Tag Archives: Positive Pressure and Support

The (New) Evolving Face of Professional Development

We’ve been thinking a lot lately about professional development. 

We’re working on a comprehensive project to define a professional learning curriculum related to our strategic initiatives (Customized Learning, Tech for Learning, etc), build modules and professional learning playlists around those learning targets, and provide a system for certifying teachers for their accomplishments and for what they know and can do. And I have written before about how our thinking about professional development has evolved over time.

This post captures our current (Summer 2014) thinking on the topic.

Not only are we recognizing that we just don’t have enough resources and opportunities to do traditional “everyone in the same room” professional development, but we have started thinking differently about the purpose of those workshops and other whole-group PD.

Until recently, I used to think of whole-group PD as the end. Teachers attend the PD session and they would leave being proficient at the skill taught in the session, ready and able to implement it well in their classroom.

Now, I think of whole-group PD as just the beginning, an opportunity to introduce a group to a new idea and get them all “on the same page” before they begin working in their own classrooms at learning how to implement the skill well. This is especially important given that the work we’ve been doing lately around Customized Learning, including teaching with iPads, is new to teachers (they haven’t experienced this themselves as learners) and have to invent many of the pieces. 

And that idea, the idea that these new skills are complex, and need inventing and development, and later need practice, and that teachers need to be supported throughout their work to get good at them, has us thinking about workshops as just one small piece of professional development.

For us, professional development for our teachers needs to include some fluid combination of these components:

  • “Same Page” Trainings – These are introductory workshops, getting teachers on the same page about a new set of concepts, skills, or strategies they will be working to implement.
  • Lesson Invention & Tryouts – There is much to this new system that needs to be designed or invented (or at least adapted for our schools). The work teachers do to design, invent, prototype, refine, perfect, and share these systems and strategies is valuable professional learning for all of us. Embedded in this idea is the notion of continuous improvement, and the chance to try a skill in the classroom, reflect on how it went and how it could be done better, and then try it out again with the improvements (play-debrief-replay).
  • Coaching & Feedback – Keeping with the idea of continuous improvement, this includes any Technology Integrator, Instructional Coach, administrator, or peer who models lessons or strategies, co-designs or plans with the teacher, observes, and/or provides formative feedback to support the teacher’s professional growth.
  • Teacher Face-to-Face Time – Teachers need time to sit with other teachers to share experiences, ideas, and resources, as well as to ask questions and seek support. They need a chance to share things that they have tried that worked, and to seek assistance with those things they are still challenged by. And the notion of “face-to-face” can extend well beyond her school or district via the blogs and social networks the teacher builds and follows.
  • On-Demand Modules & Play Lists – Instead of having to wait for a workshop, or for the Tech Integrator or Instructional Coach to visit her classroom, these how-to articles, lessons, short courses, videos, and other digital resources are available to a teacher as she needs them.
  • Answering “But What Does It Look Like?” – Simply stated, this is models & examples: a curated collection of possible classroom visits, videos, photos, and articles, etc., to help teachers develop a sense of what an aspect of the initiative would look like in action. Teachers often have an intellectual understanding of what they are being asked to do, but not a practical understanding.  These models and examples play a critical role in helping them move to the point of being able to try this new idea in their own classroom.
 
Of course, now we have to figure out how to do all of these well…. 
  

The Evolving Face of Professional Development

Clearly, we've been thinking a lot lately about professional development.

Not only are we recognizing that we just don't have enough opportunities to do traditional “everyone in the same room” professional development, but we have started thinking differently about the purpose of workshops and other whole-group PD.

Until recently, I used to think of whole-group PD as the end. Teachers attend the PD session and they would leave being proficient at the skill taught in the session, ready and able to implement it well in their classroom.

That might be the case with some topics and some kinds of training, but not with the paradigm-shifting work we've been doing lately around Customized Learning, including teaching with iPads. This is definitely Second Order Change; we're doing something significantly or fundamentally different from what we have done before.

Now, I think of whole-group PD as just the beginning, an opportunity to introduce a group to a new idea and get them all “on the same page” before they begin working in their own classrooms at learning how to implement the skill well.

And that idea, the idea that these new skills are complex and need practice and that teachers need to be supported throughout their work to get good at them, has us thinking about workshops as just one small piece of professional development.

For us, professional development for our teachers needs to include some fluid combination of these components:

  • “Same Page” Trainings – These are introductory workshops, getting teachers on the same page about a new set of skills or strategies they will be working to implement.
  • Teachers Inventing – There is much to this new system that needs to be designed or invented (or at least adapted for our schools). The work teachers do to design, invent, prototype, refine, perfect, and share these systems and strategies is valuable professional learning for all of us.
  • Model & Examples – Classroom visits, videos, photos, and articles, etc., to help teachers answer the question, “But what does this look like in action?”
  • Mini-Lessons – As with teaching in the classroom, these are short, topic-specific, timely lessons, usually offered in response to an emerging need.
  • On-Demand Videos & Resources – Instead of having to wait for a workshop, or for the Tech Integrator or Instructional Coach to visit her classroom, these how-to articles, lessons, short courses, and videos are available to a teacher as she needs them.
  • Classroom Try-Outs – Play-Debrief-Replay – The chance to try a skill in the classroom, reflect on how it went and how it could be done better, and then try it out again with the improvements.
  • Coaching – a Technology Integrator, Instructional Coach, administrator, or peer who models lessons or strategies, co-designs or plans with the teacher, observes, and/or provides formative feedback to support the teacher's professional growth.
  • Focused Study Groups – Teachers select topics of interest, then work collaboratively with other teachers with the same topic on an inquiry project. Often includes creating a product that can be shared with and used by other teachers to learn about the topic.
  • PLC's, PLN's, & the Human Network – A Professional Learning Community or Professional Learning Network is the group of educators a teacher has access to in order to share experiences, ideas, and resources, as well as to ask questions and seek support. A teacher's PLN usually extends well beyond her school or district via the blogs and social networks the teacher builds and follows.

Of course, now we have to figure out how to do all of these well…

The Need for a Quality, Distributed Professional Development System

Maybe you're experiencing something similar…

We really noticed it last year when we introduced iPads to first grade.

We now had double the classrooms with iPads (having introduced iPads to kindergarten the year before), but still only one Elementary Tech Integrator, had access to half as many early release Wedensdays as the year before, and had a new K-12, district-wide initiative (Customized Learning) drawing on our PD and support resources, support people, and time…

One of our team did help us implement a Workshop Model/Study Group Model approach where teachers chose topics of interest and collaborated in study groups to learn about the topic and create a video or other product to teach others what they learned. It was well implemented, yielded nice results, got good reviews in teacher follow up surveys, but still proved insufficient for meeting our training and support needs.

It was made clear again last week as we worked on planning our workshop day for the Wedensday before Thanksgiving. Teachers requested so many topics (related to both iPads and Customized Learning) and we only have a couple hours in the afternoon. We can't even afford the time to bring all the 2nd grade teachers into the same room to make sure they know how to properly download their apps (a combination training and technical difficulty we've been having lately), or the growing list of other challenges/needs we're struggling to address. And when I talked with the Tech Director about the breakout sessions he would lead, he (justifiably) responded, “Only 45 minutes per session? That's hardly enough time to get started.”

And, frankly, we face the same issue with middle school and high school where we switched from 1to1 laptops to 1to1 iPads, and they're finding the work flows are different, and we probably have to revisit integrating technology in engaging ways before students get too far down the path of using them as “weapons of mass distraction.” (Hat tip to Tom March for coining the term.)

Our philosophy is that if you are asking teachers to do things that they have never experienced themselves as students (like leveraging technology for learning), we have the moral obligation to support the heck out of them.

The question quickly becomes, if we don't have enough tech integrators to go around, and we have hardly any “everyone in the same room” professional development time available to us, and a growing list of challenges and things we're noticing our teachers don't know how to do (because we haven't taught them), how the heck do we support the heck out of them…?

So, we will be working this year on building a quality, distributed professional development system. Our idea is to build a system where teachers can get the support they need pretty much when they need it, developed and maintained by a large group of contributors, so it doesn't all fall on the shoulders of a few. We have some ideas on how to make this happen, but it's a little too early to share them (You know we will, when they're ready!).

Here's what we're pretty sure the system will need to include:

  • A professional learning curriculum & continuum – What are the (clearly articulated) knowledge and skills we want our educators to become proficient in and what scopes and sequences make sense?
  • A system for collecting and sharing examples, models, and exemplars – The system would include artifacts such as photos, articles, and videos, to help educators answer the question “But what does this piece look like in action?”
  • Learning modules built around that professional curriculum – The learning needs to be “chunked” into manageable pieces.
  • Multiple approaches to deliver those modules – Workshops, articles, videos, iTunesU courses, iBooks, etc. What ever systems we use, they should allow us to easily update the resources and push the updates to our teachers using them (things do change and evolve quickly in this business).
  • A system to “certify” teachers – The system certifies what teachers become proficient at as they move through their professional learning and keeps track of their “certifications.”
  • A system for soliciting educators to help us build and deliver the PD system – We need a team of teachers and other school leaders, both within and without our school district, to be valued contributors. We need people to help us build the professional learning continuum, the modules and related resources, and to certify teachers as they develop proficiency in the professional learning. The work needs to be developed by or borrowed from multiple people, not just the tech team.

We find it all a little scary. It does mean giving up some control. We have to trust others to help us do this work. If it is a piece that the tech integrators, the Tech Director, or I feel strongly about, then clearly we need to be part of the team that develops that piece. Otherwise, we need to trust the teachers who develop it. We can certainly review drafts of their work and offer feedback, but frankly there aren't enough of us to go around, and there is more work to do than we can actually do by ourselves.

Have any of you done some of this work? What have you tried? How'd it go? What worked and what didn't so well? What's your advice to us?

And so this chapter of our journey begins…

 

How the Phases Help Support Implementation and Teachers

The Phases of Implementation are actually a tool to leverage in support of teachers and the school's or district's implementation of Customized Learning. The components of Customized Learning are certainly not new to schools, but successfully implementing CL depends on raising the level of level of implementation and the consistency of implementation across the school and school year so they don't simply occur in certain classrooms or during certain units. But learning to implement all those moving parts, in a sequence that actually works, can seem daunting! The Phases take a complex initiative (Customized Learning) and break it into manageable chunks, supporting implementation (and teachers!) in several ways.

The Phases Help Leaders Articulate Where the Staff and School are in Their Implementation
The notion of phases is helpful to leadership because they can classify their educators by the phase each is in. Not only can teachers be identified as being in a specific phase, but so can teams (grade levels, interdisciplinary teams, departments, etc.), schools, and districts based on the phase of the majority of their teachers. This helps with articulating to the district, parents, and community where you are on your journey toward implementing Customized Learning, and reminds everyone that this work will not be completed over night (our district has a 5-year plan for implementation!), and helps everyone manage expectations about what should be happening in our schools at this point in the implementation.

Keep in mind that teachers within a school will be at different phases. Districts in the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning have had success with having early adopters pilot a phase ahead of the rest of the staff, and even when the majority of staff in a school are ready to move to the next phase, there will be new staff needing initial training, or staff who are progressing at a different pace than their colleagues.

The Phases Help Teachers Focus Their Professional Learning and Implementation
The phases help educators know the “curriculum” of implementing Customized Learning, where they are in the scope and sequence of that curriculum, and what goals and next steps they might need for progressing to the next level. The goal of any phase is to develop proficiency in the skills related to that phase. This will lead to a strategic progression of more and more skill at creating a personalized learning environment for students, where we expect students to have an improved sense of having their learning needs met, resulting in increased competence, engagement, and academic success.

It is always okay for teachers to dabble, try out, and explore features of a phase or two ahead of where they are, but only within the context of informal learning (“dabbling”). Educators' primary responsibility is getting good at the skills of their current phase.

“Plan, Do, Check, and Adjust” is a crucial component of implementation at each phase, insuring that reflection, continuous improvement, collaborative problem-solving, supporting colleagues, and sharing ideas are hallmarks of the teachers' work.

The Phases Help Leaders Plan for Professional Development
Leadership can more easily plan for training, support, coaching, and professional development because of the Phases : (a) leaders can articulate where their staff are in their professional learning progression; (b) the kinds of resources, training, and coaching needed differs by phase; and (c) how much of that support is needed depends on how many staff are in each phase. Similar to how students will move through the curriculum via Customized Learning, teachers demonstrate mastery of components in one phase before moving on to the next phase.

The first three phases each begin with educators participating in specific training designed to kick off that phase by orienting them to the key components and the work that awaits them (I have come to think of them as “same page” trainings since they are intended to get everyone on the same page.). Other trainings (offered as teachers need them, see below) help teaching staff become more familiar with the curriculum organization, the complex reasoning and life-long habits of mind curriculum strands, various instructional strategies, learning progress management, student motivation, etc.

In fact, from the Classroom Culture phase on, we do not automatically provide teachers the “next” trainings and professional development until they have demostrated some proficiency with the skills, tools, and concepts of the phase they are currenty in. They must get good at the current phase before moving on.

The Phases Help Leaders Focus Positive Pressure and Support
Level of implementation matters, and leaders increase level of implementation through Positive Pressure and Support. Positive Pressure and Support has three pieces: Expectations, Supervision, and Support. We have just discussed support, but the Phases help focus Positive Pressure and Support, as well, by making clear the expectations (getting good a skills in the phase you're teachers are in), and by clarifying what to look for in classrooms when supervising and supporting (those same skills of the current phase).

Even if the Phases help provide clarity, leaders still need training and support themselves so they know the phases and what each phase's skills look like. For example, are teachers in the Classroom Culture Phase actually working within their phase toward getting feedback from students, or are they jumping ahead? Have teachers simply posted some of the tools (such as a Parking Lot) or are they actually providing students with opportunities and guidance on providing feedback using a Parking Lot. Is the absence of a Parking Lot a sign that a teacher isn't focused on Student Voice and Choice, or is the teacher simply using other strategies?

 

This approach to scaling the reform is successful specifically because, at any given moment, the work is personalized to the immediate needs of the teacher, team, school, or district. Team level, school level, district level, and consortium level. Shared leadership teams (a) determine where their educators and communities are in the process of implementing customized learning (using the phases as a guide), (b) design individualized implementation plans and interventions for their group, and (c) provide positive pressure and support for moving to the next level.

 

It’s Not About Blaming Teachers, It’s About Locus of Control

I keep writing about, and presenting about, how teachers need to teach differently… Pretty soon you'll start thinking that I'm blaming teachers for the challenges in our schools…

Most of what I write about in this blog is educational change, usually focused on instruction and/or technology integration (which, of course, is just a subset of “instruction”). But when you talk a lot about changing expectations for teaching and learning, and how teachers teach, and paradigms, and getting them to focus on the right thing instead of the wrong thing, and supervising for those changes, it's easy to start to think that I believe that teachers are the reason that schools aren't changing or that more students aren't learning.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

First off, I write about the changes that need to happen and how to help teachers make those changes because they are things that most teachers have not experienced before themselves.

I believe that the rules for education have changed. The world of work has changed and we now need every child to learn in school what we used to only need the college prep kids to learn (well, actually what has changed is that we now need every kid to be college prep!). Second, new tools (laptops, tablets, cell phones, iPods, information access, personal broadcasting, the read/write web, multimedia, etc.) have changed how kids work, necessitating changing how schools have students learn (or risk becoming irrelevant to students).

As I described when Bea McGarvey came to Auburn, she points out that schools still do industrial age education, when we need an educational system for the information age:

During the industrial age, schools’ goal was to sort out talent and make the rest compliant. We got really good at that. But for this economy, the goal needs to be to develop talent in every child. That’s why we’re so frustrated: we’re trying to meet one goal with a tool that was designed for another…

It doesn’t matter how much we agree with the burning platform that our schools need to work for all our children, or how well we understand that the root problem is how our goals have changed and it isn’t “the teachers’ fault” (Bea says, according to Deming: 95% of the problems are not with the people; they are with the structure), the fact is, at some point teachers understand that they are good at a system designed for an old goal, and that they might not know how to do the system for the new goal…

So teachers are now working in an environment they didn't really experience as students themselves, and probably weren't trained for professionally. Even if teachers need to be the ones making most of the changes, the reason is that the rules have changed, not because they weren't doing a good job.

But even more importantly, we focus on teachers making the changes because teachers are the ones who can solve our challenges. They have the power, the locus of control. When we look at all the factors that impact our students being successful, the one we (schools, educators) have the most control over is teacher practice: what happens in the classroom.

And if teachers have to make changes for a new environment they haven't experienced or been trained for, and if they are the ones who have the power to make the changes, then we have to be very, very clear that we don't blame teachers. Nothing could be more inappropriate, nor unproductive for achieving our new goals.

Instead, what we need to do is support the heck out of teachers.

We need to provide teachers support to a level like we never have before. Side by side with an expectation to teach in ways so all students can learn a high status curriculum, and that makes use of the modern tools for intellectual work, we have to be making a promise to support teachers in this work, making clear we believe in our teachers, and that we know that they can do this hard work. We have to provide training, resources, and time. We have to let teachers try, and allow them to make mistakes, and also to get better – and hold them harmless in this important work. That includes sticking up for them and their efforts, even when (maybe especially when!) it doesn't go well the first time.

If we don't, we guarantee failure: for our schools, for our teachers, and for our students.

 

Positive Pressure and Support: All 3 Pieces

Level of implementation matters.

Unfortunately, simply participating in training and having the right resources available does not mean that students will do better or that your initiative will have it’s desired impact. The degree to which teachers implement your initiative and related strategies matters.

So, how do you drive your initiative to a high level of implemention?

Providing Positive Pressure and Support is how school leaders affect the level of implementation. Positive Pressure and Support is made up of three easy pieces: Expect, Supervise, & Support

The series of posts linked below explore each these pieces.

 

Positive Pressure & Support Part 3: Support

Schools need effective, practical approaches to helping more students succeed academically.

A focus on student motivation and meaningful, engaged learning, on project- or problem-based learning, on personalized, customized learning, or on technology rich learning environments are all approaches that can help make that happen, but require a paradigm shift for teachers, since few of them have experienced these approaches themselves.

Successfully implementing initiatives that require a paradigm shift for educators requires strong, deliberate leadership for school change. The key pieces of Positive Pressure and Support (setting expectations, supervising for those expectations, and supporting those efforts) are necessary components of that leadership, and is the primary way to drive your initiative to a higher level of implementation.

Teachers will start using more core strategies of your initiative when they know it is expected of them and is being monitored—but they need (and deserve) support in getting there. What follows are some of the support strategies that I’ve found helpful.

Support: Celebrating Successes
Celebrating successes is the place to start. Implementing signficant school change is a long road, so the people working to implement those changes need encouragement and to know they are on the right track. Your expectations may be high, but teachers, like students, need to progress (to some extent) at their own pace and within their own capabilities. Nudging, prodding, and pushing are much more effective when combined with pats on the back and kind words, even if it is just small things being noticed.

For the teachers most resistant to change or the most challenged by the change, celebrating baby steps is especially important. With our own children, we didn’t wait to get excited until they could run. We got excited when they could crawl, then when they could stand, and again when they could put one foot in front of the other, and on and on. We need to celebrate each developmental growth step the staff passes through.

Often the best “celebrations” aren’t time consuming or expensive. As you’re walking down the hall, walk beside the teacher and say, “Your kids were pretty engaged during that lesson. You must have done a great job with that new strategy!” Or stick your head in the door during the teacher’s break and say, “Do you mind taking 5 minutes at our next meeting to tell the staff about that thing I saw you do this week? I think others will want to know how to do that.” Or as you leave a walk through, hand the teacher a 3×5 note card, where you’ve written, “I know you were frustrated with how things went in general, but I think you need to remember that the part where you did X, Y or Z went pretty well.” (Notice how the whole thing doesn’t even have to go well to celebrate the parts that did!)

Celebrating growth, progress, and success gives the message that this is important, that you noticed what they have done, and that they are on the right track. This is the fuel that keeps a staff working on hard work.

Support: Facilitate the Sharing of Ideas
By definition, this is “new” work: new to the teachers, new to the students, new to the leadership team. Sure, this initiative may be similar to others, or share components with those you’ve worked on in the past. But I’ve been defining large-scale school change as often being A change that teachers don’t have much experience putting into action, even if they have read about it, have heard about it, or are familiar with the key ideas.

And I have a friend who likes to say, “Teachers can’t do what they haven’t experienced.” Teaches are more often stumped with implementing an initiative by that lack of knowing what it looks like, feels like, tastes like, that not knowing for sure how to put it into action, than by any intent or determination to block or sabotage (even if blocking and sabotaging are how fear of failure most often surfaces for teachers!).

As the high school in Auburn is working toward implementing Customized Learning, many of our teachers are starting to use a Parking Lot, a kind of poster used to solicit students’ ideas, questions, feedback, and input. One of our teachers recently told us that he doesn’t believe in the Parking Lot because he put one up and students don’t use it. But, if we want teachers to put into practice something they haven’t done before, we owe it to them to help them find ideas on how to put it into action – how to make it work. We know that Parking Lots have been implemented effectively elsewhere. What strategies did those teachers use, and how could we connect our teacher with those strategies?

I wrote quite a bit in the last post about how talking about the initiative in meetings and modeling lessons can help with sharing ideas. Having teachers share in staff meetings and professional development sessions about their challenges and successes with their work in the classroom provides opportunities to get advice from their colleagues and to learn new strategies. So can having teachers visit schools and classrooms where the initiative is already in action (even within your own building or district!). Alternately, have teachers watch videos or read stories of how others implemented similar work – not informational pieces “about” the initiative, but those that actually illustrate “how” the initiative works, those that provide vicarious experiences.

Regardless of how you make it happen, you need to be thinking about where you can help teachers find their new ideas on how to implement the core strategies of your initiative.

Support: Provide Opportunities for Training and Professional Development
Part of support is looking for ways to provide further training and professional development. In fact, PD may be the first thing you think of when you think “support.” I know if you are thinking of a new initiative, you are already thinking about how to get your staff trained.

But you can’t think about this only in terms of initial training. If this is a big initiative, such as Customized Learning, then you need to be thinking about implementing it in phases, that means delivering training in phases, too. In Maine, the training for the first couple phases of implementing Customized Learning is generally “Own The Learning” (awareness), “Classroom Design and Delivery” (creating a culture of voice and choice), and “Instructional Design and Delivery” (working with the curriculum and organizing instruction around it). Not all the staff needs to be trained in the phases at the same time. In fact, staggering the training for staff can mean that folks a phase or two ahead can become resources for the rest of the staff.

But even if an initiative doesn’t lend itself to clearly defined phases, make sure that you are thinking of training in ongoing, not “one shot,” terms. In our kindergarten iPad initiative, we had one training at the end of the school year for teachers new to the initiative to get their iPads, learn how to use it for as a personal tool, and how to start identifying apps that might relate to their teaching. That was followed, late in the summer, with a two-day training helping teachers think more about teaching with the iPads. Then, throughout the year, we took advantage of Early Release Wednesdays, meeting nearly every other week.

Where are there other opportunities to get staff trained? Can you cajole your colleagues in another district for a handful of seats in their training? Is there a workshop or conference coming up in your region that directly addresses a need within your initiative? Do you have staff that you could groom to train others on some aspect of the initiative? Do you have someone you could free up to go into colleagues’ classrooms and coach them?

Your walkthrough data, teacher survey data, and conversations about the initiative at staff meetings should help you focus on the training and support your staff needs most at that moment.

Support: Provide Resources
Do your staff have the resources they need for this initiative? Do they have their own school-issued iPad or laptop? Does the wireless network adequately support as many simultaneous users as you are likely to have? Are there apps or programs your teachers need? Can teachers get to the websites they need to get to? Is there a book that will will help them design their lessons? Are there materials teachers need to execute those lessons? Do teachers have access to the expertise (perhaps in the form of books or of people) to put their learning activities into action? Do they have a reasonable number of the texts or equipment they need?

I was once involved with a non-traditional school in a mid-sized city. The school was trying to be a project-based career academy for students who were over-aged, but under-credentialed. We had a pretty effective and engaging online literacy program for students who were struggling because of their literacy ability. But the district Director of Curriculum (who also used to be a literacy specialist) insisted that we only use the district-approved literacy program (you know, the one that hadn’t worked for these students yet…). But we said ok, and she promised to send us the materials.

What showed up were the left over materials from the other schools in the district. Not only were there not enough of any item for there to be a class set (and we had 12 classes), there wasn’t even at least a single copy of each key set of materials in the program!

If you want your teachers to put your initiative into action, then make sure they have all (reasonable) materials they may need to do so.

Support: Remove Barriers and Run Interference
Doing something new is hard enough. But it is almost impossible if you see barriers around you, or you are left exposed to criticism. One of the most important ways you can support your staff is also something that they may never know that you do: removing barriers and running interference. Teachers making a good faith effort to implement your initiative deserve support in getting obstacles out of their way.

Many of the typical barriers you’ll remove simply by following the other suggestions in this post. Does a teacher not know how to implement a component of your initiative? Connect them with training or other teachers who can share their ideas on how to do it. Is not having certain resources or materials interfering with the teacher increasing their level of implementation? Find a way to get them the resources they need.

Time may be the largest perceived barrier for teachers. Find ways to create protected, designated time for planning and collaboration. Even if you have the protected time, sometimes teachers have so much going on that the time is used for other things, or to vent (perhaps not even about the initiative). Working to have those planning and collaboration times, and creating an agenda for each meeting to guide the work can remove that barrier.

Another type of barrier is the unhappy parent or colleague member. Such complaints are often based on a little truth, but often with a lot of missing information. As a leader, you have an opportunity to protect your staff from attacks and distractions. You can deal directly with the unhappy person and take the heat, then bring the legitimate pieces of the concern to the staff member in a much more calm, safe, supportive way.

Another way you help run interference for your teachers is by encouraging everyone (especially yourself) to “seek first to understand” (one of Stephen Covey’s habits of highly successful people). What is the full story of the thing the person is upset about? Students don’t like the way the teacher is teaching? What exactly is the teacher trying? What parts does the teacher think are going well and not so well? What does the teacher see as his next steps? It may be perfectly appropriate to respond to the parent or colleague, “Well, that teacher is working hard to implement the initiative beyond where he has been trained. He’s aware of the challenges he is having and has already asked for help in addressing those challenges.” And frankly, we need teachers who are willing to take those kinds of risks and blaze a trail of the rest of the staff.

My mantra is that if we want teachers to learn how to do things they haven’t experienced before, then we better be ready to support the heck out of them. If you want to drive your school initiative to a high level of implementation, help your teachers help you get there. How you get your teachers the training and ideas they need, work to remove barriers for staff doing this work, run interference as they make good faith attempts to implement new ideas, and how you connect staff to resources will also leave your teachers feeling supported as they work to meet higher expectations.

How do you plan to support your teachers as they strive to implement your large-scale school change?