Faculty development should include discussion-based learning exercises as well as action-based training exercises.
In fields where on-going professional development has literal life and death implications, realistic, live-action training is common. We can learn from them by applying training principles that improve classroom practice, multiplying the value of both learning and training sessions. This will lead to better teaching and thus better learning.
Recently, an ACCS teacher included this critique of faculty development programs in a presentation:
Typically, the program is three-pronged. First, it involves in-service events, where
someone from within the school delivers a lecture about something having to do with classical education. A few schools will occasionally bring in someone from outside their community to lecture on classical education, although this is relatively rare because it is expensive, and most schools try to run their faculty development programs on the cheap…they are held directly after school, when teachers are mentally exhausted and in no mood for deep intellectual activity. These in-service events are not exactly meetings, though they do mirror the modern meeting in that they are dry…
While perhaps overly critical of hard-working administrators doing their best with limited resources, much of what is described above is, unfortunately, very common. Often what is stated as a teacher training program generally consists of attendance at a conference, and participation in the school’s teacher certification process. Many schools will also have occasional administrator observations, usually scheduled well in advance. In general, faculty development is thought of as events for individuals or a one-time, mostly passive group-learning experience.
All of these activities are useful in their place, but they do not constitute a full faculty development plan designed to help teachers grow as classical educators. Administrators should create plans that prioritize on-going, engaging and realistic times for teacher learning. We also need to distinguish between and include two kinds of exercises: group or individual learning, and hands-on, active training with opportunities for practice with feedback.
I have written elsewhere (Classis, February, 2022) about the need for faculty development to be a regular part of the school’s schedule. This consistency is important in that it helps to create a faculty culture where growth in their craft is a priority to administrators and an expectation for all. Faculty development should be as engaging as possible. If they can’t involve wine, beer, and days off, as the writer quoted above wishes (and who doesn’t?), regular faculty development meetings should at least be designed so teachers are active participants and not passive recipients. Yes, we’re all tired afterschool, but if the exercises are intellectually interesting and clearly applicable, as well as having some movement and thoughtful conversation with other adults (something that is perhaps lacking in some teachers’ days) built in, then teachers will see the benefits of the time. Administrators should lead from ‘the back of the room’ in ways that put the teachers in the place of a discoverer of the learning, they should “excite and direct the self-activities of the learner.” Small group scenario discussions, the creation of graphic organizers to teach a concept, role-playing, and presenting lessons to a live ‘class’ all have teachers in the center of the learning and the doing.
In addition, those responsible for faculty development should consider and plan for two very different aspects: learning and training. Learning exercises are primarily discussion-based whose purpose is to increase knowledge and understanding. Sometimes these are passive (lectures, presentations, on-line video, etc.), but the best kinds of learning exercises build in active participation from teachers, e.g. scenario discussions, lesson plan analysis, etc. At their best, learning exercises give teachers an opportunity to consider ideas together in a classroom situation, to discuss ranges of responses and applications. All of this learning is critical for developing the situational awareness necessary for teachers to make adjustments in their classrooms, anticipate potential issues and opportunities, and to apply their knowledge and understanding of the many elements of their school’s mission (i.e. pedagogy, curriculum, philosophy and culture).
An often-neglected aspect of faculty developing are training exercises. Although sometimes used generically, ‘training’ is a different kind of exercise with a different expected outcome from learning. Training is distinguished from learning in that it focuses on regular, realistic practice of the learning elements. While learning exercises are discussion-based, training exercises are action-based. Exercises in training give repetitions in as realistic a situation as possible. They are designed to put teachers into realistic, dynamic situations where they must respond to unplanned circumstances. This is, of course, more like actual teaching. Training exercises, followed by an honest discussion of what went well and what didn’t, will support teachers and faculties toward developing habits of excellent teaching. To gain the full effect realistic training should be a regular part of the faculty development calendar, not a one-time event.
An example of an active training exercise is live ‘teaching labs’, where the teacher delivers an abbreviated lesson to a class of fellow teachers acting as students. These live exercises are followed by robust analysis and discussion. Other examples include role-playing conversations (e.g., a parent-teacher conference), and practicing targeted scenarios (e.g., ‘check for understanding in a manner that is both involuntary and plenary’ (that is, involving all students)). All of these are meant to be as realistic and unscripted as possible, thereby requiring teachers to practice situational awareness and apply wise and prudent action in a dynamic circumstance.
It has been said that you’re only as good as your training. I think it’s probably closer to the truth that we’re never quite as good as our training, but we certainly won’t be any better. While many schools emphasize continued learning, and some provide ample resources for learning opportunities, faculty development plans should explicitly include frequent training opportunities, as well. Regular, realistic, and engaging faculty development is critical to the success of a school’s mission. Both learning and training exercises are also important to help teachers grow in their understanding and application of the principles and practices of classical, Christian education.
· Scenario discussions (‘tabletop exercises’, critical incident discussions, etc.)
· Reading essays, books; writing papers (e.g. teacher certification plans, group reading and discussion)
· ACCS conference
· On-line class
· Consultant presentation
· Scenarios and role-plays (single situation)
· Teaching labs: live, real-time presentation in realistic situation; follow-up analysis
· Walkthrough/observation feedback with follow-up discussion, implementation and feedback loop