In part 1 of this 4-part interview, author and Advanced Collaborative Solutions president Steve Ventura shares strategies to get more bang for your buck with teacher PD.

Watch the interview video on teacher PD above, or read the interview transcript below.

Get better ROI on your teacher PD

– Welcome to another PLtogether Lounge Talk. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, the video coaching platform that streamlines feedback to teachers. Today, we’re talking with Steve Ventura, he’s the author of multiple books, including “Engaged Instruction: Thriving Classrooms in the Age of Common Core” and also the founder and CEO of Advanced Collaborative Solutions. Steve, thanks so much for joining us.

– Oh, Adam, thanks. Thanks for having me, I’m happy to be here.

– Well, let’s kind of kick it off big picture and think about that big picture that school leaders have. Well, I guess they always have it, but especially this year with things are still changing. Things are still fluid, you know, I think they’re going to be curious to know what’s your advice on how they might be thinking about structuring the year to support the teachers in their building?

– Yeah, it’s a great, great discussion point too. And I think the biggest thing we learned from the pandemic Adam, is really not to rush back to the status quo before we went through this. There were so many things are exposed in terms of teaching, learning, and leadership that we shouldn’t be maybe rushing back to the practice that we had even prior to the pandemic. Like for instance, homework, you know, homework really demonstrated to me what the meaning of essential workers are. There were kids going home who had families waiting for them to help with it and kids who didn’t. So I would say some of these practices that leaders can support teachers with would really take an honest assessment about what really does make a difference now that we kind of know and come back that way. The other thing I think leaders should be looking at is, in terms of supporting teachers, helping them understand that, you know, we should be going deeper with fewer initiatives now, more than ever, than superficially covering everything. I don’t think that our students need to know everything. I think we need to slow down a little bit and go deeper with fewer learning targets. I think teachers would go home with lower blood pressure. Cause they’d love to see kids grasp onto concepts longer than just short-term recall. And I would be literally backing off on micro-managing teaching right now as well. And just helping teachers understand that they can actually improve themselves just with a really good set of guidelines that a district leader would create. One other thing, I wanted to get to this for sure, is I’ve been doing so much research and been writing about what good leaders do and what really good leaders do is they learn with teachers. So, I think another way that our leadership team can support teachers coming back is to not sponsor learning for them, but actually learn with them. So they become a resource to those teachers, as opposed to just a manager. Really interesting things that we can all be looking at closer as schools begin to convene. The other thing that- there’s so many great things, I just will give you this last one. I think one of the things I learned from the pandemic too, is that a program, like a purchase program, will never have as much impact as teacher practice. I mean, the number one indicator of student achievement would be what the teacher does to the student. The other thing I think is that we can’t buy anything for teachers. There’s no silver bullets, there’s no secret sauce. I think leaders should be helping teachers understand that the more inspired and passionate they are, the more success they’re going to actually experience. So a lot of exciting things for me.

– That was a great tip-off here. Thank you. In my mind, I was making the mental notes of, okay, well, oh, I need to ask about- wait, I need to ask more about that. Well, let’s start with the kind of, where you were ending up there about this idea of focusing on teacher practice. I think that’s so interesting that you put this on this top level list because so often, district leaders and school leaders, are looking for another program to learn about. I mean, you know, to kind of crib from what you were saying there. So, you know, what does that mean when you say: ‘Focus on the teacher practice?’ I mean, I have a guess of what that means, but I don’t want to assume.

– Well, you know, like I have some background with John Hattie and Visible Learning and was at one point a certified Visible Learning trainer. And what we did around the country was we showed people by effect size, what should actually accelerate student achievement as opposed to what may not. And the one thing I learned from the Visible Learning research Adam, is that it’s not the number of initiatives a school can implement. It is the degree of implementation that makes the most difference. So it would be far better to go deeper with three or four or five really amazing initiatives as opposed to, again, superficially covering everything. And I think that would be something that leaders could probably take a pretty good close look at. Like, how many things do we have on teachers as they transitioned back. In terms of professional development, I know we’ll get to that a little bit later, but I would just say right off the bat, I think teachers need more time to practice what they’ve already been taught instead of bringing new initiatives in and let them go deeper with the things that they know work. But I would say for me, instructional strategies right now, post pandemic are, are extremely important. And that would include like surface, deep, and transfer learning for students and understanding that we, we need to assess our kids where they are, but apply only the strategies that can absolutely, considerably accelerate achievement for our students because so many things don’t really do that. And so that’d be kind of the way I would be looking at bringing our teachers and, and everyone back to the building.

– It sounds like you’re reminding us to, both literally and figuratively, don’t go shopping for a great answer to problems A through Z, but instead prioritize a few things. And because, you know, you can have twenty-six research-based solutions, but if you only actually implement five of them in the way they’re supposed to be implemented, that’s how you’re going to get the, the research-based effect. That sounds like kind of what you’re advising us here.

– Exactly. And, you know, I, I really believe like the less guessing teachers have to do about what works best, the less likely that they’re going to be ineffective. And I mean, teachers want results straight away, but they don’t want to be trying to get through a ton of research. I mean, that’s not really what gets them going. I mean, they want to do something that will give them immediate return on their investment. And I think there are a few things that work really well that they can really look at and improve practice as opposed to just caking more things on them and asking them to, you know, learn all these new things when we’ve kind of learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work, especially with virtual instruction.

– You know, there’s a lot of things that are making teachers feel uncertain. It’s almost as if if you’re saying that leaders, both school and district leaders by, you know, in some ways helping teachers know what bets to place in terms of how to design instruction, that it lets them kind of go down those roads with confidence without maybe wondering, well, six months from now, am I going to get kind of, you know, talked to, for lack of a better way of saying it, for choosing, you know, research based idea number one, or number two, like if that’s a shared decision with the teachers that then everybody can be kind of aligned and running down the road together.

– I, I love it. I think a school community shouldn’t be just a principal and a bunch of followers. I think these are things that people can actually share and discover together about what works best. But there are things that, you know, essentially for teachers, is they don’t really like mandates either to be honest with you, Adam, I think, I think control diminishes people. And I think as we come back and school starts that leaders could really build the relational trust. I mean, schools that have high levels of relational trust have much more impact on implementing initiatives than schools that don’t. So there’s so many great things we can be doing, mostly listening and maybe taking into account some of the things that weren’t that effective before the pandemic and putting those things in time out. So we could actually put into place things that have way more effect.

– Well, I want to circle back to one of the things you answered in that first question. There was a bunch of good things. We won’t get to homework, I think that was a purposefully controversial, but I do want to ask you: As a prior System Leader, you know, you kind of advise here to, to rethink that kind of breadth versus depth question and, you know, being, feeling comfortable, going deep with students on content knowledge. So I, I want to ask you like, if you are a leader and, or a teacher, and you’re starting to think about, well, should I be worried about those end of your tests again? Like, is that in conflict? Or is it actually aligned to success on the end of year tests? Like help us reconcile that advice with what has felt like the prior reality.

– So this is a great question. So when I was a principal and superintendent, all that mattered was test scores and I can admit that, you know, there’s a lot of do-overs I wish I could have, but I was really looking at test scores as the only way to evaluate teacher competence. And that is inherently unfair. This is a once a year large-scale assessment that may help us compare schools to schools and students, to students, but it may, should not be considered the absolute end all for student achievement. So, now that I’ve been consulting and working with schools, we do way less emphasis on testing and more emphasis on short cycle assessment, getting feedback quickly to, both ways, teachers to students and students to teachers, but honestly, to be, to be completely transparent, if somebody said: “Steve, we need you. We need a principal right now. Can you help us start the school year?” Or “We need you for a couple of months.” If I could do it, I would be focusing more on the practice of teaching and pedagogy and not focusing on a one time a year, high stakes assessment. Now that’s a different tune than I would be saying 10 or 12 years ago. but I really believe that our students are over tested in this country, they’re way under assessed. So I think we should be kind of looking at a shift where I would say: “Don’t worry about the test scores just right now, let’s get the practice in place. Then we should actually have better scores if that’s what we really want. So.

– I liked that phrase: ‘They’re over tested and under assessed.’ Well, Steve, we are going to take a quick break. If you are listening to this video or sorry, watching this video or listening to it on a podcast, shared somewhere out there on social media, and you want to hear the rest of this conversation, head to for the rest of the conversation here with Steve, as well as many other education leaders. Steve, thanks so much for joining us to be part of PLtogether.

– You bet.

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