…and what they can do.
Hello and welcome to the 42nd edition of our fortnightly newsletter, Things in Education.
One of our early editions was about why teacher professional development (TPD) programmes fail in Indian schools and what can be done to ensure more effective TPD programmes. That edition was more than one and a half years ago. Today we revisit the topic of TPD and schools to see where we are. With the increasing awareness of the need to have TPD programmes in schools, more schools are opting for them. This is a great first step. We delve deeper today into what schools have been doing, what they may be missing and what more they could do.
TPD sessions at the beginning of the year
A decent percentage of schools think of TPD as something that happens in the beginning of the academic year only. They invite external experts for a few of the sessions, and teachers sit through some meaningful interactions or meaningless droning for a few days. The teachers then plan and prepare for the upcoming academic year based on these TPD interactions.
One-off TPD events are bound to fail unless schools at least do these three things.
Firstly, the school should have a structure to ensure that:
teachers implement the principles or approaches discussed at the beginning of the year in the classroom
teachers get feedback on their classroom implementation
teachers improve upon their implementation throughout the year
On one hand, this requires a deep level of planning among the school leadership and management and on the other, it also requires the teachers to be on-board with the plan. Getting teachers on board could be by making them part of the planning or it could be a top-down mandate from the management.
A second and related thing that a school could do is keep having internal refresher sessions on the approaches decided during the one-off TPD session. Here the teacher leaders or the school management can facilitate discussions on how teachers are moving along towards their goals of implementing various aspects of learning from the TPD sessions in their classrooms.
A third thing schools should look to do, especially when they find it challenging to maintain the focus of the one-off TPD sessions through the year, is to look to increase the budget for TPD. This allows external experts to visit the school more frequently and hand-hold the teachers through the development process. Also, in our experience teachers are more comfortable talking about their needs and weaknesses with external people than their employers.
TPD sessions that help schools’ showcase events
Some schools are happy to invest in yearlong TPD and expect a visit or at least a meeting with the experts once a month or once in two months. The mandate given by these schools is to improve on the showcase events that they hold for parents or teachers or even students at other schools. Such mandates are fine if they align with the school’s priorities. But we think that this type of approach is superficial when it comes to development of teachers’ skill and expertise. The deepest and most meaningful change in teacher skill and expertise can only come from ensuring that deep learning happens in their students. The goal of school showcase events is not deep learning. For example, doing a project on photosynthesis for a showcase event is not going to allow students as deep an understanding of photosynthesis as when a teacher takes the project-based learning approach to photosynthesis. The major difference: the students have time with the material, they have time to think about the material and they have time to work on their project in class, and the teacher gets an opportunity to assess student learning – all of which is limited when creating a project for a showcase event.
So if a school is using TPD experts for showcase events, it is important to know that you are leaving a lot of potential untapped – in your experts and in your teaching staff.
Include teachers in planning yearlong TPD sessions
Some other schools do invest in TPD for the entire year, and they want to focus on classroom teaching and learning. They speak to external experts and get them on board. One of the first things that they should do here is to get the teachers on board. And as mentioned earlier, this could be by getting their buy-in by making them a part of the decision, or it could be a top-down management diktat. In our experience, the former works better. For example, we did a TPD programme over a couple of days at the end of the previous academic year and had given a curriculum planning template for the teachers to work on during the break. This curriculum planning template was discussed with the school leadership and then made the centre of the TPD session. When we went back to the school for the beginning of the year session, hoping to delve deeper into the planning framework, the teachers protested. They were not interested in working on curriculum planning when they thought they had multiple more immediate needs. We had to immediately scrap our plans for the two days and produce ways to help the teachers with what they need. So, teachers’ buy-in is an absolute must.
TPD sessions on novel pedagogical approaches
When yearlong TPD session are geared toward changing the pedagogical approach, say, from 100% direct instruction to 30% project-based learning (PBL), the management must clarify to the teachers what specific changes are expected because of the TPD sessions. There may be changes in the expectations from the teachers. These expectations need to be made clear. Some expectations may not be trivial. For example, if the school is planning to move from a 100% direct instruction approach to a 30% project-based learning approach, the teachers will be justifiably nervous. Here the school management also needs to elucidate the steps they are taking to support the teachers.
Teachers are always wary of the lack of time to finish the syllabus. The school management along with the experts should produce the way to ensure that while planning the teaching, there is a way to prioritise the syllabus. For example, using the Understanding by Design (UbD) approach is an immensely powerful way of prioritising within your curriculum. So making teachers include priority labels on their learning outcomes can be particularly effective way of supporting teachers through a transition.
For the example of moving toward a more PBL approach, the management will have to support teachers with not only time, but also a budget to conduct the projects. The financial load of ensuring the implementation of the PBL approach should not fall on individual teachers. This may seem obvious, but it is different in practice.
When introducing a novel pedagogical approach, it becomes important that the management and the teachers are in synchrony about the schedule of completion of the syllabus. There are going to be some speedbumps in the first few months. The management must accept it. Of course, if the pedagogical approach changes, then the assessments will also have to change. For example, with the PBL approach more emphasis will be on formative assessments than summative assessments.
So doing TPD sessions or even planning a TPD yearlong programme is not straightforward. And there are many variables and moving parts. Firstly, doing a one-off TPD sessions puts the onus on the school to ensure the proper implementation of the principles discussed in the session. Yearlong engagement is good, and the schools should have clear priorities on whether they want to use the experts’ time on improving showcase events or classroom teaching and learning. Yearlong TPD programmes focused on classroom teaching and learning should have teachers’ buy-in and full support from the school management. Given the complex nature of TPD, an overnight change cannot be expected. Hence the most important thing for schools is to have patience and keep doing the same thing over a couple of years to see tangible results. At the same time, the experts keep giving reports of incremental progress from time to time, which are great opportunities to take stock and plan the next course of action of TPD in your school.
P.S. We, at Things Education, are experts who work closely with schools to ensure teachers develop skills and expertise through evidence-based techniques and our more than 25 years of collective experience. Check out this TPD session we did recently.
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