Seven Strategies to Make Professional Learning Effective

Teachers become teachers because they are motivated to help children learn! Every teacher can tell you that they have plenty of opportunity to hone their craft and improve their practice. For some it is learning new content to teach, for others it is developing better classroom management support, for many it is learning the new rapidly developing techniques and technologies.

However, every educator can also tell stories of the useless professional learning sessions they sat through that weren’t related to their scope of practice. Recent research shows that current professional learning practices in schools are time consuming, not budget friendly, and are ineffective. Teachers want to learn and schools are providing professional learning opportunities, the process needs to shift into effectiveness.

Here are 7 Strategies, provided by the Learning Policy Institute, to make professional learning effective and meaningful. Quality Professional Learning:

  1. Is content focused: PD that focuses on teaching strategies associated with specific curriculum content supports teacher learning within teachers’ classroom contexts. This element includes an intentional focus on discipline-specific curriculum development and pedagogies in areas such as mathematics, science, or literacy.
  2. Incorporates active learning:  Active learning engages teachers directly in designing and trying out teaching strategies, providing them an opportunity to engage in the same style of learning they are designing for their students. Such PD uses authentic artifacts, interactive activities, and other strategies to provide deeply embedded, highly contextualized professional learning. This approach moves away from traditional learning models and environments that are lecture based and have no direct connection to teachers’ classrooms and students.
  3. Supports collaboration: High-quality PD creates space for teachers to share ideas and collaborate in their learning, often in job-embedded contexts. By working collaboratively, teachers can create communities that positively change the culture and instruction of their entire grade level, department, school and/or district.
  4. Uses models of effective practice: Curricular models and modeling of instruction provide teachers with a clear vision of what best practices look like. Teachers may view models that include lesson plans, unit plans, sample student work, observations of peer teachers, and video or written cases of teaching.
  5. Provides coaching and expert support: Coaching and expert support involve the sharing of expertise about content and evidence-based practices, focused directly on teachers’ individual needs.
  6. Offers feedback and reflection: High-quality professional learning frequently provides built-in time for teachers to think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice by facilitating reflection and soliciting feedback. Feedback and reflection both help teachers to thoughtfully move toward the expert visions of practice.
  7. Is of sustained duration: Effective PD provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice

Do a little self-check and ask yourself: Does your professional learning incorporate all of these practices? What could you do to move the needle on your professional learning? Every teacher wants to get better, and these strategies can make that happen!

Put You Back on Your To-do list: SEL Informed Self-Care for Educators

By Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. & Tia N. Barnes, Ph.D.

More tasks on your to-do list than hours in the day? Than days left in your week? Than months left in your school year?

If you are in education, odds are your self-care is on the bottom of your to-do list (if it’s even there at all)!

Why? People who pursue helping professions (like teaching, nursing, and human services) also tend to have personality types that compel them to put the needs and demands of others before their own. Helping professionals seek to comfort, appease, please, and secure the well-being and livelihoods of others, and generally demonstrate a tendency towards compassion, giving, and selflessness. Helping professions by nature are accompanied by work conditions riddled in high stress and continuously evolving demands in the service of others. These character traits and work conditions can leave the well-intentioned helping professional thriving in their work while simultaneously overextended in time and resources to take care of themselves once all the work is said and done.

Research from the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) movement identifies self-care as critical to stress reduction, classroom management, and overall teacher health and well-being. Self-care is engaging in activities or practices that help you limit or reduce stress. Self-care activities or practices can fit into seven categories: physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, social, relational, and/or promote a sense of safety and security. There is no universal Band-Aid for self-care, the key is identifying activities that minimize your stress and promote your health and well-being.

Try these five steps to put you back on your to-do list:

  1. Step 1. Evaluate Your Self-Care:
    • Make a list of everything you do- the whole day- each and every activity. Think about a typical workday during the week from the moment you wake up to when you go to sleep. Review the schedule and determine both whether you like each activity and who the activity is for- do you enjoy the activity and are you engaging in the activity for yourself or others? Then take a moment to calculate the number of hours in a day that you actually enjoy. The number of hours you enjoy in a day that are for you? Warning: This may be a disappointing number!
  2. Step 2. Consider the Possibilities
    • Next, take a moment to think about some activities that you could add into the work day (these do not have to take place on a particular day; create a list of possibilities of activities you can add into your day to increase your enjoyment and lower your stress).
    • Since we want to not cause additional stress with self-care, narrow your list to 2-3 activities that you want to incorporate more regularly and write them down.
    • Be modest in your goal to promote realistic change in your self-care practices.
  3. Step 3. Identify Your Barriers
    • Think about the barriers that impact your ability to engage in self-care currently. Generate a list of barriers- there is never enough time, money, energy, or resources! These are likely the excuses we give for why we can’t take care of ourselves right now, or ever!
  4. Step 4. Rethink it
    • Switch your thinking from dead-end barriers to brainstorming problem-solving ideas to remove those barriers. No time or money to get to the gym? Watch a free workout video at home after hours. No time to explore a hobby? Piggyback on activities your spouse or friends enjoy.
    • Generate a list of activities you can put on your list to overcome barriers to self-care.
  5. Step 5. Just do it!
    • Now take the time to put you into action.
    • Be modest and realistic- even the smallest action is starting to invest in you. The reality is, you can always find room for you if you think hard enough. Try registering for a weekly class, scheduling recurring appointments, have a standing dinner date with friends on your calendar, follow an active online social network, listen to a favorite song, get dressed up for a dinner in with a partner, a five minute mindfulness pause in the car before entering work, pack your lunch, call family members on a drive, say what you are thankful for at dinner… the list can go on as long as your creative energy will let it!

It is not selfish to take care of yourself- you can’t serve from an empty vessel. Like they say on the airplane before takeoff, secure your safety vest before helping others. Don’t cross you off your to-do list- invest in you to enable you to get it all done.

Performance-Based Compensation for Teachers

By Anna Marie Reiners, M.Ed, Ed.S, BCBA

Merit pay or performance-based compensation for teachers has long since been a topic of discussion in the education field. It is known as a system that rewards individual teachers with bonuses based on improvements in their performance. While some education critics argue that it is the key to improving student performance, it is at times discouraged by teachers – the very ones it was meant to serve.

In addition to criticism from school-based teachers, a merit pay compensation system can be very hard to implement in schools. This is because it is often time consuming and difficult for school boards and unions to change the current pay structure for hundreds or thousands of teachers. The process for collecting the performance-based data required to determine pay is widely considered arduous and daunting.

For those school districts that do take on the task, bonuses and salary increases based on student achievement are carefully considered. Districts that modify their current pay structure with the hopes of igniting teacher enthusiasm consider the ways paying for performance might attract creative, high-performing teachers and decrease retention. However, it can be argued that one of the benefits of merit pay is the ability to identify poor-performing teachers and remove them easily or assist them in improving their skills to meet the qualifications for performance-based compensation.

In many cases the average pay structure for school-based teachers gives districts exactly what they pay for – little to no teacher enthusiasm. Lackluster pay structures based on tenure, seniority and continuing teacher and leader education can seem as though there is no incentive for teachers to improve their performance and productivity over time if their salary schedules are already set in stone. This is extremely prevalent in industries that struggle to inspire staff that become stagnant.

Yet, the implications that come from using test scores and work time as an incentive for merit pay cannot be ignored. In fact, it can be alarming to teachers that pride themselves on leaving a lasting impact in their students’ lives by truly elevating a child’s educational experience. Many teachers must not only cater to testing techniques, but understand how to modify and adapt grade-level curriculum and improve individual learning outcomes for every child they serve. Paying teachers to work harder, instead of smarter does not ensure they will be effective in practicing the methods they research and learn. It also doesn’t ensure that their practices will improve the educational experience for their students. In schools and districts that take on a wide variety of roles and serve diverse student populations, more focus should be put on measures that impact individual student growth and their ability to access the curriculum. Teachers who prove effective in the classroom should be the ones to make more money, not teachers who simply put in more hours.

In a typical pay structure for an average school or district, performance is evaluated at the end of the year with an evaluation. These performance-based evaluations are often very subjective and only take small measures of a teacher’s performance into consideration. This is especially true for special education teachers who are evaluated by principals that may not have experience working in a special education classroom. So the question is: How can we accurately measure what good teachers do and use these statistics to set the bar for success?

Within any school, teachers take on a very tough task of educating students. Their overall performance has a number of factors that cannot be trivialized into a simple rubric that calculates time spent on the job, testing and student performance. Too often schools ignore the benefits of effectiveness, the lifespan of the knowledge imparted by teachers and the quality of teaching practices. Schools should seek to measure a more holistic view of a teacher’s role by using reviews such as the Period Service Review.

Designed by Dr. Gary W. LaVigna and his colleagues, the Periodic Service Review is a total quality assurance system and instrument that serves as a healthy alternative to conventional performance reviews in service industries. The system uses four integrated elements – performance standards, performance monitoring, performance feedback and systematic training – to mobilize others, maximize service and meet goals and objectives.

PSR was developed to ensure that service industries are able to measure and deliver high-quality services by setting defined criterion for each unique position or service. The criteria are set with unique and objective measures that are scored. Often times there must be a permanent product or direct observation of the measure for it to be scored. The criteria are scored individual teachers or a teaching team, with administrators on hand to complete fidelity checks to ensure accuracy within a pre-determined timeline or schedule.

The score of the PSR is then graphed for the visual analysis of progress over time. PSRs can be completed monthly and reviewed by principals or administrators quarterly to ensure there is growth in each defined measure. This allows for a clearer understanding of expectations by administrators and allows for staff to receive positive feedback when they are performing adequately. In addition, certain measures and outcomes can be weighed for emphasis and PSR scores for similar grade-level teachers can also be used to encourage teamwork among teachers. In this way, bonus pay or some variation of it can be built in to an existing pay structure gradually with feedback from teachers.

Grade-level teams can also use data and scores to help support each other and to encourage positive teaching practices in Professional Learning Communities. While performance-based compensation may be in the distant future for some, it is important for schools and districts start considering ways to meaningfully motivate teachers and continue developing their skills. Pay structures and systems should also work towards supporting all teachers, including those who are considered the most effective with new opportunities and room to grow.

Although new compensation systems are one way of doing this, education should be a field that provides and ample amount of opportunities for both educators and students regardless of the pay system in place. Data and improved measurements for performance are a part of the process and may play a greater role, but no school or educator is the same. Systems are dependent on the individual needs of those they serve and so all schools should evaluate the best systems for their staff and continue to refine and improve them over time.

Strategies for Instructional Coaching

Experience tells us, and the field of andragogy confirms, that adults learn differently from children. Andragogy refers to the adult learning theory and was coined by American educator Malcolm Knowles. Instructional coaches need to employ principles of andragogy as they support teachers in improving their practice.

The four principles of adult learning are:

  • Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  • Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities.
  • Adults want to learn about subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.
  • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

How do these principles apply to coaching teachers? It’s simple. According to the Annenberg Foundation for Education Reform, “effective instructional coaching encourages collaborative, reflective teaching practice.” For example, if a teacher organizes a lesson a successful coach can help the teacher reflect on strengths and areas that need improvement. The best coaches offer guidance and resources related to teaching the subject or improving the delivery of lessons in a way that aims to tackle challenges in the classroom. An effective coach should also help teachers reflect on what they’ve learned during evaluations and help them apply it to their work with students.

It is equally important for teachers to use data to inform their practice. Data is a useful tool for understanding student challenges and identifying areas in need of focus. Sometimes isolating the right areas of focus can be difficult for teachers. In those instances, it is wise for the instructional coach – to support teachers to self-identify a focus area. The University of Kansas’ Center for Research on Learning provides a framework for coaches and teachers to decide where to start. It’s called “The Big Four.” These four focus areas include classroom management, content, instruction and assessment for learning.

Coaches can use these four focus areas to help teachers choose where to start. Support can expand to sharing data and monitoring progress with them over time. Applying current research in the area of focus as well as modeling research-validated instructional strategies for teachers is also helpful.

Five strategies to help translate research into practice from Jim Knight’s book, Instructional coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction:

  • Clarify: read, write, talk
  • Synthesize different sources
  • Break it down
  • See it through teachers’ (and students’) eyes – What does this look like in the classroom?

Finally, just as teachers should reflect on their area of focus, instructional coaches should reflect on their experience too.

We hope these strategies help guide your experiences helping teachers succeed.

Good luck and happy coaching!

Why Self-Directed Professional Development Matters for Educators

As the role and function of schools continue to change, so do duties and responsibilities of educators. Educators are often asked to help students succeed amid challenges including growing class sizes, new tests, new rules and new evaluation measures.

Educators must choose appropriate resources to help prepare for the challenges they will face during their career. Effective professional development provides educators training in meaningful and important aspects of their job. Through active engagement in professional development educators improve the quality of classroom instruction, grow professionally and strengthen their practice.

Professional development sometimes carries a stigma. It is viewed as inconvenient, not comprehensive enough and often ineffective. Indeed much of the professional development in education has been deemed costly and ineffective. Single-day professional development opportunities limit the ability of educators to ask important follow-up questions, access knowledge banks after sessions or learn in-depth strategies and skills that take time to master.

Unlike traditional professional development, self-directed professional development opens learning possibilities for educators in any place and at any time. It allows educators to acquire a wide variety of skills and gain access to training outside the classroom at their own pace.

Why is self-directed PD important?

  • Educators gain access to quality instructional materials, similar to receiving training from master teachers or high-quality instructional coaches. Video modeling is particularly effective in this professional development model.
  • Educators can review difficult concepts without fear of running out of time or not grasping complicated concepts.
  • Related service providers, who often don’t have access to classroom educator professional development, can discover new and inventive ways to help students with special or social/behavioral needs. This comes in handy for those who implement behavioral intervention plans or serve students with Individualized Education Programs.
  • Self-directed PD can solve challenges associated with integrated co-teaching. Teachers can learn highly effective techniques and use them to strengthen classrooms where students with special needs learn alongside general education students.
  • Teaching assistants can access professional development as they are often excluded from professional development provided to credentialed staff but are pivotal in supporting students with disabilities.

Time is a valuable commodity for educators. Self-directed PD may just part of the answer. When progress is measurable and professional development produces effective outcomes, it is meaningful.

Discussing Professional Development at OCALICON 2016

Join Rethink as we Discuss Paraprofessional Professional Development Best Practices

Paraprofessionals support students and are pivotal to promoting educational success for learners with disabilities. Paraprofessionals need access to quality professional development. Professional development is a critical responsibility for both administrators and educators, professional development is often overlooked as a luxury rather than a necessity.

OCALICON 2016

Join our Vice President of Professional Services, Patricia Wright, Ph.D, MPH, as she discusses Leveraging Technology to Support Paraprofessional Professional Development. The 60-minute presentation will take place during OCALICON 2016 and is set to begin at 2:45pm EST. Click here for more information!

The session will provide go-to strategies for effective paraprofessional training. Learn how school districts, including large urban and small rural schools, have paired on-demand video-based training with on-site coaching to increase the knowledge, skills, and effectiveness of paraprofessionals supporting children with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

This session provides:

  • An overview of the models and strategies utilized to promote success
  • Quantitative and qualitative outcome data
  • Application strategies to successfully implement professional development

No longer will paraprofessionals be overlooked. They are an integral part of the classroom that, when trained correctly and effectively, improve classroom climate and are an incredible support to teachers. Teachers need support; teacher burnout is an ever-growing issue that we have yet to conquer. Paraprofessionals can be part of the change schools need to ensure all students achieve their highest potential.


View an On-Demand Webinar to Support Paraprofessionals for Success!

Learn how to implement a simple and powerful training model to help Paraprofessionals succeed.

In this webinar, Angela will highlight the key responsibilities of paraprofessionals, and review how the “No Child Left Behind Act” defines their roles. She will also help you learn successful models of professional development and discuss important limitations.
View Webinar

Rethink offers an award-winning online platform that is uniquely designed for teaching students with autism spectrum disorders, developmental disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and for students exhibiting problem behaviors. Our platform supports curriculum planning, on-demand professional learning, and the tracking of student progress towards IEP goals, skill mastery, and positive behaviors. Rethink helps educators more efficiently personalize evidence-based instruction, collaborate, and make data-driven decisions.

Our on-demand platform is a professional development resource to access both foundational and comprehensive training in evidence-based strategies and instructional practices. The evidence-based curriculum is grounded in deep research with student’s progress being monitored. Rethink provides school officials a view into what’s happening in classrooms while seeing student progress tracked and graphed.

Inclusion: Making it Work

Story timeBy: Meredith Ouimette                                                           

What is inclusion?

According to the Council for Exceptional Children, “all children, youth, and young adults with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate education and/or services that lead to an adult life characterized by satisfying relations with others, independent living, productive engagement in the community, and participation in society at large. To achieve such outcomes, there must exist for all children, youth, and young adults a rich variety of early intervention, education, and vocational program options and experiences.”

What are some strategies that work with effective inclusion programming?

With many schools that have district wide inclusion programming, the following have been strategies that have helped them make inclusion work!

  1. Collaboration, team work, and co-teaching with special education and general education teachers
  2. Use of evidence-based practices with all students in inclusion settings
  3. Strong leadership and administrative support at the school and district level
  4. Differentiated instruction for all students in classrooms
  5. Additional and ongoing teacher and paraprofessional support and professional development

In a classroom setting, Rethink can help teachers COLLABORATE and make inclusion successful!

  1. Determine what skills a student needs to be successful through Rethink’s Inclusion Assessment
  2. Determine what level of support is needed for success
  3. Select inclusion plans and videos for teachers and paraprofessionals to use when teaching students
  4. Provide support through teachers, paraprofessionals, and peers

lesson lin

 

 

 

Explore Rethink’s Inclusion Curriculum today!  Have other questions about effective strategies with inclusion programming? Leave a comment below and get the conversation started!