My colleague Jake Cornett and I recently wrote a chapter included in Coaching: Approaches and Perspectives, which summarized more than 200 publications discussing research on coaching. The one most obvious finding buried in all of those articles was that workshops without follow-up do not lead to implementation. The research we reviewed suggested that the best implementation rate you can hope for after a workshop is about 15%. In one study that I conducted, I found that the after-effects of a workshop can be negative if teachers leave sessions frustrated or disappointed. (If you'd like to read the study feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll be happy to send you a summary)
My recent experiences at the NSDC conference further eroded my faith in workshops. Again and again I heard educational leaders say that stand alone workshops are simply not good professional development. So what does this all mean? Should we stop leading and offering workshops?
This summer, when Michael Fullan was a presenter at our CRL Summer conference, I asked him this question. I was quite interested in his answer, especially since I am in the midst of writing a book about how to lead workshops. Michael said that workshops are still important because "they are a mechanism for introducing new ideas into a system." But, Michael explained, they have to be part of a broader systemic approach to school reform, one that might involve other approaches to professional learning such as instructional coaching, Professlonal Learning Communities, Japanese Lesson Study, focus, continuity,and principal leadership.
Given these concerns about stand alone workshops, I've started asking several questions when I am invited to work with a district to provide support for their development of a coaching program. If I just lead workshops about coaching (kind of an ironic thing to do, actually), my fear is that I may actually be part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. However, my hope is that if I advocate for high quality PD, my colleagues and I can make a real difference.
My questions are listed below. Let me know if you think we need to add or subtract any from the list or if you have any additional thoughts about whether or not workshops still matter:
1. How many schools are being served by this project?
2. How many coaches do you/will you have in place?
3. What are your students’ major needs?
4. What are your teachers’ major needs?
5. On which teaching practices and other interventions do your current professional development efforts focus?
6. Which teacher or student needs are/are not addressed by your current professional development?
7. Do your teacher evaluation methods and walk-throughs target your professional development focus?
8. Do you have too many, the right amount, or not enough teaching practices being implemented in your district?
9. What do your coaches know about coaching?
10. What do they need to know about coaching?
11. Do they deeply understand the teaching practices they share?
12. Do they need to learn more about the teaching practices they share?
13. Do they need ongoing coaching to develop their skills, or will workshops be sufficient?
14. What do the principals know about the teaching practices, the methods of evaluation, the coaching practices?
15. What do they need to know?
16. Is there some one to coach the coaches?
17. If yes, what support does that coach of the coaches need?
18. What do we need to do to ensure that coaches, administrators, teachers, and students learn what they need to learn to make this project a success?
19. What other issues need to be addressed to create an effective professional development plan for your coaches, administrators, teachers, and students?