Breaking News: Silver Bullets for Student Learning Found! (Spoiler: They're Actually All Glitter)


Breaking News: Silver Bullets for Student Learning Found! (Spoiler: They're Actually All Glitter)


Marketing vs Research: How Do Educators Make PL&D Decisions?


Why We Need to Rethink How We Support Professional Learning for Schools and Educators

Part One!

“When all is said and done, more is usually said than done.” -Lou Holtz

Part of the “Barriers to Professional Learning & Doing” series…

In my almost three decades in education and with the many schools I’ve worked with, it’s obvious that almost every education organization out there is seeking the “Silver Bullet” to support increased student learning. We seem to be enamored by the “newest thing” in education, usually some type of curriculum or approach that promises big returns. These “Silver Bullets” tend to be 1) flashy (or glittery!) or 2) have deep marketing budgets (hello big publishers!). Unfortunately, the marketing and excitement often overshadows the research and effectiveness behind the newest thing. 

We often forget to ask, “Why does this program work?” and “How will this work be sustained?” 

Consider these common issues (🚩🚩🚩or red flags🚩🚩🚩) with “Silver Bullets” that may be more glitter than substantive:

  • Promises of huge student gains in a short amount of time 🚩
  • Expensive “required” curriculum materials that increasingly are becoming consumable, more expensive and difficult to manage and store. 🚩
  • Overemphasizing how the proposed program “feels right” and excites the educators and students vs. emphasizing evidence-based foundations. 🚩
  • One-size-fits-all approach that works for all students, regardless of their unique needs, backgrounds, or learning styles. Like a fingerprint, no school population matches any other school. Heck! No classroom is exactly like the classroom next door. 🚩
  • Promises oversimplification of complex issues; our world in education is quite complex and needs to be approached that way. 🚩
  • Refuses limited customization or flexibility. 🚩
  • Lack of ongoing support. I’ve seen so many companies and consultants follow the “Blow in. Blow off. Blow out.” model of consulting. Sustainability with this approach is abysmal. 🚩
  • No plan to develop the system, along with developing the staff. Again, sustainability unlikely. 🚩
  • No support for a “coach the coach model” or for leadership development within the change initiative. 🚩

There are so many red flags with many popular “Silver Bullet” programs, that they can mirror a Chinese Independence Day celebration! 🚩🚩🚩 Let the color red remind you to: STOP! 🛑 Stop and consider if you’re being duped by outrageous promises, crafty marketing or PL&D offerings that don’t take your community of students into consideration.

Rethink Your Approach to Educational Initiatives

Bottom line, stop searching for "Silver Bullets." Lasting and systemic organizational change (change that sticks) is not found with quick fixes. The foundation of the solution to your needs really resides within your own school system, supported by the expertise of the educators who are part of it. External experts and programs can significantly boost your organization's initiatives, offering valuable and unique insights and support. However, the true power of working with external consultants is unlocked when the consultant aligns with your team's own efforts and the unique culture of your organization. This partnership ensures that changes are not only well-integrated but sustained.  

Ask yourself: Who better understands the needs of your students than you? Who is more acquainted with their unique challenges and requirements? Consultancy that does not start with a comprehensive needs assessment tailored to your current realities, or that fail to incorporate the insights and voices of your community are not just ineffective, they are a misallocation of both your time and public funds. To truly make a difference, ensure that any external contracts include provisions for thorough needs assessments. This review and plan should serve as the foundation for any initiative, ensuring that it is firmly rooted in the specific context and needs of your students and educators. Only by fully engaging with the knowledge and expertise within your own organization can you hope to achieve meaningful, sustainable change. Effective consultants and programs understand this and should insist on developing a solid starting point, building support and development that is meaningful to your school and your teachers. 

Here is a checklist to help ensure that you are receiving the most appropriate, external support that will promote sustained, evolutionary change:

Evidence-based Programs and Strategies: The best way to get past the glamor of a product or service is to dig deep and ensure that the external approach is grounded in research.
Needs Assessment: Demand that any external consultancy begin with a “deep dive” needs assessment to manifest YOUR community needs and to allow for customization of services and targeted support.
Comprehensive Services: We need to move beyond the “One & Done” mentality of development and ensure that external support is there to support you through every step of change.
Internal Sustainability: At some point, you’ll need to venture out on your own. How does the external consultant help develop your system to continue growth post-consultancy? What does the transition look like when the external support is reduced or removed?
Flexibility & Customization: If a consultant tells you that their canned program works for any school and any student needs, don’t fall for it! The “glitterati” of educational services will try to convince you otherwise because businesses profit more with canned programs; customization is time-intensive and quite costly. But if there is no customization, there is no real possibility of meeting the targeted needs of your students and educators. Bottom line: If the support isn’t built around YOUR needs, it isn’t genuine support. 

Please, don’t let the glitter blind you.

Learn, Do, Report

Consider your most recent external program implementation or work with an external consultant. What were the factors used to make the decision to start a contract? Did you consider research-based foundations? Did you consider the sustainability of the initiative? 

Considering what you read above, how could you have approached the change initiative differently? 


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