As the new school year begins, one of the usual requests that administrators will make of teachers is to submit a professional growth plan. While this process occurs differently from system to system this should be a year where teachers have so many possibilities to consider that they may need coaching guidance in selecting a narrow enough focus to be certain that they do learn through the process. We have so much to learn.
In a podcast with Jess Byrne she described it well:
“I think if you are not inspired as a teacher right now, I would question when you are ever going to be re-inspired as a teacher. Now is a golden opportunity for progression, development, reflection, and just pushing forwards. I am a great believer in the obstacle being the opportunity.”
Here is a backwards plan you can offer teachers to guide their designs of professional growth plans (PGPs).
Step 1- Identify the change you are looking to generate in student outcomes. What are the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and/or dispositions that you want to extend from the current level? The past six months have caused many educators to re-examine the most important learning outcomes for students. Some educators are identifying students’ need to learn how to execute greater autonomy in learning. Others see a need to develop strong critical thinking capabilities. How will a different student learning outcome require new teacher learning?
Step 2- Consider how you can assess students’ current levels regarding the desired outcome and indicators of the outcome advancing. An example could be using a critical thinking rubric or self -assessment tool. A pre-assessment of knowledge, skill, attitude, or disposition creates a goal and later as a post, provides feedback indicating if teacher learning is impacting student learning.
Step 3- Decide what student learning production behaviors are most likely to generate the desired student learning outcomes. This step might require teacher exploration and research leading to the formation of a hypothesis. “I believe that students engaging in these behaviors, actions, and experiences would enable students to reach this outcome.” Example: If students engage in solving real problems, requiring research as well as trial and error, they will develop stronger critical thinking and perseverance.
Step 4- Select what teacher behaviors or actions are most likely to generate the student learning production behaviors. Often this involves teaching, modeling, and coaching those student behaviors. What instructional strategies can be employed to engage and support the learners? This step leads to another hypothesis. “I believe that these actions on my part will generate the identified student learning production behaviors.” Example: Engaging students in several problem-based learning projects throughout the year should provide the opportunities for students to engage in the learning production behaviors that enhance critical thinking capabilities.
Step 5- What resources can assist the teacher in carrying out the identified exploration? What professional development opportunities exist? Might a PLC team engage in a shared professional growth plan? What role can an instructional coach or administrator play in gathering and providing feedback throughout the process? Example: Our PLC will jointly explore effective problem-based learning and co-design several opportunities for our grade level. (Note: Often, this step is identified as the professional growth plan, rather than as a step of the plan. That allows a growth plan to be executed without measuring impact on learners. That is insufficient reflection for teacher learning.)
As the implementation of the growth plan progresses, evidence should be collected that guides teacher reflection, producing teacher learning. Evidence of actions implemented and behaviors changing or not changing.
The learning that emerges from a professional growth plan should be shared in the school community: A professional learning exhibition. When one uncovers that a hypothesis was inaccurate or modifications are needed, we have LEARNING, which is the desired outcome of the plan. The goal of the plan (student learning outcomes) drives the process. Teacher insight, learning, is the purpose of the process. Teacher learning will impact future students and lead to new hypothesis to drive continuous learning.
An additional consideration: The timing of professional growth plans should be organic rather than calendar driven. Deadlines for stopping and starting new plans should not be preset conditions for executing a plan. Carrying learning over from one year to the next or starting a new plan in February because the previous one was at an ending stage makes sense. Educators as continuous learners should be the system’s plan.