Nov 10

The degree of risk we are willing take varies for each individual. Teachers confront a risk when considering whether or not to try a new strategy in their classroom. This risk is as serious as the individual teacher believes it to be, and choices are made accordingly.

In our business, there is not enough time for professional development, so there often is not adequate time to prepare teachers for planning and using new strategies. We expect teachers to take risks and figure some things out on their own. Some teachers will plan and tinker their way through using a new strategy, and some will continue teaching the way they know how because they don’t feel ready to do something new.

I love working with teachers over a period of days and watching them move through different phases of change. Unfortunately, however, "days" of training are too rare and hard to come by. What we have available are short blocks of time. The challenge is helping teachers in the brief time available meet a personal threshold of risk-taking sufficient to try a new research-based strategy.

One way to help teachers prepare is having them work in small groups. They need the collective wisdom to quickly solve problems and refine ideas. And we need others to help us identify "blind spots" in our teaching. But these small groups must produce tangible support for teachers that they can apply to their threshold for change and the risk it represents. These groups have to produce classroom-ready materials that facilitate better teaching.

Refine your group work so a teacher begins with specific objectives students struggle to understand, and finishes with new materials that close the instructional gap. We know what the research-based strategies are, but we need to give them form and make them ready to teach. Both process and materials influence the threshold for change; they help teachers believe it's going to be okay.

After instruction, your small group should meet again to analyze student work samples. This completes the short cycles of improvement that create a steady march toward achievement.