For the many people attempting to design training programs and to write grants, there are a number of factors to consider. This week let's share some of the critical elements in providing professional development that has the chance of effecting permanent and positive change. The most in-depth, large-scale training model in which I have been involved has been training for the state of South Carolina and for Indiana. Indiana, being the most recent one, is the one I'll share because it was an opportunity to improve on the first one. I will share a brief outline of the training but would like to point out why I feel it's a good model and why I feel it has been successful for the schools in Indiana.
Elements of Successful Training
The training was ongoing and sustained.
The Indiana training was not a one day or two day "one shot" inservice training. It was spread out over a period of nine months, giving teachers and administrators the opportunity to experience the model and grow with the model while being supported by experts who could answer their questions and add activities and information gradually.
Teachers were involved.
Many models allow people to be trained who have no first-hand experience with the model. These people may, perhaps, learn what is done in a perfunctory sort of way but can not understand the nuances without hands-on involvement and would fail to be able to support implementation with the level of knowledge necessary for greatest success. Teachers, for good reason, have long-resisted being told what to do by "experts" who have no practical knowledge of application. With the Indiana training, teams were constructed of 2 first grade teachers, 2 second grade teachers, their building level administrator, and a mentor whom they all selected. Therefore, two-thirds of the trainers were teachers. Also, the administrator and the mentor were required to actively support the model and to go through the exact same training that the teachers did who were learning all of the "nitty gritty" that they needed to know to deliver the model. So, all participants had practical experience with the model.
These teachers also had to sign an assurance form that they would attend all sessions. Missing days of training would mean gaps in their understanding, just as when kids miss days of school. (I remember one instance when we had a young bride-to-be attending just days from her wedding! She could have been excused, but insisted that she needed to be with us!)
Administrators made a commitment to go through training
All teams had to sign an assurance form, making a commitment to the training experience. One of the items of commitment was to attend all training dates. That commitment had to be made by administrators as well as teachers. This was done for a number of reasons. First, teachers know what administrators value by the level of the administrators' commitment. If administrators only send teachers to learn something new or if administrators bring a speaker into the school and then leave the inservice training to continue with their duties while teachers sit and listen to the speaker, this sends a loud and clear message to teachers: it's not really valued enough for the administrator to hear the same information. We've long been turned off by this practice. With the Indiana training, administrators attended and participated--completing lesson plans, clapping and chanting Word Wall words, playing Wordo, learning how to stock a good book basket, and all of what it takes to have a good 4-Blocks classroom.
I once conducted an overview of 4-Blocks for 150 teachers and administrators over two days. On the third day, I was scheduled to talk to administrators for a couple of hours. As a part of the questions and answers discussed that day was a statement made by a well-meaning principal, who had been in attendance at the overview. We were discussing expectations about the time frame for implementing the model when he said, "I have strong teachers in my building. They'll have all four blocks up and running on Monday morning!" What a disappointment he must have had on Monday morning--this was Friday, by the way! This was an administrator, though proud of his teachers, who didn't know the model well enough to understand how much must be done in preparation of implementation. Even the very best, even the most capable teacher (maybe even one with no life!), could possibly get all the pieces in place by Monday morning, having just heard an overview of the model on Wednesday and Thursday before. That's why administrators need to be in on the "real" training!
Administrators, maybe even most importantly, need to be able to support their teachers actively. They should be able to go into the room, observe a lesson, and with confidence and intelligence about the model, discuss the delivery and give constructive feedback. They need to understand why teachers can't deliver the model without certain materials. Can you deliver a 4-Blocks Model without books? No! And, yet I've had administrators expect that.
The participants were well-informed about what the training involved and were receptive to the changes that it promised.
Sometimes we have professional training imposed upon us, catching us unaware and unprepared. With this training, a one-day overview was provided to allow all who might be interested to come and hear what it was all about. Then schools were given time to decide if they wanted to apply to undergo the full-scale training. They were much more receptive to learning when they had a choice in their involvement. (I remember clearly one prospective team sitting right in front of me at the end of the one-day overview, looking rather disturbed and confused about information they had gotten. After others had left the ballroom where the overview was held, I asked the team if I could help them. They were debating what they had heard about the Guided Reading Block. They weren't sure that they agreed with the theory behind it. We discussed it for about another hour, and they left saying that they would continue to study it before making a decision about continuing with the training. They did come back, and, in fact, are one of the strongest schools of implementation! They studied and discussed long and hard before making their decision, but strongly agreed to give it a try.)
All team members signed an assurance form promising their commitment for successful implementation. They were well informed about their involvement.
The training provided a number of networks of support.
First, the construction of teams was meant to provide one strong network of support within the school building. Networks existed among all team members in one building and between the 2 teachers at each grade level who could support each other.
Networks were built between schools and districts involved in the training. The Southern Indiana Education Center even developed a mailring for the attendees to be able to have constant dialogue among themselves for sharing ideas and asking and answering questions. Because the training was sustained over a period of nine months, the teams had numerous opportunities to work together and get to know one another.
The mentor was a special member of the team whose role was defined as someone who did not have full time classroom responsibilities who could support the implementation and who could help with the replication of the model should that be desired. This was definitely a support role person.
Administrators and mentors had some special sessions to plan how to support the implementation more effectively through coaching, funding, scheduling, and staffing. Their time spent networking was invaluable.
Some "job-alike" sessions further helped participants to build a network for immediate and future support.
Training provided practical and theoretical information.
With 4-Blocks you won't likely be successful for long merely going through the motions. You truly need to understand why you do what you do. That's when you'll be successful in making the right choices about activities and organization based on the real purposes being served.
Knowing and understanding the philosophy and theory on which the model is based really, I believe, is why schools that are implementing 4-Blocks are seeing permanent, systemic changes occur. Not only has instruction changed, but classroom and school climate has changed; schedules are more creative and supportive; administrators are more actively involved; funding has received new emphasis; and school faculties--many for the first time--have a common goal and philosophy that helps them build stronger programs through collaboration.
Topics for training were chosen based on the needs of teachers and administrators and allowed for hands-on involvement, interaction, and variety.
A great deal of momentum existed throughout this training. Participants were energized by their involvement in seeing and experiencing aspects of the model. Over the course of the months, group members participated in make-and-take sessions, role-playing sessions, job-alike sessions, round table discussions, lectures, and hands-on experiments. Their were a few large group (200+) sessions and functions (the overview, meal functions, and the "graduation" ceremony), though mostly small group sessions (ratio of 50 to 1).
There are numerous other reasons why the training outlined in this article has been successful. I hope that you will consider these suggestions and this model even on a much small scale of training. (The overview is below.)
Indiana Statewide 4-Blocks Training Model
This Cycle 1 training was conducted by Cheryl Sigmon and some great South Carolina teachers and administrators with experience in 4-Blocks (affectionately dubbed the "Dixie Chicks" by the Indiana participants) from November 1998- August 99. The Cycle 2 training, a new group of 200 participants, began January 2000 and ends August 2000.
Day 1: Awareness Overview
Anyone interested in hearing about 4-Blocks attended. School personnel met to determine the level of interest in the school. Those who wished to submit an application had to submit a letter of assurance that the necessary support would be available and that all training sessions would be attended.
Day 2: Calibration Overview
32 teams from 32 schools were accepted. Each team was composed of two first grade teachers, two second grade teachers, their building level administrator, and a mentor selected by the school or district. All teams attended the one day overview, this time with a different perspective and intent. Mentors and administrators had homework assignments!
Day 3 and 4: In-depth Sessions on Each Block
Teams attended half-day sessions on each of the four blocks to learn more details. On the evening in-between the two days, teams returned to the training site and rotated among these sessions: 1) make-and-take for Words Block; 2) exploring new book titles; 3) round-table discussion groups; and 4) administrators' and mentors' problem-solving.
Day 5 and 6: Specific Topics Explored to Strengthen the Blocks
Teams attended 4 sessions over the two days: 1) more Word Block activities with hands-on opportunities; 2) plugging district curriculum appropriately into the blocks; 3) writing conferences and mini-lessons; and 4) appropriate assessment and grading with 4-Blocks.
Day 7 and 8: Specific Topics Explored to Strengthen the Blocks
All participants attended two sessions: 1) adaptations for the upper grades, and 2) Building Blocks for the kindergarten. Teachers also attended:1) grade-alike discussion and planning, and 2) aligning a good Guided Reading lesson. Administrators and mentors had one day together covering topics such as funding, setting up coaching models, effective coaching, and they even took a test(!). The evening in-between was a graduation ceremony for all 200 participants, diplomas and all!
* A period of time, usually months, occurred between these sessions.