Need Teacher Buy-In? Start with Professional Development
By Megan Davenport, Professional Development Specialist, featuring Kim Rayl, Director of Teaching and Learning American International School of Lagos
When we think about teacher professional development, we tend to think about equipping teachers with concrete skills that will transfer to classroom instruction. Though this is obviously important and should not be overlooked, teacher professional development time can also be used productively to generate teacher buy-in and support for a mission, initiative, or culture that will positively impact teaching and learning.
I’m not talking about generic ice breakers and get-to-know-you activities (though they also have a time and place), but about focused communication and activities that will help teachers understand what the initiative is all about and how it can better their instruction. We have all heard the sentiments “this too shall pass” or “why are we doing this?”, so let’s be proactive and address these head-on!
Example: Curriculum Development Training
Inspired by her experience at the Atlas Leadership Institute, Kim Rayl, Director of Teaching and Learning at the American International School of Lagos, returned to her school on a mission to generate teacher buy-in for their curriculum development process: How can we build excitement about the curriculum development work to come?
With this goal in mind, she focused an all-staff curriculum development training session on building an understanding of why curriculum work is essential and empowering teachers to own and be engaged in the process. Below are strategies and activities that the American International School of Lagos used to successfully kick off their curriculum development initiative with teacher professional development.
Beliefs: Building in Time for Reflection
Whenever a new initiative is adopted, the school administrators and decision-makers always have a motivation for making the change, typically involving a vision for how the initiative will positively impact teaching and learning. One way to kick-off an initiative is to reflect on the school mission, the vision for the initiative, and beliefs that shape the culture of the school.
The administrative team can start by sharing some high-level goals and beliefs and then give teachers the time and space to reflect on their beliefs. Though it is hard to find time for reflection during the busy school year, this is an important way to build on teachers’ desire to do the work, and it will save time down the road as productivity and engagement will increase.
For example, if the administrators and school mission all agree that “curriculum creation should be a collaborative process to ensure our students are all receiving a high quality and consistent education”, this belief should be explicitly shared at the teacher professional development session, including the reasoning behind this belief. Teachers should then have an opportunity to reflect on their own beliefs and ask questions if their beliefs do not directly align. Teachers may also need some time to brainstorm and discuss the behaviors that are needed to make this belief a reality.
Based on an activity we did at the Atlas Leadership Institute, Kim shared the school’s beliefs about curriculum development and asked her teachers to reflect on their beliefs and the behaviors that would lead to those beliefs. This builds teacher buy-in from the beginning and gives administrators something to refer back to. Below are the beliefs and behaviors shared at the curriculum development training. The results speak for themselves!
- Belief: Horizontal Alignment
- Behavior: Meeting within grade-level teams as well as whole school curriculum development meetings
- Belief: Vertical Alignment
- Behavior: ES, MS, and HS should collaborate in order to ensure student success and progression and continuity to the highest level offered
- Belief: Transparency
- Behavior: Students, parents, and other teachers should know the how and why behind what you’re doing and where you are going
- Belief: Collaboration
- Behavior: Students, parents, and other teachers are involved in the curriculum in different ways.
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Essential Agreements: Building Teamwork and Collaboration
When introducing a new process, like a new curriculum initiative, it is important to ensure that teachers are open to the idea and supportive of each other. Establishing the kind of culture that we all want to be a part of can be difficult, but creating “Essential Agreements” at teacher professional development sessions is one way to set a tone of professionalism and respect to bond teachers and make sure you are creating the culture you desire.
During her curriculum development training, Kim introduced the following Essential Agreements:
- Collegial Support: Commitment to building a learning community
- Assume Best Intentions: We are all doing the best we know how!
- Take Risks: Zero Errors= Zero Learning
These agreements set a tone of support, teamwork, and collaboration. To maintain teacher buy-in as the year progresses, Kim can continue to reference these agreements to remind teachers about the shared commitment.
Another educator I worked with talked a lot about the “shared responsibility for the education of a child” – the idea that all teachers are responsible for student learning from the day they walk into kindergarten until the day they graduate, rather than focusing on just the class a teacher has this year. This is a shift from how many teachers think about curriculum and certainly changes the tone and commitment to collaborative conversations and instructional planning.
Hopes and Goals: Setting Intention
A great way to end a positive, culture-building session is to give teachers the chance to have one final reflection as an exit ticket. When Kim completed her curriculum development training, she asked teachers to reflect on their “hope for this work”. This gives teachers one final opportunity to internalize the message, build their desire to do the work, and leave with a tangible goal – all of which inspire teacher buy-in. Here are a few of the reflections from Kim’s team:
- …to write a well-organized document for myself and future grade teachers
- …to consistently work on the curriculum and have it recorded in Atlas
- …to develop a framework that I can continue to build in now and in the future
- …to ensure that vertical alignment is organized so we are covering standards not the content of the textbook
- …to become more familiar and comfortable with our new standards
- …to finally have some consistency in our grade level
- …to complete units in such a way that they are helpful in my day0–to-day work
- …to work collaboratively with my team to create some great units and all be on the same ‘page’ for teaching
- …to create a curriculum model that is useful, comprehensive, and relevant so that it will continue to be useful in the future with only minor updates and tweaks
- …to improve my students’ achievement levels
- …to make my students more engaged and mindful of their learning
As you can see from these reflections, the teacher professional development fully invested the staff in the initiative by building their personal desire based on the school’s overall goals.
Megan Davenport’s passion for education is at the forefront of her work. Megan earned her master’s degree in education from Arizona State University and bachelor’s degrees in sociology and business management from the University of Montana. Thanks to her academic background, Megan takes a well-rounded approach to working with schools and benefits from knowledge of organizational structure as well as change management paired with classroom experience and a love of helping children learn. Megan has consulted with public and independent schools both domestically and internationally and enjoys synthesizing knowledge gained from working with a wide variety of schools to provide training and professional development for educators.
Kim Rayl is the Director of Teaching and Learning at the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria and a member of the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA) Professional Learning Design Team. A former middle school English and social studies teacher, Kim also has experience teaching PYP and has worked as a behavioral therapist using ABA therapy for children on the autism spectrum. Kim has a Masters of Teaching, a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, and a K-12 Administrator’s License.
She has taught in public schools in the United States and at international schools around the world including Egypt, Mongolia, Bolivia, Indonesia and most recently, Nigeria. Kim is passionate about collaboratively designing and building teaching, learning and feedback systems that support school improvement initiatives.