I love planning professional learning for teachers. It is my absolute favorite part of coaching. Now, that wasn’t always the case, but once I started creating a coaching notebook for myself (the very blog you are reading!), I realized just how much of an art it really is.

I also love rabbit holes. You know, those times when you learn something new that just sets your heart on fire and takes you on a journey of learning more.

Well, the coaching idea I’m sharing with you today combines both of those loves together into a pretty terrific coaching tool.

I’m fortunate enough to work with Cory Camp, the director of the virtual coaching platform Sibme, and as part of that work, we read Creating a Culture of Reflective Practice: Capacity Building for Schoolwide Success by Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral. The book is fantastic and walks the reader through a framework of leading and coaching with reflection in mind.

Essentially, there are four stages of reflection: the Unaware stage, the Conscious stage, the Action stage and the Refinement stage. You’ll find a picture of the continuum below from the excerpt of the book found on Google Books and can find detailed information on each stage there, too.

The gist of the book is this: Teachers are at different levels of reflection based on their backgrounds, their experiences, their knowledge and their mindset. And since they are at different levels of reflection, our coaching and leading must respond accordingly.

Mind. Blown.

Now, my coaching rests on the principles of constructivism and responsive coaching. I meet teachers wherever they are and we partner to further our learning together. I give my heart and soul to planning professional learning sessions that strengthen community, invite reflection and interaction, are built on teacher engagement and are enjoyable, too. But never have I ever carefully and strategically planned professional learning sessions with the stages of reflection in mind.

Until now.

Each of the four stages of reflection require differentiated opportunities for professional learning, feedback and coaching. A teacher in the Unaware stage needs very different supports than a teacher in the Action stage. But if I’m honest, I never considered this before. I simply designed professional learning experiences based on what I knew about adult learning and the content at hand. But now that I know better, I can do better, and can ensure that EVERY teacher, no matter their current level of reflection, finds an invitation and comfortable entry point into professional learning. So, I’ve started compiling resources to ensure I meet the reflective needs of every teacher in every session. Here are a few:

For a teacher in the Unaware stage:

For a teacher in the Conscious stage:

For a teacher in the Action stage:
  • Invite teachers to share their practices with colleagues
  • Maintain a focus on data analysis in team meetings
  • Bring/examine classroom artifacts (Thin Slicing or Documentation Panels)
  • Engage in healthy debate (Never Again Conversation)
  • Strategically partner with teachers in the Unaware stage in pairs and small groups to build leadership skills

For a teacher in the Refinement stage:

Now, the idea is that every professional learning session you design for teachers has at least one entry point into reflection that meets teachers’ needs right within their current comfort zone. This doesn’t mean we have to homogeneously break teachers into breakout rooms for different activities, it simply means we need to include a variety of supports and structures throughout each session so each teacher feels heard and supported. For example, we might start a session by font-loading the content with a ‘While You Wait’ slide, engage teachers in a collaborative discussion, share ideas related to the content at hand and offer follow-up opportunities for teachers to choose their own learning adventure next. I've included a one-page printable of these ideas in my Designing Teacher Learning (aka I Love PD) series of on-demand sessions. You'll find an entire session on this very topic to help you get started planning PD with MANY more resources, too!

So now, the next time you design a professional learning experience for teachers, include at least one tool or activity that meets each of the four stages of reflection. This way, you know you’re tending to each teachers’ needs and inviting them into the conversations in ways that work best for them.

Game changer, right?!

I’ve added this important reminder to my Virtual Professional Learning Checklist, if you’d like to take a look. And I’ll be offering a 5-day summer bootcamp to re-imagine teacher professional learning where we’ll take a deep dive into this content and gather tools and resources to support this kind of work. If you’d like to join me down this rabbit hole, then be sure you are signed up for my coaching email list here!

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  1. Stephanie,
    I love this post. I appreciate your visual representation of your key points. As I read, I wondered how we help support colleagues in moving toward refinement. It also seems that different parts of our teaching might fit in different spaces. For example, I might be in a very different space in teaching science than in teaching literacy. Much of this would be because I need more knowledge built in science. Building knowledge and providing resources seem an important part of first steps. Additionally, you have me thinking about what these stages might mean in side-by-side conversations. Much to consider.

    1. I completely agree, Cathy. The levels of reflection are not linear and fixed, but shift and change as our own experiences do. The book goes into detail on how to support these stages in coaching cycles, assessment and more. I think you'd enjoy it!

  2. I wondered about how you assess where teachers are in that continuum in order to partner them correctly. I also wondered if you have teachers self assess themselves using the continuum.

    1. Well, the book does offer a chart so that you can 'ballpark' which teacher might be in which phase and I'm sure we could have teachers self-assess, too. But honestly, for me, it was less about knowing each teacher's particular phase and more about offering entry points into each of them within a single session. But the book offers MUCH more guidance for coaching cycles and more, so you've given me even more to think about!


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