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May 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 8

A Tool for Meaningful Staff Development

A template helps staff developers design experiences that address the needs of adult learners.

In recent years, the emphasis in education has shifted from teaching to learning. Never before have educators enjoyed such a wealth of staff development opportunities designed to help them extend, build, and enrich their knowledge and skills related to effective student learning. Few would disagree that teachers need to learn about recent research into how learning occurs, but as demands on teachers increase, professional development time is a precious commodity. We must provide learning opportunities for teachers to review the research in relation to their daily practice.
This challenge motivated us to examine how we provide staff development experiences to schools, districts, and education agencies. We realized that we needed to facilitate adult learning in such a way that educators could replicate the process in their own settings within limited time frames and tight budgets. We believe that when we present new strategies in a user-friendly, risk-free, hands-on fashion, teachers are more likely to try, reflect on, evaluate, and integrate into their classrooms the new information.

The Template

  • Do the learners feel included?
  • Does the module engender a positive attitude?
  • Is the context meaningful?
  • Do the activities help participants feel more competent?
Figure 1 shows the template we developed for planning both short and extended inservice meetings. The needs and interests of the participants determine the objective of the staff development experience. Staff members select book chapters or journal articles on which to build the experience. Each inservice module models active, brain-based learning.
Figure 1. A Template for Staff Development

Figure 1. A Template for Staff Development

Step 1: Identify the purpose and the objectives of the meeting.

  • What do you want participants to learn and be able to do as a result of this activity? Remember that the scope of the objective needs to fit the time allocated for the meeting.

Step 2: Select the resource(s) you plan to use as a basis for the activity.

  • Content: Journal articles, books, videos, inquiry kits.

  • Process: Overhead transparencies, flip chart, and so on.

Step 3: Prepare an agenda that fits the time frame available. Each agenda should include these elements:

  • An Activator: An activity to elicit prior knowledge, beliefs, or attitudes.

  • Brief Input: Information drawn from the resources identified above and delivered by using multiple modalities (visual, auditory, or kinesthetic).

  • Discussion: Opportunities for participants to reflect on and respond to the input.

  • Activities: Model brain-compatible learning activities.

  • A Summarizer: An activity to elicit reflection on content and process.

  • Next Steps: Personal commitments to follow up with a new strategy or action research.

Step 4: Revisit or follow up activities. Support strategies for teachers:

  • Peer planning

  • Peer teaching

  • Peer coaching


Principals and staff developers have used the module template as a tool for transforming faculty meetings into learning experiences. The template can be used to plan inservice meetings lasting 20 minutes to 3 hours.
One of the most popular learning modules we created with the template focuses on the use of rewards and punishment in schools and classrooms (see fig. 2). Current thinking on rewards (Kohn, 1996; Jensen, 1995) suggests that the traditional model of identifying and rewarding appropriate behaviors while punishing inappropriate behaviors is inconsistent with research about learning. In addition, many of the so-called reward models have not necessarily demonstrated that they develop a classroom climate that maximizes learning. The module shown in Figure 2 has elicited great teacher discussions, causing teachers to reflect on their beliefs and teaching strategies.
Figure 2. A Sample Module for a Staff Development Program on Rewards and Student Motivation

Figure 2. A Sample Module for a Staff Development Program on Rewards and Student Motivation

Step 1: Objective. To reflect on the purpose and use of rewards to increase student motivation. This workshop is designed to last 60 to 90 minutes.

Step 2: Resources.

  • Content: Beyond Discipline by Alfie Kohn; Super Teaching by Eric Jensen

  • Process: Reward statements by Jensen (see below) on 9 x 12 signs to post around the room; Newsprint and markers to record ideas, and concerns; Overhead transparencies: (1) Definition of rewards; (2) Others as needed by facilitator

Step 3: Agenda. Rewards and Student Motivation.

  • Activator: In groups of five, define rewards and list rewards currently used in school(s).

  • Brief Input: Share the definition of rewards: A reward is defined as a compensation or consequence that is both predictable and has market value.

  • Discussion: Match the definition with the rewards identified in the first activity.

  • Activities: In groups of five, participants discuss their reactions to the following sentences by Jensen, which are written on signs posted around the room:

    • Rewards impair creativity.

    • Rewards perpetuate underachievement.

    • Quality is hurt by rewards.

    • Rewarded actions disappear.

    • When should rewards be used?


    After each group has toured all the phrases and returned to its table, distribute copies of excerpts from Super Teaching. Ask each group participant to select one phrase, read it silently, and then summarize it for the group of five. Supply some prompting questions, such as "Do you have any new insights?" and "Did your first discussion focus on the same or a different point of view?"

  • Summarizers: In pairs, each participant speaks for two minutes about the use of rewards as student motivators. Each pair then shares with the large group one significant premise that they jointly hold about the use of rewards as student motivators. Each pair identifies an area of interest or concern that can serve as the basis for a mini-inservice project.

  • Next Steps: Participants make a commitment to try out a new strategy that is based on their reflections in the summarizer.

Step 4: Follow-up. Plan a follow-up inservice program on the basis of the suggestions of participants. Consider assigning a cooperative jigsaw activity by asking different groups to report on selected chapters of Kohn's Beyond Discipline.

Support Strategies: Have participants use peer observation to look for appropriate and inappropriate uses of rewards in one another's classrooms.

We believe that this approach to staff development will keep professional growth exciting and fresh. Effective staff development programs must offer small, but significant, doses of user-friendly, high-challenge, low-threat, and hands-on activities that encourage teachers to construct their own knowledge, to reflect on their practices, and to try out new approaches.

Jensen, E. (1995). Super teaching. Del Mar, CA: Turning Point for Teachers.

Kohn, A. (1996). Beyond discipline: From compliance to community. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wlodkowski, R. J., & Ginsberg, M. (1995). Diversity and motivation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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