In part 2 of this 4-part interview, author and Advanced Collaborative Solutions president Steve Ventura shares strategies to respect teachers’ time for PD.
Watch the interview video with Steve Ventura above, or read the interview transcript below.
Steve Ventura on respecting teachers’ time
-Adam Geller: Welcome to another PLtogether Lounge Talk. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, The platform that streamlines feedback to teachers using recorded videos. Today, we’re talking with Steve Ventura. He’s the author of multiple books, including a new book coming out in March, 2022 that’s focusing on collaboration and collective efficacy. He’s also the founder and CEO of Advanced Collaborative Solutions, where he puts into practice some of the lessons he learned as a classroom teacher, a school leader, and even a superintendent. Steve, thanks so much for joining us!
-Steve Ventura: Thank you!
-Adam Geller: Well, we’re going to continue our conversation together, talking about professional development for teachers. You know, you mentioned the importance of using time to talk about actual teacher practice. And so I’m curious how that plays into PD. But I want to start with kind of the unfortunate elephant that’s been invited into the room in the past year, more often than others, which is PD is now a dirty word. It has transcended its prior. Well, I guess I have to go into, “Why, why, why?” I have so many things on my list of ways to adjust due to the pandemic. So how do we move away from this, really in some ways, tragic moment that we are in, which is PD is now the dirty word, and nobody wants to do it.
-Steve Ventura: All right, so you know that I’m a Professional Development Consultant, right? And I do PD all over the country. And you know, I’m super alert and aware of what you just said. Like, I want it to be engaging. I want people to want to be there and like it. What I’ve discovered with the clients that I have is that I can’t just keep coming up with new content. And I kind of was alluding to this before. I think teachers should have the opportunity to continue to practice what they’ve already been taught during professional development, because that would give them more time to go deeper with that. And I know teachers appreciate that a lot more than saying, “Oh, here comes another new pet project from the administration that we have to sit through.” So I’m very conscientious about that. And you know, most of my work right now is either leadership work or work with teachers on instructional strategies. And I feel like the respect that administrators give to teachers for professional development should be really an extension of where the school really is and what the school actually really needs to improve on! But I don’t think we should be investing in a lot of new initiatives. And by the way, everybody knows us. And if you implement a change initiative, that’s, I mean, think about all the PD we’ve done. If you implement something, a change initiative that’s implemented with moderate or inconsistent implementation, probably it’s no better than doing it at all. And the reason why is because teachers don’t have time to give it a hundred percent implementation. And I used to feel, Adam, when people would say to me, “Why do we have to learn this?” Teachers would say this, especially when I was a principal and superintendent, I thought that was very disrespectful! And then what they’re really saying is, it’s not that they don’t want to learn. What they’re really saying is “When am I going to find time to do this? In addition to all the other things that are on my plate.” That’s really where teachers get nervous about PD, you know. So for every new initiative we asked teachers to implement, we should take three things off their plate, that could help a lot with PD right there and make a commitment to say, “Yeah, we’re going to go deeper with fewer things. And here’s the things you don’t have to do anymore.” I never hear anybody say that! I think teachers would literally get to their feet and give you a standing ovation, if you could actually come up with the initiatives that matter the most. But I don’t think you can make a cow fatter by weighting it every day. That’s like keep doing PD over and over and over again. That’s not really a point It really has to matter. And it has to be timely and understandable. And it has to be something that teachers find value in. That’s why it’s great together to share the PD with your teachers, like, “What do we really need? What will help the most?” And sometimes they just want more time to implement.
-Adam Geller: You know, you said something there and you kind of repeated at the end, this idea of the time that teachers have. And you know, that kind of, to the extent that the leader is saying, “This is our prioritized thing that we are doing.” I feel like you really hit on something powerful there, which at first, I was going to summarize it as which, you know, three things do we stop doing because you know, well, you know, those other things are probably still helpful, but it’s which three things are we not going to be focusing on anymore to create the time for that top of a list item. I feel like that’s a really interesting way of positioning it. Yeah, I’m curious as well though, because I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot that PD is a dirty word because all my PD time has been tech support. And so I’m curious, you know, and acknowledging that teachers do need support for the very, you know, numerous technical, technological things that are happening right now in education. But you know, is that, is everybody guilty of calling tech support PD, tech support time PD? And is that a roading, you know, teachers investment in true professional development experiences and opportunities?
-Steve Ventura: These are some great questions! I think a program will never have as much impact as teacher practice. And so I think that the more we invest in the competence of teachers on leaders, we’re going to net a greater gain in student achievement than if we were to invest or buy another program. Because of the programs worked so much, Adam. Why do we keep adopting new ones every three to five years? I think we just can’t find the sweet spot and we’ve convinced ourselves that we need to have a lot of purchases. And again, I think professional development should be about staff, not stuff. And it should be about people, and not programs. Once we start kind of dealing with that type of training, I think people can see the value, but tech support, I get it. I mean, there’s lots of things we have to keep up on, but I still think the practice and pedagogy of teaching is going to be probably the greatest investment we can get. You know, teachers have the curse of the conscientious, too. I mean, even when I was an administrator or a superintendent, we said things like, “You don’t know, you no longer have to do that anymore!” They’re so conscientious, they can’t let it go. I mean, sometimes teachers are their own worst enemy. They want to do the very best for their kids and they try to do so much. But even sometimes we have to give them permission to slow down and go deeper with fewer things. I mean, I think tech support is a great thing because there’s so much great technology out there. But at the end of the day, even the research I read, it is the relationship and the practice of the teacher with the students that are going to have, that will have more impact than any other effect out there.
-Adam Geller: I really loved this reframe that you just did on my question of, “Should we be doing less technical training?” And you pointed out, I think, you know, I felt like it showed, put that flashlight right on it, which is, well, you really should be asking, “Do you need that technical tool?” And some tools, obviously, very necessary and very helpful. But I think to your point, which is, you know, if this is in the category of things that I keep replacing every three to five years, I hear you saying maybe you should invest that time and effort and energy into investing in the teacher practice, aligned to the curriculum and aligned to the prioritized ways of teaching it for, you know, for your community.
-Steve Ventura: I think that’s why teachers sometimes don’t trust leaders. It’s because everything cycles around. And then like, “God, we did this 12 years ago, we’re doing it again.” Like they just, they see this cycle, and they get a little, they’re just tired. They’re thinking like we invested in this already and the problem with any implementation add in, you know, as well as I do, but it’s not monitored and measured. And as soon as the teachers find out, it doesn’t matter, then why would they invest so much of their time and energy into learning something new? If no one’s going to give them feedback about how well they’re doing it, that’s another big sticking point with professional development. I mean, if we bring people in like me, you know, we should be giving people feedback about how well they’re doing those things. I mean, I hear it all the time. People’ll say to me, Adam, after I do a keynote or a presentation level, they’ll say, “Wow, Steve, you’re a really good speaker! You inspired us!” But we even haven’t, we have not even started the stuff that we were taught last summer yet. And here you are with another new idea. And I’m like, “God, these people are on it. They get it.”
-Adam Geller: Well, you’re certainly preaching my favorite lines here about make sure you give teachers feedback on the actual implementation. Of course, that’s a big one for me as well. Well, we’re going to take a break. Steve, if you’re interested in learning more from him, certainly go out, find one of his books. But also head to steveventura.com, where he’s got a blog that you can read lots of great ideas and thinking. Steve, we’ll be back in just a moment. For those of you that are finding this video somewhere out there, head to pltogether.org for the rest of this conversation, as well as many others!
For more interviews with education leaders like Steve Ventura, check out all of our PLtogether Lounge Talks.