How to Avoid a One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Professional Development

PD_121645731_Subscription_Monthly_M.jpgTo implement the Next Generation Science Standards well, prepare yourself for the major shifts in teaching and learning that are involved in your classroom, your building, and your district.

This learning process looks different depending on grade level. Because of this, it will be important to avoid a few “one-size-fits-all” professional development meetings.

Avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach is important because early elementary, elementary, middle school, and high school are all developmentally different. It’s key that your professional development sessions aren't bringing the 8th grade teachers together with the kindergarten teachers, and just relaying general information with the hope that everybody pulls out what they need.

A consequence of a one-size-fits-all approach is that everyone attending tunes out because they don't perceive personal relevance and they don’t feel like their needs are met.

They become reluctant to engage in future professional development sessions. They become jaded about what they're being asked to do and their likelihood of success. This often leads them to believe that the session is a waste of their time and they could be doing something else that is more relevant to the development level of their students.

How to Target Your Professional Development

Using NGSS-designed curriculum to support professional development is a great way to target your professional development and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.

For example, you can break down professional development sessions into grade spans, which will result in targeted sessions rather than general ones. This approach has been a part of education for a long time, which you can see in state-level recommendations, K-2, 3- 5, 6-8, and 9-12.

Having curriculum that is designed for these spans is useful. For example, KnowAtom designs its curriculum for these types of recommendations. We can use nonfiction reading to see how professional development can be targeted according to grade span.

  • At a kindergarten level, nonfiction reading is a circle reading that is read aloud by the teacher, using nonfiction trade books.
  • In third grade or fourth grade, classrooms use nonfiction reading where the students and teachers take turns and the teacher projects the reader.
  • In middle school, you start to see reading where it's not the teacher, but rather all students taking turns reading aloud. The teacher can project points from the reading.

As you can see, each span requires different strategies. When teachers sit through general professional development that is not targeted to their needs, the value of that professional development is diminished for every teacher in the room.

Listen, Observe, Reflect, and Engage

It’s also important to listen to what teachers and students say they need. Then before you do anything, reflect on why they feel they need it. This is key because teachers and students are great at identifying problems. However, they're not always great at identifying the solution to that problem. That's why the problem often persists.

Make opportunities for yourself to go on learning walks to observe others. 

Then take what you observe and reflect on why it’s happening because that is the seed of the solution. Take your observations to your curriculum provider, along with the solutions that you are coming up with. Ask if your proposed solution would be good based on what you’re observing. This is important because it’s an outside perspective.

This is something we do for clients all the time. Clients call us and say, “This is what's happening and what I'm seeing. What do you think about that?”

One way that we help districts with this is through classroom observations. After observing the teachers, we then meet with them after and talk about what they think, what we observed, and some best practices and strategies.

Another way to understand where teachers are at a given moment is to workshop videos of both effective and ineffective instruction and engage teachers actively in analyzing, evaluating, and creating strategies to improve their practice.

It’s most helpful when people video themselves and can use that video as part of the discussion. However, if they aren’t open to using video of themselves, using video of others can provide an opportunity to reflect on how they see themselves in others and how they could improve and become more effective.

As an administrator yourself or as a teacher leader, talk with your district about creating space in your building and finding the time so you and your team can have these smaller, more targeted professional development sessions.