“I had Madeline Hunter”


In the 1980s when Madeline Hunter was a prominent “presenter” of effective teaching workshops I heard so many people say “I had Madeline Hunter” that I used to joke that I felt obligated to call her husband.

It remains common for participants in workshops to say that they “had” whatever the presenter or content happened to be.

But they would say far less often what they had learned from that person or content and how it changed what they did.

Unfortunately, too many leaders continue to believe that the core learning process of teaching and professional development is the “delivery” of information, and that once the information has been transmitted, the teaching or the professional development is complete.

Those leaders are likely to believe that their professional development responsibilities are discharged when they have provided an activity — that is, provided a speaker or offered a workshop.

Professional development, in their view, is simply a box to be checked, a responsibility to be discharged.

At a minimum participants in any learning event should be able to say:

• I had (or did)…

• From that I learned…

• Because of that learning I changed the habit of…

• Because I changed that habit I saw the following results…

However, just as teaching is not complete until student learning has occurred, professional learning has not occurred until educators have deepened their understanding, honed their professional judgment, and/or altered their practice in ways that benefit students.

Administrators and teacher leaders play a major role in eliminating bad professional development by ensuring professional learning that truly benefits students.

But they are not alone in that responsibility.

Therefore, I propose that consultants or presenters or speakers “JUST SAY NO” when invited to do things they know will not make a difference.

One way to address this problem, from the perspective of both school leaders and consultants, is to pay consultants based on results, not time. 

What would be the benefits?

• Conversations preceding consultants’ work would be deeper and more concrete.

• Absolute clarity would be required about measurable outcomes on the part of consultants and school leaders, which is seldom the case now.

• Vague statements of purpose such as “inspire teachers” or “motivate participants to try new things” or “introduce participants to new ideas” would no longer be acceptable. (If such purposes are deemed essential because of the local context, I recommend that no more than 5% of professional development time be given to such activities.)

Once clear outcomes were agreed upon school leaders and consultants would have to determine if the learning processes they intended to use were sufficiently robust to achieve those outcomes.

Vague or modest goals and weak learning methods would alert school leaders and consultants that their plans were flawed and that precious professional development resources were being squandered. 

What do you think about paying consultants for results? Is it an idea whose time has come?

6 Responses to ““I had Madeline Hunter””

  1. 1 Kathryn Leeper December 2, 2015 at 8:11 am

    In 2005/06 school year I was transitioning from teacher leader to school administrator and attended a leadership training in Las Vegas with Dennis Sparks that changed my personal and professional life.
    I loved the sit and get PD. No matter how good or bad the professional development was I would always “take” or learn from the training what I thought was important. When I attended the training in Las Vegas I expected the same and vividly remember the moment that changed.
    Dennis was speaking about being “present” and the role of leadership and I was only paying 1/2 attention because that wasn’t something I “wanted” to learn. He stopped speaking and asked everyone to deeply think about what he said. I had no clue what he said much less could I think deeply about it. Then to my horror he asked us to each speak for 60 seconds about our “belief” on the topic without piggybacking on others comments. When it came my turn to speak I just admitted I hadn’t been listening.
    For the first time in my professional career of 12 years at that time I “learned” what was intended. Since that PD;
    * I have clarified my beliefs to very specific statements that I have used to clearly communicate with teachers and parents my decisions.
    * My teaching changed from presenting/performing to engaging students in learning to the point the students in my remedial class would say “Ms. Leeper your my head hurt from thinking so much”.
    *The result of this PD has been a transformational leadership career that I still find 10 years later as “New and Exciting”.
    Thank you Dennis for leading this change!

    • 2 Dennis Sparks December 2, 2015 at 8:40 am

      I am honored by and deeply appreciative of your comment, Kathryn. It’s a wonderful reminder to all of us that teachers and administrators seldom know the full extent of their influence.

  2. 3 mfenchel@mi.rr.com December 2, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Hi Dennis,

    I, as a Madeline Hunter disciple, enjoyed your most recent post. Even at Madonna University, where Madeline’s teachings were once the standard in all education classes and all student teaching contacts, she has given way to Charlotte Danielson. Unfortunately, now it’s, “Madeline who?”

    In any event, it would be interesting to see what would happen if more PD sessions were based on results rather than the delivery of information. It would also be a good shot-in-the-arm for teacher training as well. Just as we would not want to go to a doctor who was trained in the 70’s and has no knowledge of current medical discoveries and practices, why would we subject our children to teachers who were trained in the 70’s and has no knowledge of current educational research and best practices.

    See you soon, Mike

    P.S. The above statements can be construed as truth and not made up or embellished by the writer (as is often the case)..

  3. 5 Patricia Fernandez December 6, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    I agree in theory with this concept but we have to remember that many times consultants may make clear recommendations but they do not always have control over whether the administrators actually value and monitor the changing of “old” habits and measure outcomes. I say this from first hand knowledge from being a consultant and also having consultants work for me. However, your post did make me think about I can more effectively utilize consultants in the future.

    • 6 Dennis Sparks December 6, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      You make a good point, Patricia. There are many important things over which consultants have little or no control. It’s my hope, though, that consultants will have “critical conversations” with their employers about those essential variables and do their best to be discerning about the likelihood that school or school system leaders will keep the commitments they have made regarding the work that only they can do.

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