The workshop was being led by Dr. Chris Hulleman, the much-admired researcher behind the “Build Connections” intervention that I share in the second chapter of These 6 Things. He was leading a session at Character Lab's annual Educator Summit in Philadelphia, and I couldn't believe that I was actually in the same room as this guy whose studies I've geeked out on for several years.
But Chris had an interesting bent toward leading professional development. Instead of just telling us about the intervention and giving us bits of time periodically in which to discuss it, he actually had us doing on odd thing.
“Okay, so now you're going to partner up and take turns standing up and delivering instructions on this part of the intervention. Listening partner, your job will be to make 1-2 notes for feedback after the speaking partner is through with the simulation. After three minutes, we'll sound a chime, and it'll be time to switch roles.”
Professional development as practice. That's what Chris was doing. And amazingly, it was a semi-novel idea to me.
The thing is, this professional development “move” of standing and practicing isn't odd to everyone. In some school systems, it's actually the norm. At Lynsay Fabio's school in New Orleans, stand and practice formed a regular part of teacher PD. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with Lynsay and discuss this during a break in the filming for the new Classroom Management Course.
“Sometimes we get stuck thinking of teaching as just an intellectual effort, but it's hugely physical, too,” Lynsay explained. “So, if our goal is to get better at delivering clear instructions, say, or correcting misbehavior with emotional constancy, then these are things we've got to stand up and do, repeatedly, before we're with students.”
And Lynsay puts her money where her mouth is, ending dozens of the short, practical lessons in her course with instructions for standing and practicing. In fact, inside the course there's even a sample practice session where Lynsay practices a part of her first day of school lesson and gets feedback from me. This practice element is one of the ways in which we've tried to make the Classroom Management Course a “next level” learning experience for course participants.
In their book Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, educators Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi give the practical manifesto for this practice-heavy approach to professional development. They describe leading well-received professional developments early on in their careers, only to find several months later that the teachers they had worked with were struggling to implement what they had learned.
“We realized that our workshop participants, on returning to their classrooms, were trying to do the equivalent of walking onto center court at Wimbledon and learning a new style of backhand in the midst of a match,” the authors write. “We realized… that we would have to approach teaching like tennis” (7).
The implications of this are clear. For leaders, it seems to me that we must find opportunities to incorporate on-your-feet practice into our professional development sessions — just as Dr. Hulleman did at the workshop I attended. And for teachers, the next time you read something in a book or a blog post that you'd like to try, don't wait until game time — stand up and practice it right then and there.
If you'd like to participate in Lynsay's Classroom Management Course, please note that the first cohort is open now and registration closes on August 31. For this initial group, Lynsay is offering weekly office hours up to October. Also, it's 50% off.
You can register or learn more here.