After presenting critical elements of effective Professional Growth Plans, Steve often provides leadership teams with a series of questions to facilitate their decision-making around a process for their school. This podcast focuses on those follow up questions and Steve’s thinking around one team’s responses.
You can find more about critical elements of PGPs including the role of hypothesis and evidence collection in these resources:
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Steve [Intro]: 00:14 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:41 Examining the design of professional growth plans. I’m currently working with several schools that are engaged in a redesign of their professional growth plans for both teachers and administrators. Initially, I’ve provided a workshop where I presented the concept of building professional growth plans using my backwards planning process by first, identifying a desired increase in student success or learning outcome, then planning backwards to look at what student production behaviors would be necessary, then what teacher actions would be needed, then the teacher growth, the professional growth that would support the teacher, being able to deliver the plan along with the administrative support for the teacher, connecting to professional development, professional learning communities and coaching. I’ll include in the lead-in to this podcast, some resources connected to that backwards planning of professional growth plans, as well as looking at professional growth plans through the concept of hypothesis and the collection of evidence.
Steve: 02:15 After that initial presentation, I generally provide the leadership team a set of questions for them to explore as they decide how they want to proceed in developing their strategy for professional growth plans. What follows in this podcast are questions that I provided, responses that I received from one school, and then next step issues that I offered for them to explore. My first question – how will you define teacher evaluation and teacher professional growth? This school responded by suggesting that teacher evaluation and professional growth are linked, but in this process of a professional growth plan, they need to be separated so that teachers feel free to risk and possibly fail as that will create a more favorable learning environment. Part of my response back to them was that they could take a look at redefining the term, fail, because if a teacher formed a hypothesis and worked through their plan and documented that their hypothesis was incorrect, learning occurred and thus it really wouldn’t be described as failing.
Steve: 03:54 This school suggested that teacher evaluation, in their case, was mostly looking for minimum competencies, especially focused on teachers who were new to the school. They were using the Danielson framework for their current evaluation process. One of the extended questions I posed back to them was to identify if material in the Danielson framework might be valuable both in carrying out evaluation and in exploring a possible growth plan areas. As a specific example, I pulled the Danielson framework around questioning and discussions. Looking at the proficient level in Danielson, it talks about the questions that teachers ask students being designed to promote thinking and understanding. It talks about teachers successfully engaging most students in discussion. It talks about that discussions enable students to talk to one another without ongoing mediation by the teacher. And as a final statement, it suggests that many students actively engage in the discussion.
Steve: 05:27 This strikes me as pretty good criteria that one could be looking at in considering the evaluation of the teacher new to the school. If you looked at the distinguished elements of the Danielson framework, it has these items: Students formulate many questions, initiate topics and make unsolicited contributions. Students themselves, ensure that all voices are heard in a conversation. And then students initiate higher order questions. Students extend the discussion and students invite comments from their classmates. So there’s this strong, student element. And I could imagine some teachers looking at that area under distinguished and deciding they would be interested in forming some hypotheses about changes they might make in teacher practice that would bring about more of those student behaviors. I could envision coaching conversations occurring between teachers and administrators or teachers and teacher leaders, such as, how do you use questions to generate student critical thinking, reflection and creativity?
Steve: 06:58 Where do you teach students to create questions to guide their learning? How did questioning fit into your experiences this past year in virtual teaching? Those kinds of conversations, I can imagine sparking teachers to think about next steps that they’d like to reach in student learning, generated by next steps that they take as teachers. In other words, forming a hypothesis. The next question I posed was, what role should school leaders play in teacher’s selection of professional growth plan focus areas and in implementation of the plan? The team provided me this response back: professional growth is defined as continuous learning based on student needs. The professional growth plans are created by the teacher, but effective coaching is applied to help shape the plan and the action steps. Professional growth plans are not evaluative. The accountability lies with the teacher’s engagement in the process, not necessarily achieving their results.
Steve: 08:22 Again, this fits for me that success of the professional growth plan is successful implementation and testing out of the hypothesis and the teacher drawing, learning, and insights from that study. I agree with the suggestion they made around accountability. And for me, that is a switch. In the evaluation process, the administrator conducting the evaluation, has the accountability for the execution and follow through. As you move more towards teacher growth being driven by the teacher, the teacher takes on increased accountability to gain the input that they need, the supports that they need, the observations that may be necessary to gather the evidence that they need to carry out and execute the plan. The next question I posed ask what commitments administrators thought they should be making to keeping the professional growth plan an ongoing process. This team responded by identifying that they needed to build into their schedule, the opportunity for teachers to have the time for meeting and working on professional growth plans.
Steve: 09:59 They saw the need to create an openness to teachers being visitors in each other’s classrooms and to look for creating opportunities for teachers to find common thought partners, people who might want to be exploring similar professional growth plan topics or skillsets. One area area that I am encouraging the team to consider is how do we communicate to teachers that they put in the request for the support that they need for their plan, so that it’s not a matter of teachers waiting for leadership to bring them the things they need, but teachers knowing to reach out and identify items that would assist them in moving ahead with their plan. The next series of questions have an overlapping component to them and those questions were, is there a role for teacher leaders to play in guiding the professional growth plan process?
Steve: 11:18 Is there a connection between PLCs and the professional growth plan process? And should the promotion of peer coaching be an element of the professional growth plan process? This team is anxious to involve teacher leaders in the process and the questions they’re asking concern the kind of training that teacher leaders might need. I would describe that as teacher leaders learning the conferencing skills that will allow them to engage the teacher in a reflective process at arriving at a focus for the growth plan. And then secondly, building at least teacher leaders as peer coaches, but eventually building any colleagues as peer coaches, it would be identifying how a pre-conference is necessary to that coaching role, where the teacher being observed can describe exactly the role that they want that observing colleague to play. What’s the evidence in teacher behaviors or student behaviors that they would like that colleague to collect so that the teacher can use that evidence in reflecting on what she’s learning in her plan?
Steve: 12:54 I can envision that in some cases, a PLC could focus on a common desired student outcome that they wanted and have a growth plan for individual teachers in the PLC that are all being driven towards that same increase in student success. Taking that direction then, PLC members could be doing peer coaching observations in their classrooms, bringing the information from those observations back to their PLC meetings and thus having a combination of professional growth plan and PLC meetings happening intertwined. Another possibility that this team can explore is considering that teachers are part of ongoing PLCs that are focused on that common student growth. And in addition, teachers might be members of groups that are focusing on a common professional growth plan. So those groups could be across wide grade level ranges. So for example, imagine that there were several people at various grade levels that were looking at how changing teacher feedback to students changed students’ learning production behaviors.
Steve: 14:31 So that group could consist of some early and later elementary, middle and high school teachers. They could be observing in each other’s classrooms across those grade levels, looking at gathering similarities and differences in what they’re learning about students’ responses to feedback. As this team considers their next steps, one of the ideas I offered for them to explore would be to have a group of administrator and teacher leaders put together their professional growth plans and their plans for execution and at a minimum, use those plans as a model to share as they look to roll out a strategy to the rest of the staff. If they choose to wait a little longer to roll the process out to the whole staff, they might carry out their plans and begin the rollout to the whole staff with a exhibition of what the first group who executed this new process learned and discovered. I believe that a quality professional growth plan model in a school can in many ways, model for teachers, the kinds of programs we’re looking to have happen for students where student voice, student autonomy begins to play a greater role in the student learning process. I’d be happy to answer any questions or explore thoughts that you have around quality professional growth plans. Feel free to contact me. Thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 16:28 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.