Ideas on Professional Development

From the Tommorow’s Professor’s Blog an article by by Pat Hutchings 933. Different Way to Think About Professional Development

This compliments my 3-20 post on changing behavior

For the past several years the Carnegie Foundation has been working with a group of California community colleges . . . for different ways to think about and conduct professional development.

  • First, opportunities for teachers to grow and develop must be sustained over time.
  • A second principle is the importance of collaboration.
  • The third defining feature is a focus on evidence about student learning. . . . information is at the heart of powerful feedback loops. But an important lesson . . . is the power of viewing classroom data through the lens of larger institutional trends and patterns.

How Do You Change Behavior

Geetha Krishnan asks us a foundational question that is central to education, management and any other field related to psychology and concerned with behavioral skills. “Can (behavioral skills) really be taught to an adult? More accurately, can an adult change behavior through training?” I would answer yes; with substitute behavior, with appropriate mediation, with changing the functional structures supporting change and with a long term view and plan.  In answering, I will reference the examples presented by Geetha in his blog post

Before beginning, let’s take Geetha’s question one more step.  Trainers, coaches, and others involved in leadership, professional development, training or performance support are responsible for facilitating behavioral change.  The question is not if, it’s how?  I think it starts with a deep understanding of the person: their motivations, beliefs and desires, as well as with the expectation of the culture and community in which they are embedded and it continues as a partnership. You may develop curricula materials and training programs based on the general needs of the population you’re targeting (like the inspirational program Geetha references), but I think facilitating behavioral change is person specific, long-term and personal.  This may not be an exclusive list, just a start.

Substitute Behavior: One of BF Skinners insights is that people are active.  You can’t stop behavior, people will still be active, you can only change behavior.  In Geetha’s initial discussions the question is; how do you get people to talk less in meetings and to substitute active listening and recording behaviors instead.  In addition to thinking about what you do not want people to do, give some thought to what else they could do instead.

Mediation: The psychological insight of Vygotsky and Leont’ev was that people can regulate their behavior through cultural mediation.  That is, we can use language (inner speech) and ideas to regulate our behavior and these ‘mediators’ originate in the social world around us.  In Geetha’s example, there was an original training session that provided the ideas and justification for changing the way a supervisor was interacting with the people under him.  These ideas (mediator) were reinforced by the person’s peer group and likely by the corporate hierarchy.  What we don’t know from Geetha’s example are the cultural community and social influences on this persons behavior.  I think Geetha correctly identifies that there are tools that help us to change behavior, there are hows and methods for making this change and there are whys and reasons we are motivated.  What I suggest is that these are all mediators and that they are formed in the social world, but the ones discussed are not the only ones.  There are many others, sometimes contradictory ones that are out there and it takes a deep understanding of the social situations to understand what is supporting behavior in a person’s social milieu.   It is not hierarchical either.  Pressures from subordinates can be as important as those from bosses.

Structure: I believe that behavioral changes that are functional are the most likely to be maintained.  What do I mean?  Consider a person who listened more and recorded what he learned during client meetings.  Suppose he would then follow up by regularly summarizing what he learned and would make that learning a part of his response to his clients.  If that improved his performance, especially as it is seen in the social milieu, it would be a strong motivating factor in maintaining his new behavior.  I believe people can do things out of habit.  Making the new behavior a functional improvement is one why to break out of a habit.

The long view: Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross (1992) speaks of a reoccurring cycle when trying to change behavior.  (They were speaking of therapy for addictive behavior, but I think it is applicable to many types of behavioral change.)  Behavioral relapse is common.  It does not mean that behavior cannot change, just that the cycle of change must be repeated.  For any change that is important, I think we must be committed to a long-term view with repeated efforts. Any change process should anticipate relapse and the need for repeated efforts to change should be considered normal.

This rather long and wonkish post should be considered the first draft of an idea in response to an important question.  It is almost the history of psychology.  I am sure that much addition thought and revision needs to occur here.  I certainly welcome any comments.