the right ways. Just in the same way that great teachers use a variety of formal, informal, quantitative, and qualitative assessments at varying points in the learning process, as much is true about PD efforts. At the conclusion of each training, we ask for feedback, both formally and informally. We have surveys to fill out, but we also write notes about sessions that went well and those that need improvement. We think about ways we could improve and then make sure that we capture those thoughts for the next time we’re planning a session. Throughout any given training, no matter the topic, you might be assessed in any variety of ways — from facilitated discussions where we take note about ideas you have, to the overall progression of your learning relative to the topic at hand. We might have you create products that synthesize your learning or work through competency-based playlists, but the idea remains: we pay attention to your learning progression. But real-time tracking isn’t enough! We also collect data about your learning over time. Tools like KickUp can even provide districts with the ability to track the implementation success and effectiveness of long-term PD efforts. At the Friday Institute, when we know we’re going to be working with a group several times a year over several years, it would be educational malpractice not to pay attention and be responsive to the ever-changing needs of our participants. Doesn’t it just make sense to have a way to track and then make instructional decisions based on the data and trends you’re seeing?
Imagine how much more meaningful and effective PD would be if you implemented these three practices! The good news is, there’s nothing stopping you… except for the knowing-doing gap!
Greg is the Design & Computational Thinking Lead at the Friday Institute, joining the team after seven years of classroom teaching and instructional coaching in both Texas and North Carolina. He served as project leads for the Battelle Education Trailblazer Teachers program in Ohio and an in-district Instructional Coaching capacity-building series in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in Chapel Hill, NC. Additionally, he serves as co-facilitator for the North Carolina Digital Leaders Coaching Network as well as many in-district teacher trainings around North Carolina. He holds a B.S. in Business Administration from LeTourneau University and an M.Ed. in Educational Technology Leadership from Lamar University. Follow him on Twitter for thoughts on productivity, teaching, and the Denver Broncos: @classroom_tech