Much Teacher Professional Development (PD) course is similar to New Year’s resolutions; pinning our hopes on one radical change, one big step, or one grand gesture, hoping that this will be enough. But it rarely works because a month later we’ve given up. This begs the question, is there a better way?
Last year I read The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. The premise of the book is that success does not come from grand gestures or radical changes, rather it comes from consistently doing small, simple and positive things over a long period. Things that are hardly noticeable, feel like they have no impact at the time, are easy to do, but just as easy not to do.
Take for example something as simple as reviewing prior learning at the beginning of every lesson. It’s easy to do, just write some questions on a whiteboard, but its also just as easy to skip, because it often feels like it makes no difference. If I do a review today will it make a difference? No. If I don’t do a review today will it make a difference? No. But, if I review prior learning every lesson for weeks, months and years we will see a compounding difference.
Contrast this thinking with much PD delivered in our schools. It is very often silver bullet thinking; over-promising results with no follow-up. This leads to initial enthusiasm for a few days which peters out as the promised results don’t eventuate or busyness crowds out good intentions. Perhaps Jeff Olson’s Slight Edge has an antidote to this problem. Rather than relying on one big PD, simply choose one simple effective strategy and implement it. Then ask a colleague to observe and give feedback, and practice until you are doing it every lesson without thinking about it. Then pick another effective strategy and repeat. If you’re not sure where to start here are some ideas:
- Teacher Walkthrus with books here and here is a step-by-step instructional coaching. resource. You will need purchase the books, and the PD is aimed a schools rather than individual teachers.
- Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction is a free Journal Article based on research in cognitive science and research on highly effective teachers.
- Victoria State Government High Impact Teaching Strategies is a high quality and free evidence-informed resource.
Now imagine your classroom in two years after you are consistently implementing five simple yet effective strategies. There would be nothing flashy, some might even be hardly noticeable. But each one, however slight, would be compounding over time to achieve outstanding success for your teaching and your students learning.
Perhaps its time to move teacher PD from quick fixes and silver bullets, to a sustained Slight Edge mentality.