Reinvigorate PD with Practice!

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Whether you’re an administrator, staff developer, instructional coach, grade leader, or simply a teacher with something exciting to share, you may find yourself facilitating Professional Development (PD) to your colleagues.  When facilitating PD, it is important to make the most of the experience so that participants can leave with key takeaways and strategies to then apply in their classrooms the next day.  You, the facilitator, can ensure that this happens by providing participants with the following: an explicit model that includes criteria for success, ample time to practice, and immediate feedback.

(As you continue to read, imagine that you’re planning to facilitate a PD session to your staff about positively praising their students).

First, it is important to give specific criteria about what’s expected when giving positive praise to students.  When giving positive praise, teachers should include the student’s name (or make direct and obvious contact) as well as include what the students are actually doing.   When criteria is given in advance, teachers know what to lookout for as they watch the model.  Simply giving this criteria (let’s say, in a hand out) without a corresponding model is not enough, nor is it effective. If you want teachers to do something well, then they need to see it in action.

In order to see positive praise in action, teachers need to see a visual model.  There are many ways this can be done.  One strategy is to model it yourself.  Another is to show a video of a teacher effectively giving positive praise in his/her classroom. Either way, the model must include the above criteria.  Example models for positive praise are: “Ryan, thank you for quickly putting your lunchbox in your cubby and immediately getting started on your independent reading” or “Daniel, thank you for using the ‘what to do when I’m done’ anchor chart to make a smart choice when you finished your writing.”  You may even give a few examples that are intentionally missing part of the criteria and ask your staff to make appropriate modifications!  

The next step is to make your PD interactive and give time for teachers to practice giving positive praise.  This can be accomplished in many ways, such as planning, collaborating with colleagues, role playing, and so on.  First, place teachers in small groups.  Then, give each group time to collaborate (or work independently) and script out examples of positive praise.  Finally, teachers should practice saying the phrases to their “students” (other teachers in their group!).  Having time to practice planning and delivering the new skill will help teachers to seamlessly implement it in their classrooms immediately.

What is the facilitator's role during practice? You should be circulating and providing in-the-moment feedback, based on the criteria given for the model.  Another option is for teachers to provide each other with feedback within their small groups.  Regardless of the method chosen, feedback should not only be given at the very end of practice. Teachers should be stopped mid-practice.  Feedback for positive praise may sound like, “thank you for using the student’s name and giving direct eye contact.  Next time, please be more specific about the student action.”  After providing the feedback, stay and work with that teacher as they implement the feedback again and again.  Once they are doing what’s expected, they should now practice “doing it right” multiple times, which will help better prepare them for the “real thing” (their classrooms).  

As you’re planning for your next PD session, consider using the following sample agenda as a guide.  

PD Agenda for Positive Praise

(Note to facilitator: Teachers should be placed in groups of 4)

1. Introduce positive praise (5 minutes)

         a. What is positive praise?

         b. Why is it important to use positive praise in the classroom?

         c. Provide criteria for positive praise

                   I.   Includes student name (or makes DIRECT and OBVIOUS eye contact)

                   II.  Includes what students are actually doing

2. Model (5 minutes)

         a. Show video of a teacher using positive praise

         b. Discuss in small groups

                   I.   What did you notice about the videos?

                   II.  How did the teacher use the criteria for positive praise?

3. Practice and provide feedback (15 minutes)

         a. Independently script out 5 positive praise statements (3 minutes)

         b. Engage in the following "practice activity" 4 times (3 minutes per teacher - 12 minutes total)

                   I.   Each teacher will practice their statements to their group

                   II.  Group members provide feedback

                   III. Teacher will implement feedback from their group

         c. Facilitator circulates among groups and provides feedback

4. Conclusion (5 minutes)

         a. Glows and grows of practice session

         b. Next steps for using positive praise in the classroom

         c. Teachers complete exit slip or survey