The title of this blog post is, "When Reality Hits Theory." What exactly do I mean by this? I'm talking about that awesome professional development session you recently attended where the presenter made all of these valid points about how children best learn, but then the next day when you stepped into your classroom nothing about your practices seemed to change even though you were impacted by the speaker. I'm referring to an article or textbook about teaching and learning that really stuck with you, but once again, you have no idea how to transfer what the article is saying into an actual practice within the four walls of your teaching domain. I'm even referring to your principal saying at the beginning of a new school year that all the teachers in your school will be using a new teaching program. You're sitting there listening, and the rationale for the new program completely hits home, but once again, you sit down to make your lesson plans and draw a big, huge blank because you're not really sure where to even begin.
Anyone in the teaching profession has felt the effects of at least one if not all of the scenarios listed above. This is something I consider all of the time as a literacy coach who is also a classroom teacher. When I work with teachers at implementing a Balanced Literacy teaching framework into their classrooms, how can I make it tangible and real? How can I in tandem, help teachers understand not only the theory or the why of a Balanced Literacy approach but also the how. I would argue that you cannot have one without the other. I could pour out resource after resource that are of the highest quality and have teachers blindly use the resources day in and day out, but in this scenario, if the teacher does not understand the theory of why things are laid out the way they are and uses the resource robotically, it is not something that is going to fully impact his or her teaching style or student learning. Consequently, if a teacher does a ton of professional development and reading of professional materials, it is not a given that the learning attained through these experiences will translate into the classroom.
This is why I believe both must be built together. Looking back, I trained in Boston under Irene Fountas and her amazing Literacy Collaborative staff at Lesley University for over two and a half years in order to understand the theory and the application of this theory into my every day classroom. The teachers who I work with at my school take an initial 40 hour class that spans across the school year and is supplemented with coaching sessions, and other professional development I have provided to various groups of teachers in other school districts has lasted only a few days. So knowing that apart from being able to take a computer cord and input the data from my brain into another person's brain (which we know of course is not possible), the challenge remaining is how to take a short amount of time and resources to build teacher knowledge in a way that will give them the what AND the how.
I am not writing this blog post to offer a single solution to the problem of failed professional development and implementation of teaching programs. I am merely suggesting that as educational professionals, we be cognizant of the fact that theory and practical application of that theory must go hand in hand in order for a teacher to take on new learning that will be applied in his or her classroom.