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Let’s say that last month, you sent your whole early education team to a professional development workshop. Your team liked the trainer, and the majority said that they planned to implement the ideas in their daily practice. But since then, as the days go by, you’re not sure if the training had the impact for which you’d hoped.
A common model of professional development in early education is to give participants information, provide them with some extra resources, and then wish them luck. We might call that the ‘hope theory’ of training: “We hope they’ll do something with this.” But this approach gives us little evidence that we’re putting our new training to use. As an early education leader, you might be left wondering if these training workshops are worth the effort and price.
There’s a solution to this conundrum: When directors have a strategy of planning before each training, and follow up with their team afterwards. In this article, I’ll explain how you can turn this idea into real-life action. So let’s look at two key strategies that replace that hope with the expectation that our professional development training will be used in the classroom.
First, let’s think about what the research and best practices say on teacher training and implementation. After that, we'll look at two approaches for putting this to work.
According to the classic Joyce and Showers model of professional development for teachers, we absorb new skills through a four-step learning process:
As we move through these four steps, it becomes more and more likely that we put our new knowledge to use. It is easy to identify with this formula when we apply it to personal experiences of learning any other skill, be it driving a car, or baking a cake. The cycle of information, demonstration, practice, and feedback is always necessary for success. Imagine learning to drive a car with only theory and demonstration. The research on teacher training confirms that the ability to implement grows incrementally from ten percent at step one, twenty percent at step two, sixty percent at step three, and ninety-five percent at step four.
A training session is an important first step towards implementation, but we can’t expect our teams to master these new skills immediately. Staff need a safe and supportive process for practicing, making mistakes, and practicing some more before they develop confidence in the new skills. With thoughtful planning and follow up, early education leaders can maximize the initial learning, and achieve the goal of increasing staff competencies.
Set your goal and need for a particular topic. As the leader of your child care setting, you must set a specific goal of what you want get out of this training course. Is it just absorbing knowledge, or do you want educators to do something concrete with the knowledge? If your goal is to increase vocabulary skills of children, it could be that staff teach two new words each day from the story time book, and use these words in context during active learning, at lunch, and in the playground.
Decide how to deliver the training, to all staff and to individuals. Putting everyone in the same room or on the same Zoom call is helpful for everyone to hear the same foundational message, as a large group. But then again, you might also differentiate the training to staff members based on their current skill level, or position. Would lead teachers and assistant teachers benefit from tailored practical exercises in small groups?
Be clear about how you expect staff to use this knowledge. Training should be presented as added value to the growth of staff. Make it interesting by showing your enthusiasm, expectation, and pledge of support:
Plan to attend the training yourself. As a trainer, I often hear participants say : “I wish my director would hear this.” Visibility is good for the credibility of a leader. It demonstrates commitment to continuing professional learning for all. And when you listen to the training as well, it gives you valuable information about which key points to reinforce.
Investing in professional development is a major step in being a quality early education setting. But it can be frustrating to feel like training is just a tick-box exercise with little return. That’s why I recommend you try the techniques I’ve laid out in this two-step model.
You’ll notice that the educators become more confident in their skills as they try out innovative ideas and succeed. You’ll see that they find more ways to collaborate as they encourage each other professionally. You’ll know that the money was well spent when you observe evidence of new teaching skills stemming directly from that training. And, ultimately, implementing professional training in classroom practice will result in better instruction for the children.
Your leadership in guiding the implementation process turns a good investment into a long-term benefit.
Angèle Sancho Passe is a writer and trainer in early education. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can contact Angèle and learn more about her work at www.angelesanchopasse.com.
Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.