Professional Learning Time Is The Biggest Bet You Make – Try R.A.P.I.D.
The magnitude of the challenges faced by students who experienced disruptions to their learning over the past several years is nothing like we have ever experienced before as a nation. Students who missed the equivalent of anywhere from 4 to 20+ weeks of instruction have a broad range of needs, as do the teachers who serve them. (Just think of the recess and lunchtime your students missed or the gentle reminders and personalized executive function supports the kids didn't have in classrooms over the past few years. It wasn’t just academic instruction time that was lost, but peer and teacher nurturing.)
Yet, the overnight shift to remote learning in 2020 is all the proof we need to remind ourselves that we, as educators, have never met a problem that was too hard to tackle when it came to the kids.
Here is a R.A.P.I.D. framework for thinking about how to implement the practices that will help your students come back strong as we do our very best to accelerate learning.
R - Require Evidence
Choose tools and resources that are proven to help students achieve learning and build your professional learning plans around them (Think: ESSER Evidence Levels.) Professional development and high-quality, evidence-based resources each have an impact on teaching practices. Together they are greater than the sum of their effect size!
A - Align vertically and horizontally to the “why”
Include everyone you can in the selection and planning process. Especially help principals and teachers understand “the why” behind the selection so they can own the initiative at the building AND classroom level. When possible, help administrators and teachers experience the resources as engaged learners, then provide teachers ample time to understand how the resources align with other existing resources so they can weave the new resources into a coherent instructional plan intentionally. This stitch in time will save at least nine difficult faculty meetings.
P - Prototype the implementation so you can evolve practices within local contexts
Prototype implementation rapidly with early adopters and allow them to reflect on what is working and what needs more tinkering. (Think: 2-week cycles.) Give teachers Safe Practice opportunities (don't visit for evaluation while they are trying these new things.) Give these lighthouse teachers the time and space to fail fabulously, regroup, and revise, so they can be strong models, local advocates, and co-facilitators with you and your partners. Provide grants if at all possible to these fearless lighthouse leaders!
I - Iterate, improve, and inform your implementation
When we are running, things don’t always go perfectly, but that is no reason to abandon the carefully researched and prototyped implementation plan that will help you achieve acceleration goals. The adoption curve just takes time. While you are more likely to hear from those who are not being successful than those who are, actively seek to learn why things ARE working, then reframe your lens when you hear from naysayers. Ask, “Why might they feel what they are feeling? What might be the barrier to this person’s success? Is there a skill they struggle with? What conditions don't seem to exist here that exist for their colleagues?” Believe me, the late adopters would rather take the easy route of doing what is asked of them, but there just might be a reason they can't. (Think: What support or professional development, perhaps unrelated to the particular initiative, might help here?) Pass the mic to the successful early adopters and break down the steps to success for the late bloomers.
D - Devote yourself to the student outcomes you seek
There is a difference between believing in an initiative (Of course I can lose weight!) and being devoted to it (I am going to walk for 30 minutes every morning and every evening. No. Matter. What.). If you believe the results will come with the set practices and resources you espouse, devote your professional learning time to both doing the right things and doing things right. Stay the course.
Above all celebrate the progress of each and every member of your community, no matter how small!
- 5-minute spotlights at faculty meetings.
- High fives in weekly updates.
- Lunch and learns!
- Mini-grants for action research that shows the outcomes in student learning
- Presentations or conferences in the district to showcase this work with a larger group of stakeholders.
Eileen taught English for 15 years and was the founding English Department Chair at Walter Payton College Prep as well as the author of 360 Degrees of Text (NCTE, 2011).
As the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for over 100 of Chicago’s highest performing schools, Eileen became passionate about the role technology could play in education in the 21st century and left CPS in 2012 to develop ThinkCERCA to help all students achieve career and college readiness. ThinkCERCA is one of the top Literacy Courseware Challenge winners (Gates Foundation).