“Mom! Is that our tire rolling past us on the highway?!”
That frantic discovery by my daughter as we drove home from the equestrian competition with horses in tow characterized that entire year. It was the year of flat tires. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that every time I drove a horse trailer that year, we got a flat tire. Even when I borrowed a friend’s horse trailer, we got a flat tire. And so, I was destined to learn how to change a flat tire on a horse trailer with the horses inside, on the side of the road.
The first couple of times it happened, thankfully we were not more than an hour from home, so I would call my husband to come to our rescue. He would willingly drop what he was doing, come find us, and change the tire. He’s such a great example of what it looks like to put others before yourself.
As the year continued, I had to take on more responsibility with the unwanted training program. While packing for the three-day equestrian events that typically required several hours of travel, a tire iron, tire ramp, and spare tire with the proper amount of air pressure became standard items on our checklist. I also watched videos about how to change a tire. You don’t jack up the trailer while the horses are inside. Instead, you back up the trailer onto a small ramp so that the damaged tire is elevated off of the road.
Although I thought, “Surely since we have had several flat tires already, we won’t have anymore.” I was wrong.
Thankfully during later trips, there was always someone with me who knew how to change a tire and we could do it together. I could quickly grab the correct tools, position the trailer with assistance, and then was coached through the process of loosening the lug nuts, raising the trailer on the ramp, switching out the damaged tire for the new one, and so forth.
Then the day came when I would have to do it all by myself. We were driving home with two horses in the trailer. We had 30 minutes to go before pulling into our driveway. I was thanking the Lord for getting us this far without a flat tire when I felt the trailer lurch a bit. The next thing we saw was the rubber ring rolling past us on the interstate. The outside of the tire has separated from the part attached to the wheel rim. Since horse trailers have two tires close together on each side, when one becomes nonfunctional, the other tire can keep the trailer upright for a short distance.
I pulled over and was approached from behind by a state trooper to help out. He offered to change the tire for me. To his surprise, I told him I wanted to do it myself, but would appreciate it if he just watched, in case I didn’t do it correctly. In fifteen minutes flat, yes, fifteen minutes flat…I had the tire changed!!!
Hallmarks of Great Professional Development
The long grueling year of changing flat tires provides a good metaphor for why and how professional development needs to take place. The flat tire training I participated in was necessary for the physical safety and mental well-being of my family and the creatures in our care. It required repeated opportunities to study, watch experts, receive guidance, and eventually try it myself.
Intentionality and Focus
Similarly, professional development should be based on what is needed most at the time for the spiritual, emotional, cognitive, and physical safety and well-being of students. Professional development efforts need to be long-term with repeated learning opportunities. The professional development program needs to include the coaching process of modeling, guided instruction, and independent practice. It requires access to the correct tools and an understanding of principles that promote successful outcomes. Finally, it requires accountability.
At this point in the school year, many instructional leadership teams are solidifying their professional development plans for the following school years. Notice the focus is on a multi-year program, as opposed to a few months ahead or a year ahead. Learning takes time.
Professional Development Activities
Professional development includes activities designed to equip educators with knowledge, skills, and attitudes that, in turn, will improve student learning (Thomas Guskey, 2002). Professional development is a sort of strategic plan for how teachers will continue to learn and grow in a way that will ultimately affect the path of student learning. For example, if the expectation is for students to be able to read and comprehend what they read, the learning path for professional development needs to consider what the teachers and the students need to know and be able to do to meet the end goal.
As with strategic planning, the vision is cast for the end result and a sequence of steps is stipulated, funded, and scheduled to fulfill the vision. Additionally, the parameters of success are defined. Likewise, a visual picture of what one should see the teachers and students doing in the classroom or school at large should guide the same planning efforts. Steps of the learning path for teachers and students should be stipulated, funded, and scheduled. Most importantly the parameters of success and methods of assessing those parameters should be established.
Hallmarks of Biblical Professional Development
When training teachers about best practices of biblically integrated instruction, I spend focused time providing assessment tools and emphasizing the importance of assessment. If we don’t take the time to assess learning we basically are saying we don’t care if they learn it or not. Without assessment, the completion of the task becomes more important than achievement or growth. It is the same with professional development. If there are no parameters or established descriptors of success along with efforts to measure performance against those descriptors, the value of the time and money dedicated to learning is unknown.
Once the learning path is determined, the teaching methods for professional learning need to be considered. Just as students in the classroom learn best with modeling, coaching, and independent practice, professional development needs to unfold the same way. Professional development provided through a coaching model leads to more frequent practice and skill with new strategies, more appropriate implementation, and longer retention of knowledge than through traditional methods of professional development (Bruce Joyce and Beverley Showers, 2002, pp 86-87; Jim Knight, 2007, p 39).
We see these professional development practices demonstrated by Christ.
Jesus used a coaching model as he trained the twelve apostles. Professional development for these men did not take place solely by “sit and get” methods of instruction, though there were certainly times when Jesus had his students sit and listen. Jesus taught with a balanced variety of instructional methods and in a sequence that was sensitive to the spiritual, emotional, and cognitive conditions of the disciples.
Biblical Professional Development Examples
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, many examples of coaching are evident—like Elijah and Elisha, Jethro and Moses, and Paul and Timothy. In these examples, one can see elements of modeling, questioning, and providing feedback with guided practice. Most of the biblical coaching examples included long-term and strategic efforts focused on clear expected outcomes. These efforts were successful because they were enveloped in caring, and honest personal relationships.
My flat tire training had to have been divinely initiated so that I could be equipped to contribute to the safety and well-being of those in my charge. Your role in professional development is no different. Seek the Lord’s direction in what you or those whom you lead need in order to contribute to the spiritual, cognitive, and emotional safety and well-being of those in your charge. Create a descriptive visual picture of the end result. Plan the learning path with the logistical details and delivery methods. Do plan criteria for success and ways to measure success. Most importantly, remember that learning, even professional learning is a journey.
Your word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
At Transformed PD we provide training for Christ-centered instruction using a coaching model. It is a two-year program that begins by preparing a small team of teachers to be instructional coaches for biblically integrated instruction. During the second year, the full faculty is trained in how to plan and teach Christ-centered units guided by a set of criteria for success. The newly trained coaches provide needed accountability and support for sustaining the professional development efforts.
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Guskey, Thomas R. 2000. Evaluating Professional Development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Joyce, Bruce, and Beverly Showers. 2002. Student Achievement Through Staff Development, 3rd ed. Alexandria, VA: Associational for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Knight, Jim. 2007.Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.