A core mission of Provocative Practice™ is to give life to our principle that calls for HIGH QUALITY PROFESSIONAL PREPARATION AND SUPPORT. This principle charges us with providing coherent, comprehensive, and ongoing professional preparation and support programs based on well-defined standards of practice. These programs are designed to create professional learning communities of administrators, teachers, and other staff, to implement a powerful vision of excellent teaching for each group of students we serve.

This principle recognizes that “ensuring student success requires a new kind of teaching, conducted by teachers who understand learning and pedagogy, who can respond to the needs of their students and the demands of their disciplines, and who can develop strong connections between students’ experiences and the goals of the curriculum. Efforts to improve student achievement can succeed only by building the capacity of teachers to improve their instructional practice and the capacity of school systems to promote teacher learning.” (Professional Learning in the Learning Profession: A Status Report on Teacher Development in the United States and Abroad)

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson’s A Blueprint for Great Schools references a McKinsey study of 25 of the world’s school systems, including ten of the top performers. This study found investments in teachers and teaching are central to improving student outcomes: the top school systems emphasize getting the right people to become teachers, developing them into effective instructors, and ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.

This recognition requires that we use a common professional development framework to develop the highest quality teachers who are prepared to engage high achieving and joyful 21st century learners. The research is indisputable. The surest way to improve student outcomes and ensure the kind of learning environment our students require is to staff every classroom with an expert, high quality teacher. What has not been so commonly agreed upon is what constitutes a high quality teacher and what is the best approach toward developing more effective, high quality teachers. Michael Fullan provides a historical perspective of educational reform efforts through the decades to illustrate these varied past approaches to improving teacher practice. He uses the knowledge poor-rich, prescription-judgment matrix (Barber, 2002) to neatly illustrate where we have most recently come from under No Child Left Behind in the 1990s -- informed national prescription -- and where we endeavor to arrive in 2012 and beyond -- informed professional judgment. This will involve deep transformation and sustainability if we hope to get past more superficial, short-lived approaches.

Five principles underlie Provocative Practice’s professional development framework:

1.    Powerful professional development should build strong collegial relationships that support meaningful collaboration and reflection.

2.    Powerful professional development should be differentiated, addressing the diverse needs of adult learners (new and experienced teachers, administrators, other staff); connected to practice, deepening teacher/administrator/staff knowledge, building skill, and improving instruction; and co-designed, providing space for participants to play a collaborative role in identifying their learning needs.

3.    Powerful professional development should be sustainable and ongoing, built into teachers’, administrators’, and staff’s workday, and aligned with school and district priorities.

4.    Powerful professional development should be equity-centered, striving to exemplify transformational and emancipatory discourse as a means of addressing social justice issues in teaching and education, including attention to fairness and equity with regard to gender, race/ethnicity, language, class, disability, sexual orientation, and other differences that make a difference so that all students experience fair and caring schools.

5.    Powerful professional development should be focused on student learning. Its success is ultimately measured by the extent to which it helps teachers, administrators, and staff increase student learning and achievement. Professional development should be continually assessed for effectiveness and modified to remain relevant to the needs of its participants.


The question for the coach is this: How can I prepare myself to create a mental, emotional, and relational space in which someone may grow and develop? (Douglas Riddle, Center for Creative Leadership)

Douglas Riddle, from the Center for Creative Leadership, once wrote that a powerful coach “creates an environment that dissolves the limitations of history, expectation, and assumption.” Provocative Practice™ provides administrators with valuable individual and group/team coaching that relies on creating open and reflective relationships through structured conversations focused on developing skilled and thoughtful leaders.

Provocative Practice professionals and our partner schools/districts together find paths to a common vision of success for all of their students and to common agreements about how we need to act as advocacy-oriented, solution seeking leaders on behalf of students and families. Sites and central office departments receive assistance in creating their own plans that first and foremost engage all stakeholders in deep and challenging discussions defining key concepts such as access, equity, and fostering 21st century and high performing and achieving learners, and at much deeper levels than previously experienced. After a careful and constructive analysis of current conditions with respect to access equity, achievement, and engagement, schools are guided to create interim success plans detailing their highest leverage strategic actions aimed at moving each school from where it is to a point substantively closer to the vision of student success and the school it aspires to be. Central office staff rethink their roles and responsibilities in supporting sites in the development and implementation of these local plans and engaging sites in a cycle of inquiry that allows them to monitor and refine their practices, while also preparing for the more dramatic changes called for in the 21st century.

Because parents and students should expect expert teachers and school leaders who are focused on improving student engagement, achievement, and 21st century success through the use of powerful practices, including frequent collegial collaboration and inquiry, staff receive continuous support in becoming more expert and successful leaders. Through Provocative Practice’s coaching approaches, (1) stakeholders take a more active and strategic leadership role in the success of students; (2) district departments develop ways to elicit feedback from school sites about how they can better support site leadership efforts, and develop individual department and employee goals specifically linked to supporting site leadership and student achievement and service to the schools; and (3) district employees think deeply and have meaningful discussions about key concepts such as support, equity, service, strategic leadership, and others; set measurable goals for themselves and understand how they contribute to the overall success of their department and ultimately, the sites and students; know exactly how their performance will be evaluated and self-assess their progress toward their goals throughout the year; and celebrate the successful achievement of their performance management goals with their department, district-wide, and most importantly, celebrate the success of the sites and students as partners and actual contributors to their success.

Coaching for principals and other site leaders is explicitly focused on creating and supporting effective principals and instructional leaders at the benchmark level or beyond. This coaching develops site leaders’ capacity to (1) provide instructional leadership to their school teams in ways that clearly articulate and support the district’s vision for student success and instructional priorities, (2) lead and coach their staffs in ways that result in increased quality of staff/student, student/student, staff/staff, and staff/community learning and interaction, in and out of the classroom, (3) establish structures to support staff capacity and growth, (4) develop and support systems to monitor teacher practice and to engage teachers in examining the impact of their practice on student achievement. The coaching is differentiated for site leaders based on their level of development and their needs related to how to most expeditiously and powerfully move from where they are to where they must be to be effective instructional leaders. 

Professional Development

Provocative Practice™ works with schools and districts to create a customized professional development plan, aligned to professional development framework described in the introduction to this section, to develop high levels of personal and professional efficacy, accountability, responsibility, and advocacy in the arena of teaching and learning. These plans by design address two key components: First, the WHAT of professional development, guided by Judith Warren Little’s notion of the instructional triangle, which articulates three essential relationships: teacher-student, teacher-content, and student-content.


These three core relationships are supported through the use of a Pedagogy of Confidence (originated by the National Urban Alliance), defined as “the fearless expectation and support for all students to demonstrate high intellectual performance.” It involves the art of using the science of learning to create practices that when used consistently and coherently, nurture this high intellectual performance. These practices are known as high operational practices. Much of the professional development Provocative Practice™ co-designs with its partner schools and districts incorporates the belief that learning results when we are successful in helping students to combine understanding and motivation with confidence and competence. The essential practices showcased through our diverse professional development activities include:

In environments that nurture high intellectual performance and joyful learning, one of the teacher’s essential roles is to mediate learning for students. In mediated learning experiences, the teacher/mediator, guided by intention, culture, and emotional investment, organizes experiences by framing and filtering, and determining which are relevant and irrelevant experiences. Mediated learning requires the development of relationships between teacher and student and student and student in order to create dynamic, interactive bonding. The teacher/mediator elicits personal motivation for learning, that is, engagement, from students so that they are able to deeply address the critical tasks/content. One key strategy for mediating learning successfully is utilizing culturally and linguistically responsive practices. Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching identifies students’ cultural and linguistic assets and creates learning opportunities that incorporate and build on those assets. It is an approach to situating learning in students’ lives.

The second key component is the HOW, or essential processes, of professional development. These processes include sustainability, differentiation, accountability, and collaboration.

  Professional Development Essential Processes

Professional Development Essential Processes

In addition to ensuring that we provide great support and professional development to our partner schools and districts, we also pay attention to how new teachers are brought into the profession so that they are mentored into becoming highly effective teachers, even at the beginning stages of their teaching careers. For example, Provocative Practice can assist districts in investing in local Urban Teacher Residency programs in collaboration with local universities.

The urban teacher residency (UTR) — a unique response to the longstanding challenges of how to recruit, prepare, and retain bright and capable teachers for high-needs urban schools -- represents a highly effective way to prepare and, importantly, to continue to support cohorts of high-quality, diverse teachers who are committed to a long-term career in high-needs schools. Early studies on UTR’s graduates’ effectiveness and their high retention rates of 90 to 95 percent suggest these models hold great promise for preparing and supporting teachers in high-needs urban schools.

In UTRs, aspiring teachers — known as Residents — are selected according to rigorous criteria aligned with district needs. Their master’s level course work is tightly integrated with an intensive, full-year classroom residency alongside a trained, experienced mentor. In their second year, they become a teacher with their own classroom while continuing to receive intensive mentoring. UTRs group candidates in cohorts to cultivate professional learning community and foster collaboration; build effective partnerships among school districts, higher education institutions and non-profit organizations; recruit and prepare teachers to meet specific district needs; support Residents once they are hired as teachers of record; and establish and support differentiated career goals for experienced teachers.

Leadership Support

Provocative Practice™ assists schools and districts in designing, implementing, and monitoring advocacy-oriented administration and leadership that institute system-wide mechanisms to focus all stakeholders on the diverse needs and assets of each specific group of students. These administrative and leadership systems structure, organize, coordinate, and integrate programs and services to respond systemically to the needs and strengths of each group of students.

Family/Community Engagement

Provocative Practice’s goal is to assist schools and districts in designing and implementing strong family and community engagement programs that build leadership capacity and that value and draw upon community funds of knowledge to inform, support, and enhance teaching and learning for each specific group of students.

Provocative Practice’s team engages parents, families, community members, and community organizations in understanding and supporting the initiatives, reforms, and classroom strategies being implemented by schools and districts to create 21st century learning environments of high intellectual performance for all students and to ensure that all students graduate college, career, and 21st century ready. 

Student Voice & Leadership

[We can] provide pathways of expression and understanding that come directly from the students’ experiences; they are ways for teachers to gather information about learners and their cultures . . . When students are actively engaged in creatively thinking, they focus on ways that call for flexibility in thought and integration of emotionality, rationality, and meaning that is necessary for success in academic settings and elsewhere. (Mary Stone Hanley and George W. Noblit, Cultural Responsiveness, Racial Identity and Academic Success)

Provocative Practice™ provides strategies for educators to address the needs of marginalized with innovative approaches to organize class instruction and learning and to systematically and proactively engage marginalized youth in standards-based learning that is both culturally relevant and challenging.  Educators learn how to shape the classroom and school life so students have the space to tell their own stories through such vehicles as hip hop, spoken word poetry, debate, and theater arts.  Through the lenses of popular culture, performing arts, and the academic disciplines, students are encouraged to critically analyze themselves and society, interrogate assumptions about the world in which they live, and create works of art and high intellectual performances to showcase their perspectives.

Provocative Practice helps educators create an environment for students to flourish, ensure authentic learning for each student, prepare the citizens of tomorrow, and create learning beyond the classroom. Through this work, educators are able to ensure that ALL students experience a rich and rewarding education that prepares them to be productive world citizens.