Hypothesis and Evidence: Words to Use In Professional Growth Plans

Hypothesis and Evidence: Words to Use In Professional Growth Plans

I have been working with several school organizations updating and examining their teacher professional growth plans. In each case leaders want to focus on maximizing the payoff in student success, growth or achievement from educator’s learning. They want the plan to provide for teacher autonomy while aligning efforts to school-wide goals. Each of these systems also wants teachers to see a growth plan as a non-evaluative process. The focus is on the teacher engaging in a learning process, individually or collaboratively, to gain skills and/or strategies that will positively impact students; not necessarily achieving a goal the teacher has set. I have found two words that leadership teams have been exploring to assist in communicating the desired message: hypothesis and evidence.


Jean Ross, writing in Sloan Management review from MIT,  “Why Hypotheses Beat Goals”, suggests that instead of asking “What is Your Goal?” we ask, “What is Your Hypothesis?” She states, “Hypotheses can force individuals to articulate in advance why they believe a given course of action will succeed. A failure that exposes an incorrect hypothesis can more readily convert into organizational learning.”

hypothesis word in wood

A hypothesis is an “educated guess” that emerges from a set of underlying assumptions. It’s a belief that taking these actions would create a desired outcome. Articulating and justifying assumptions starts the learning process. The growth plan should outline the path that the teacher will take to investigate the hypothesis. The plan carried out, may identify the hypothesis as faulty. This finding can be the start of new learning leading to a modified hypothesis. So, learning from faulty or proven hypotheses can continue the drive to increased teacher and student success.

Coaching conversations can assist teachers in building growth plans around a hypothesis that lays the groundwork for ongoing coaching and reflection throughout the coming year. Historically too many growth plans are shelved in September and revisited in April.

  • Teacher: I’ve decided the goal for my professional growth plan is to increase the number of formative assessments in each science unit.
  • Coach: How do you see formative assessments impacting student learning?
  • Teacher: Well, I’ll get more information about students’ understanding earlier and can adjust my instruction.
  • Coach: How do you see students using the information from formative assessments?
  • Teacher: Hopefully, they would invest study time or question me as they discover “what they don’t know, that they should know.”
  • Coach: So, you envision that implementing formative assessments will change your instruction and change students’ learning behaviors, both of which would have a positive impact on student learning. (Hypothesis)

“…the success of empowered teams depends upon management shifting from directing employees to guiding their development of hypotheses.
This is how leaders hold their teams accountable for outcomes.”

— Jeanne Ross


Merriam Webster defines evidence as an outward sign (indication) and something that furnishes proof (testimony). (Synonyms include: attestation, confirmation, corroboration, documentation, proof, substantiation, testament, testimonial, testimony, validation, voucher, and witness.)

A professional growth plan should be supported with evidence that the plan was carried out and the necessary reflection occurred. Insights that emerged are the concluding element.

Looking back on a teacher whose goal was to increase the number of formative assessments, a documentation of the goal could simply be a folder with copies of assessments from each unit.

A coach working with a teacher who developed the hypothesis would explore evidence with the teacher on the front end and then throughout the year.

Evidence Folder

Coaches questions:

  1. Any idea how you might track changes that you make in your instruction after studying your assessment findings?
  2. How prepared do you think your students are to use the feedback they gain from formative assessments? Thoughts on what may be needed?
  3. Is there a way to gather information from students about anything they are doing differently?
  4. Is there something in this process that would influence the way you design your formative assessments? When you give them?
  5. When would you hope to see an impact from your assessments on student learning? Do you see a way to track it?

A coach having this planning conversation with individual teachers or groups of teachers (a PLC or department might have a growth plan around the same hypothesis) has a path for ongoing coaching conversations throughout the year. Teachers sharing the findings from their plans at the end of the year can trigger new learning across a school staff.

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