Condition 2: Step-By-Step Plan for Leaders to Support Teachers with Deliberate Practice and Feedback

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By: Kathleen Marx

“Although research clearly identifies teacher skill as one of the most, if not the most, important factors in driving student achievement…many evaluation models lack the specific, growth-oriented feedback teachers need to improve instructional practice, and few teacher evaluation models are designed to produce measurable gains in teacher performance” (Marzano & Toth, 2013, p. 4).

Is the purpose of a teacher evaluation model simply to measure teacher expertise, or is the purpose of that model to improve teacher expertise?

Instead of seeing teacher evaluation as something to check off the to-do list each year, you can implement a model that allows teachers to learn and grow professionally with measurable results.

We’ve dedicated the next several issues of IE’s Marzano Focused Teacher Evaluation Model PD Updates Newsletter to helping leaders improve their instructional leadership through building and strengthening 5 Conditions for Leaders to Develop Teacher Expertise.

In the first article, we encouraged you to reflect on your school’s current practices related to growth and professional development. Using a decision-making process, you prioritized the five critical conditions (see Table 1) to determine where to focus going forward.

In the second article, we explored specific ideas and strategies for building the first of the five conditions: Common Language of Instruction.

In this issue, we will focus on the second critical condition: Encouraging teachers in deliberate practice and providing specific feedback to foster growth.

Five Critical Conditions for Increasing Teacher Effectiveness
  1. Common language of instruction (a well-articulated knowledge base for teaching)
  2. Focused feedback and deliberate practice
  3. Opportunities to observe and discuss teaching and learning
  4. Clear criteria and a plan for success
  5. Recognition of progress towards expertise

Table 1. Marzano, Frontier, and Livingston (2011, p. 4)

 

What is deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice can be defined as a focused loop of intense practice on specific skills, followed by targeted feedback and further practice. Deliberate practice is an effective developmental strategy to help turn low-performing teachers into effective teachers and to help turn effective teachers into highly effective teachers.

Significant research has shown that deliberate practice is a proven pathway for any person in any discipline to improve virtually any skill (Ericsson et al., 1993).

Athletic coaches have long embraced deliberate practice. For example, a basketball coach who is teaching young students to dribble the ball doesn’t just say, “Go dribble it.” Rather, he or she teaches the skill, then watches students try it, helps individual students identify what they could do to improve, then sends them off to practice that discrete piece of the skill, continuing to give feedback and adjust along the way.

Among Anders Ericsson’s (2006) findings is that the level of expertise one achieves has more to do with how one practices than merely how many times one practices. Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.

Deliberate practice always follows the same pattern: break the overall process down into parts, identify your weaknesses, test new strategies for each section, and then integrate your learning into the overall process.

Focused Feedback and Deliberate Practice:
How will you know when this attribute is strong in your school?
  • Teacher growth plans are specific, measurable, and responsive to identified areas of need.
  • School leaders engage with teachers in courageous mentoring conversations about observed teacher practices.
  • Professional development is job-embedded in a variety of formats, and instructional coaching is available to help teachers meet their growth goals.
  • School leaders regularly meet with teachers to track their progress towards growth goals. Data documents how deliberate practice and feedback have improved teacher performance.

 

What are the benefits of building teacher capacity through deliberate practice and effective feedback?

    • Teacher autonomy: When teacher evaluation is used in a system of feedback and deliberate practice, it encourages teacher autonomy by giving classroom educators a powerful voice in directing their own growth.
    • Skill mastery: Mastery is facilitated with a robust collection of research-based teaching strategies to span an entire career of continuous improvement.
    • Purpose: Focusing on building teacher capacity to increase student achievement creates a sense of purpose and meaning (Marzano & Toth, 2013).
    • Professional collaboration: Teachers and administrators become partners to improve pedagogical skills.
    • Empowerment: Teachers are empowered to take responsibility for their own professional growth and development and become agents of their own expertise.
    • Expertise: As teachers increase their effectiveness with specific, discrete target strategies, it tends to lift their overall teaching.
    • School culture: The culture of the school is positively impacted as teachers collaborate to grow instructionally.
    • Student achievement: As teachers grow their own capacity through deliberate practice and feedback, students ultimately benefit through improved pedagogy which boosts academic achievement.

Support teacher professional growth with a 6-step plan for deliberate practice: 1. Set the vision, 2. Self-assess, 3. Create growth goals, 4. Develop action steps, 5. Reflect, 6. Track and celebrate progress. More in IE's research… Click To Tweet

 

6-step plan to build a culture that supports feedback and deliberate practice

How will you introduce deliberate practice to your teachers, get buy-in, and communicate the benefits of implementing deliberate practice? The following 6 steps can help you build a culture of continuous improvement in your school or district.

1. Set the vision and expectations: Every teacher — from veterans to fresh from college — can grow their professional skills and improve student performance. As a leader, your job is to intentionally build a culture that supports professional learning, sharing, collaboration, and feedback. Maintaining this culture requires a strong plan, transparency, and ongoing communication.

Suggestion: Communicate a clear set of steps that teachers can count on. Let teachers know they will be supported by experienced coaches, peers, or mentors. Inspire teachers by sharing the benefits of leading their own deliberate practice plans in partnership with you and other evaluators.

2. Self-assess: Focus on specific strategies from the model of instruction (FTEM) and ask teachers to reflect on their instructional techniques to identify “thin slices” of teaching behaviors for personal focus and deliberate practice. Example: A golfer wants to be more successful on the course. His or her first step is to identify what is working well and what can be improved. Honest self-assessment is the key, which often entails having others provide insight from observation.

Suggestion: Systematize a process for self-assessment so it becomes part of the building culture. iObservation provides tools to support this process in the Marzano instructional model. Teachers can use these or other tools to self-assess and create their growth plan, including goals and action steps.

3. Create growth goals: Partner with the teacher to identify key areas for learning and to craft specific and measurable goals that are “focused” on a slice of instruction (too broad will not work, too narrow will not work). Example: The golfer can improve his or her golf game by focusing on specific thin slices or aspects of the game – like improving the swing (strategy) and then breaking that down even farther to grip, stance, follow-through.

Suggestion: Encourage collaboration with coaches and peers as teachers develop their goals to ensure they are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, results-based, time-framed). Review goals with teachers to set them up for success. Having goals that are too broad, too complicated, for which there is no way to measure accomplishment only serves to frustrate teachers and administrators and leads to less investment in what should be an ongoing process.

4. Develop action steps: Help teachers identify specific learning and practice opportunities to build expertise in these areas. Example: In the golf analogy, when the player has identified the next area for growth, he or she seeks coaching or watches videos, reads articles, and practices the swing with the new knowledge and understanding.

Suggestion: Provide job-embedded professional development and other resources that support teachers in reaching their individual goals. The Marzano Focused Teacher Evaluation Model provides protocols for each element (thin slice) that not only describe but give many examples. These protocols can be used to give teachers dedicated time to explore ideas from which to draw.

Often, PLC groups or content teams will collaborate on growth goals and action steps. They may offer to serve as partners, observing each other and providing feedback. For instance, all teachers who chose Identifying Critical Content can be organized into a group, using Discussion Groups in iObservation or by having them meet in person to support each other, provide ideas, and share progress.

5. Reflect: Plan and intentionally provide specific feedback that validates incremental growth within collegial coaching/mentoring conversations. Example: When the player implements the golf swing, he or she seeks feedback, both from results (did the ball fly straighter and/or farther, etc.) and from observers, coaches, friends. Then, the player either fine-tunes that same new strategy to get even better results or identifies another key part of the game for a new focus.

Suggestion: As Dr. Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” (2016, p. 215). Any counselor will attest that the power of reflective conferences lies in guiding the subject to his or her own conclusions. Answers that are given have not nearly the power of answers that are discovered. Encourage teachers to reflect and demonstrate understanding of what worked and didn’t work when implementing their targeted strategy. When providing feedback, ensure that it is concrete, specific, and useful.

If the observer says, “You need to be more creative,” what does that mean? Be more creative in what way? How can a teacher learn and grow from that feedback? Provide evidence of what prompts the suggestion and ideas for next steps.

For instance: Ms. Lee, I noticed you used engagement strategies such as managing response rates, physical movement, and a lively pace to engage your students with the result that 18/24 students were engaged with the content. Based on this student evidence, what adaptations might you make so that more than 90% of your students (22/24) are engaged with the content?

6. Track and celebrate progress: Develop positive mentoring relationships with teachers. Assist teachers to track their progress in developing expertise through ongoing classroom observations and assessing the effectiveness of their plan. Example: The golfer has immediate feedback known as a score. They can measure the overall effectiveness of their practice through that, and through specific improvement in the discrete skills on which they focused.

Suggestion: If it becomes apparent that the initial measurement strategy is ineffective for the purpose, ensure that new measurement strategies are identified. Meet with the teacher at least once during the year to assess progress on the plan and make any needed adjustments. Again, the goal is to maximize teacher success, not to catch them doing something wrong. If the action steps have proven unwieldy, or if the teacher needs a partner or coach, catching it sooner rather than later is the key. iObservation provides easily accessed reports that allow teachers and administrators to track their progress towards their growth goals.

 

What can leaders do?

Most teachers have the desire to improve – and all have the ability. Similarly, all students can learn. Deliberate practice, with its critical components of intense focus on specific skills, expert feedback, and teacher-driven cycles of continuous improvement, has been shown to be the most effective pathway to developing expertise.

    • Involve teachers in the development of a deliberate practice plan.
    • Communicate the plan to all teachers, both verbally and in writing.
    • Set teachers up for success by providing significant support as teachers first begin to build their deliberate practice growth plans.
    • Ensure coaches, mentor teachers, PLCs and others have access to resources that support teachers’ growth.
    • Follow up at designated times during the year to celebrate progress, assist a teacher to adjust or adapt his or her plan, and to identify any additional needed resources.

Leaders – create a customized plan of support as teachers pursue new knowledge and skills:

    • Expert consulting
    • Side-by-side coaching for leaders: Refresh and calibrate – practice accurate scoring to increase teacher confidence and increase effectiveness of feedback
    • Classroom walkthrough tools for actionable, daily data without directly evaluating teachers

LEARN MORE ABOUT CREATING A CUSTOMIZED SUPPORT PLAN

Professional development courses for teachers:

    • Virtual Deep Dives: one-to-three-hour virtual sessions focused on a single component of the instructional model.
      For instance, a “dive deeper” into strategies and how-to’s around:
      • Engaging in Cognitively Complex Tasks
      • Revising Knowledge
      • And more

SEE COURSE LIST

For job-embedded professional development:

  • Book studies (four one-hour virtual sessions led by an IE expert): From the Essentials for Achieving Rigor series:

 

Onsite or virtual half or full-day sessions focused on topics like:

    • Identifying Critical Content
    • Monitoring for Learning
    • Creating Conditions for Learning
    • Deliberate Practice
    • And more

TALK TO AN EXPERT TO FIND OUT MORE

 

Want more research-based strategies for rigorous learning, instructional leadership, and achieving equitable outcomes? Sign up for the latest professional development tips that go straight to your inbox.

References

Covey, S. R. (2016). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Powerful lessons in personal change. Free Press.

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.100.3.363

Ericsson, K. A. (2006). The influence of experience and deliberate practice on the development of superior expert performance. In K.A. Ericsson & N. Charness et al. (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (pp. 685-706). http://www.skillteam.se/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Ericsson_delib_pract.pdf

Marzano, R. J., Frontier, T., & Livingston, D. (2011). Effective supervision: Supporting the art and science of teaching. ASCD.

Marzano, R. J. & Toth, M. D. (2013). Deliberate practice for deliberate growth: Teacher evaluation systems for continuous instructional improvement. Instructional Empowerment. https://instructionalempowerment.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Deliberate-Practice-for-Deliberate-Growth.pdf

 

About IE

Our vision for education is to close the achievement gap. Equip all students with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Expand equity by giving every child access to rigorous core instruction that empowers learners to free themselves from generational poverty.

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