When training is not the solution

Photo/Dennis Sparks

Training is a fabulous thing—if people need to build knowledge and skills. But how often are issues at work really caused by someone’s lack of knowledge or skill?  —Michelle Malay Carter

Training is not a silver bullet for improving teaching and learning in schools. While training often has a place within a range of strategies that promote continuous improvement, it is not the solution to every educational problem.

Sometimes the problem is that improvement goals are vague. Or leaders’ expectations may be unclear.  Job descriptions may be badly written or organizational resources poorly used. Data management systems may require upgrading to provide information that’s useful to teachers in improving teaching and learning.

While training may not always be necessary, professional learning almost always is. Professional learning communities, action research, and study groups are common examples of non-training based interventions. In Powerful Designs for Professional Learning Lois Easton describes numerous processes that promote professional learning.

It’s important that leaders develop a “theory of change” to guide improvement efforts. In a blog post NSDC Executive Director Stephanie Hirsh quotes Joellen Killion, who wrote, “a theory of change ‘. . . delineates the underlying assumptions upon which the program is based. It includes not only the components of a program, but also incorporates an explanation of how the change is expected to occur.’” While developing a theory of change is demanding intellectual work for leaders and leadership teams, it pays off in the effective and efficient use of improvement resources.

Take a moment now to . . .

• think deeply about your school’s goals and the combination of strategies/approaches that will contribute to their attainment. Describe in writing your assumptions about the likely impact of each component of the change process and check out your assumptions with other members of the leadership team.

2 Responses to “When training is not the solution”


  1. 1 Pete April 19, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Dennis, it is amazing to me how almost every blog you write has immediate application to one or more of the schools I work with. Thanks.


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