How do you plan practice-based professional development?

Designing a positive, productive and practice-based professional development session poses many challenges.  Practice must be manageable in the session, yet it must prepare teachers for the rigours of the classroom.  Teachers need to see success modelled and to cement what they have learned.  All should be challenged, all should succeed.  I have got every aspect of this wrong at different times.

How do you teach ‘vision’?

Keeping sight of underlying purpose seems critical to teachers.  It was a crucial strength of teachers who had thrived in the most challenging schools.  Yet ‘vision’ can be seen as a joke among teachers.  Two barriers stand out.  The word itself smacks of corporate gurus, Americanism and excessive emotion.  It’s easier to be cynical about ‘vision’ than to discuss what you believe in.  Secondly, connecting abstract ideals with day-to-day practice can be a struggle: I want my students to be happy, healthy and set up for future success – but what does that mean for tomorrow’s lesson with a struggling new student?

This summer, I had to answer both questions while training Teach for Sweden trainees.  In four days, I planned and delivered 23 hours of practice-based sessions: exhausting, intense and a brilliant chance to evolve a simple approach to planning practice.  This post summarises the process as it applied to introducing teachers to ‘vision’.

1 – What skill will teachers master by the end of the session?

Trainees had to be prepared to inspire students by persuasively articulating a meaningful vision.

TFS Vision

2 – What does excellence in the skill look like?

Trainees’ visions needed to be concise and worthwhile, ambitious and achievable.  Persuasive articulation required a credible message which was aligned to each teacher’s vision.

TFS Sessions 2015 real

3 – How can teachers practise using the skill?

First I asked teachers to formulate their vision and practise saying it to a peer: this was to ensure they had a vision and to introduce trainees to discussing it.  Then, I invited them to refashion their vision as a story – an idea shared with me by Joe Dolan, who uses this to train aspiring principals in Boston.  (It was this second approach which I hoped trainees would put to use in their schools).

4 – How can teachers prepare to practise?

Trainees wrote both their visions and their stories as they would say them to a student.  This preparation time allowed them to think through what they would say and prepare the message they wanted to convey.

TFS Vision

5 – What does success look like?

Two videos provided models: in both, Teach First teachers discussed their visions (Susannah Meersand and Dani Quinn).  Lacking video of a good story, I provided my own example, talking about a ‘turnaround student’ of mine (Ismail, about whom I have written here).

Modelling practice, I showed teachers what each activity involved before asking them to begin.

6 – How will teachers receive constructive and useful feedback?

This was our very first practice session, so I avoided feedback.  (When including feedback, I would provide possible sentences, model offering it and acting upon it).

7 – How will teachers integrate skills if they succeed?  How will I loop back if they struggle?

Two later sessions built on these skills.  Trainees integrated vision with planning by identifying tweaks to a lesson which incorporated a deeper purpose into the lesson’s existing aims.  In another session, trainees told their vision story again, while also addressing basic challenges of classroom management.

Where trainees struggled with formulating their vision, I spent time breaking down what they wanted for their students in more detail; for the story, I gave further examples and asked trainees to share theirs too.

I also accepted that formulating a vision in a short period of time would be a struggle.  I knew that trainees would have several attempts during the week and the chance to refine their vision into a story and into a lesson – they would get there in the end.

8 – How will changes stick?

Returning the content in future sessions was one way; I also asked trainees to write one or two ‘takeaway’ actions, and when they would conduct them.

9 – How does the session help to create a culture of practice?

This was our first session.  To ensure an unthreatening beginning, the first activity was simply to stand and say their vision to their partner.  Standing injected a note of realism and a degree of choice, but speaking to just one individual maintained a degree of privacy.  I also avoided feedback to prevent a trainee unintentionally puncturing a peer’s bubble of initial excitement and success.


At the beginning of the week, my first step in planning was getting the model right: I was so fixated on the importance of this that I was overcompensating.  The approach described above evolved as the week progressed.  A few things stand out about it:

  • This mimics good lesson planning: beginning with the desired outcome and working backwards, step by step, from there.
  • This structure is essentially a checklist (more here).
  • As with other checklists, in my enthusiasm I could be tempted to miss key steps.  I placed symbols in the corners of slides to remind me what was happening at each stage (the six-pointed star in the slide above means ‘preparation for practice’, for example).  This helped avoid missing anything.

The full session can be downloaded here.

Other posts in this series:
1) Everything is Practice – only practice creates real teacher development.
2) A Culture of Practice – practice relies on the right environment.
4) Making Verbal Feedback Work – designing feedback in teacher training.

The next Teach Like a Champion Practice Perfect workshop is in June; I strongly recommend attending.