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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Is Turnkey Training for Educators Really Effective?

Is the strategy “faddish quackery”?
By Peter DeWitt — April 11, 2023 6 min read
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Updated: This post was updated to provide one more suggestion of “putting the onus on learners.”

Over the years, turnkey training has been a popular method of professional learning in schools. It typically involves sending a teacher to a one-day workshop or training and then requiring that teacher to go back to their school and train their colleagues in the same content that the teacher just learned.

The question becomes: Does turnkey training actually work?

The reasons to explore the benefits or lack thereof when it comes to turnkey training are important. We know that teachers and leaders have a high level of anxiety and stress, workload has increased among both groups, and implementation in schools is often flawed by too many initiatives with too little time to adequately go deep enough in whatever is being implemented.

Hargreaves and Fullan (2017) suggest that “professional Learning is often like student learning—something that is deliberately structured and increasingly accepted because it can (to some) more obviously be linked to measurable outcomes.” Can turnkey training achieve those outcomes?

The whole point behind professional learning is reciprocal transfer. That means the professional learning teachers and leaders engage in has a positive impact on student learning, at the same time teachers and leaders learn about what works or doesn’t work within their own practices.

When it comes to turnkey training, which typically involves a teacher learning something at a conference or workshop and then being required to go teach that content to their colleagues, does not really allow for the deep transfer of knowledge that is needed within schools.

Additionally, we have to wonder whether turnkey training is really supported by the research around self-efficacy. Bandura (1997) found:

“Self-efficacy refers to beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments. Such beliefs influence the courses of action people choose to pursue, how much effort they put forth in given endeavors, how long they will persevere in the face of obstacles and failures, their resilience to adversity, whether their thought patterns are self-hindering or self-aiding, how much stress or depression they experience in coping with taxing environmental demands, and the level of accomplishments they realize” (p. 3).

If the turnkey trainers do not have a level of self-efficacy with the content being taught to them, will they really be able to turn around and teach others if they have not been provided with a deep level of learning during the training in the first place?

Roots of Professional Learning

When considering the implementation of professional learning, those on the receiving end of it and those delivering it have to consider the role of metacognition. In fact, Le Fevre, Timperley, Twyford, and Ell suggest that there are six roots to effective professional learning, which are:

  • Adopting an evaluative inquiry stance
  • Valuing and using deep conceptual knowledge
  • Being aware of cultural positioning—culture of the building
  • Being metacognitive—understanding our own thinking about the way we learn
  • Being agentic—fostering agency in others
  • Bringing a systemic focus

Let’s take metacognition and systemic focus out of their six roots and explore those a bit when it comes to turnkey training.

In professional learning sessions, participants must be given opportunities to engage in metacognitive strategies to understand their thinking around the content, as well as how they already engage in that content, and make plans for how they would move forward with increased depth when it comes to that content.

If participants do not have a good grasp of what a systemic focus might look like, then the turnkey training would prove difficult if the turnkey trainers’ participants are spread out over different grade levels or departments. School building leaders and district leaders pursue degrees in leadership, and it takes them several years to gain an understanding of how systems work. Turnkey trainers, who are often teachers, do not have that background and may be unfairly set up to teach content that requires a systemic focus.

Success Criteria

As a facilitator of learning, I am still surprised when I have participants in the workshop that do not know why they are there in the first place. In fact, for most professional learning experiences, I send out a welcome letter to participants, and within that letter, I provide the success criteria for our day together.

Additionally, I ask participants to consider what they know about the content before they attend the professional learning with me and, in many cases, send them a short article to read on the topic. I no longer make the assumption that people know why they are in the room because I have had so many participants confide that they were voluntold to be there.

However, there is another reason to make sure participants engage metacognitively before they attend professional learning, and that is due to the fact that learning, regardless of whether we are talking about students or adults, takes time.

Learning Takes Time

Turnkey training makes an assumption that those attending one-day trainings have a deep level of expertise with the content. It also makes the assumption that the facilitator who is training the turnkey trainers has provided space and time for participants to engage metacognitively with the content.

Unfortunately, what we know is that it takes more than one day to engage in the deep learning experiences that would offer a transfer of learning to the classroom. Hattie and Yates (2014. P. 113) state that “human learning is a slow process that can happen over months and years rather than hours or days. The necessary ingredients are (a) time, (b) goal-orientation, (c) supportive feedback, (d) accumulated successful practice, and (e) frequent review.”

In fact, Hattie and Yates go on to say, “Notions such as instant experts, superfast learning, speed-reading, and other magic-like programs, amount to faddish quackery in violation of known and validated principles of human learning” (p. 113).

In the End

  • Turnkey training is a method of training that many teachers and leaders are asked to engage in, but we have to question whether it leads to the implementation of deep learning or is just one big waste of time.
  • We have to have a deeper respect for learning and come to an agreement that it doesn’t always come easily. And this is not just about teachers and leaders, either. The onus is on facilitators of professional learning to make sure they are providing the time and space for participants to engage in metacognitive activities through the learning.
  • The onus is also on the learners to make sure that they know why they are attending, and reflect beforehand on their needs. How does this learning connect with those needs?

If you are a facilitator, consider:

  • Sending out an article and welcome letter that states your success criteria. (For more information on success criteria, please check out this video.)
  • If you are a participant in professional learning:
  • Consider looking at the content before you attend the session.
  • Think about your needs around the content and how you engage with it already.
  • Bring examples to the professional learning session that explain how you engage in the content.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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