A Framework for Facilitating Practice in Teacher Development
by brent maddin
A while back, I wrote about the various ways that I observed teachers practicing for future performance. Arraying these various ways of practicing along a continuum begs the question, “Are there any characteristics of facilitating practice that generalize across all of these ways that teachers might practice?”
I think so.
Through a series of conversations and observations, TeacherSquared created this framework to reflect what teacher educators were doing to facilitate high-quality practice across dozens of programs:
Let's think about this in three, discrete frames: Practice Happens, Practice Shines, and Practice Matters.
In this first frame, we attend to two questions. There is the obvious first-order question: “Is practice actually happening?” If the answer is “no”, there are two primary reasons why:
- The teacher educator and/or the institution has not committed to teachers practicing for future performance; or
- There is a tacit commitment and plan to practice, but for a host of reasons, practice still isn’t happening.
If we believe that every instructional sequence in teacher development should have a meaningful practice component, then we must figure out how to make practice happen, and the solution will depend on whether or not there is a commitment to the pedagogy of practice.
Assuming that practice is happening, the second-order question is, “Are teachers practicing the right stuff in the right way?” Ultimately, this is a question of prioritization and alignment. Given that practice can be a major investment in time (and is proven to dramatically increase proficiency in what is practiced), it is imperative that what teachers spend time practicing will actually make a difference for P-12 students. For example, if the program teaches 3 methods of checking for understanding, should each be practiced equally? Probably not. Then, assuming that we have prioritized the right stuff to practice, we must also determine which method of practicing (e.g., a drill, a scrimmage, a rehearsal, etc…) is most appropriate, given our particular teacher development goals.
Once teachers are actually practicing, and we are confident that they are practicing the right “stuff” in the right way, only then should we be concerned about the second frame. Here, we become fixated on the quality of the practice in which teachers are engaging.
For practice to truly shine, it must first happen within an intentionally cultivated culture where adults are willing to take risks, make mistakes, and lean into each chance to practice and provide feedback. Practicing in a high-quality way doesn’t happen naturally, nor is it something that most people enjoy immediately. However, with time and intentionally--attending to both teachers’ heads and hearts, within the context of agreed upon norms for practice, and a culture of normalized error, teachers will be more likely to practice and learn from the experience. You can find a few concrete resources for each of these ideas here.
In addition to cultivating a strong culture of practice, the teacher educator also has the responsibility to ensure that the practice happens in an efficient and effective way. To this end, every round of practice shares four critical attributes, including:
- Frame: the teacher educator provides clear rationale for why teachers should practice these particular skills in this particular way and shares clear criteria for success grounded in these skills;
- Model: the teacher educator provides a clear model (either by live modelling or a pre-recorded video) of what the skill, when implemented well, looks like;
- Protocol: the teacher educator provides clear roles for each teacher in each round of practice, describes how those roles rotate between rounds of practice, and delineates how time should be spent during each round of practice;
- Close: the teacher educator must also close rounds of practice by summarizing key points, celebrating successes, and creating opportunities for the teachers to identify action steps and ways of holding themselves accountable for taking that action.
Finally, practice will shine when the teacher educator and/or other teachers are providing high-quality feedback to the practicing teacher. In either case, the teacher educator should carefully think through the criteria for success for each round or practice and draft thoughtful feedback statements that can be shared in the midst of practicing. Creating “feedback sheets” are incredibly important, especially when novice teachers are providing feedback to one another.
By the third frame, we know that practice is happening, that teachers are practicing the right stuff in the right way, and that the practice is really shining. Now, we can begin to answer the ultimate question, “Are teachers getting better at the skills they are practicing?” Although asking this question seems obvious, and is something that P-12 teachers answer on a daily basis about their own students, answering this question during teacher development practice sessions happens infrequently. Rarely does the teacher educator have a clear sense (much less concrete data) on how each teacher performed during their round of practice, and even less of a clue as to whether what they practiced in the safety of the teacher preparation space actually transferred into their classrooms with P-12 students. There are concrete tools and systems for collecting both of these types of data, but doing so takes commitment and advanced planning by the teacher educator. Here is a sample of no-tech and higher-tech data gathering tools that I’ve used in recent trainings.
A Final Thought
Although this framework is still developing, it gives us a concrete jumping off point to think about where we are, as teacher educators, with respect to the incredibly humbling job of facilitating practice for future performance. I suspect that there is an ordinality to the frames--that one should only be focused on improvement in one frame at a time and only after there is compelling evidence that the prior frame is happening with fidelity on a consistent basis. In an attempt to help figure out where you should consider focusing, check out a quiz that I created aligned to this framework. I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts and reactions to this framework or seeing you at an upcoming TeacherSquared institute organized around this framework.
About the Author
Brent Maddin, Ed.D.
Provost, Relay Graduate School of Education
Executive Director, TeacherSquared
As Provost at Relay, Brent sets the curricular vision for the institution and manages teams focused on curriculum design, institutional research, and programmatic innovation. In 2015, Brent founded TeacherSquared—a national center at Relay dedicated to increasing collaboration among teacher preparation institutions. Prior to helping launch TeacherSquared and Relay, Brent attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he earned his doctorate in Education Policy, Leadership, and Instructional Practice.