Putting Best Practices into Practice
In the process of gathering input for the Best Practices document, focus group participants across Alberta – including administrators, instructors and funders – were asked how they individually or as an organization might use the resulting document. Following is a list, distilled from their responses, of ways the document might be used by programs, funders, instructors and others, followed by specific suggestions for using the document (1) for self‐reflection, (2) for program evaluation, and (3) for identifying effective programs.
Possible uses of the Best Practices document
Programs might use the document…
• As a self‐evaluation tool, to identify program strengths, distinctives, challenges, and gaps, thereby providing a focus and goals to work towards. The document could help a program answer the following questions, and to have evidence to back up the answers:
1. What are we doing well?
2. What are we doing that needs to be improved?
3. What are we not doing that we should be doing?
• To provide guidelines for program practice in selected areas; to inform program policies.
• To provide guidelines for starting up a new program.
• To provide guidelines for writing proposals.
• To justify proposals to funders.
• To demonstrate the quality of a program to funders.
• For marketing a program.
• For marketing Alberta ESL programs internationally.
Funders might use the document…
• To identify effective programs (i.e., to know what to look for in good ESL programming; to provide specific indicators in discussions of whether a program is meeting best practices).
• To encourage the improvement of programs that are being funded (i.e., by requesting that funded ESL programs demonstrate the principles and processes that make programs and services effective).
• As a resource to give to new ESL providers who are seeking public funding (i.e., to be able to say, “This is what we are looking for in a program.”).
Individual ESL professionals (administrators, instructors, curriculum developers, etc.) might use the document…
• For self‐reflection and self‐assessment; to provide a focus for improvement of practice and to provide goals to work towards. The document could help an individual answer the following questions related to his/her professional practice:
1. What am I doing well?
2. What am I doing that needs to be improved?
3. What am I not doing that I should be doing?
• As a resource for new ideas.
• As a reference for someone wanting to improve an area of perceived weakness or gap in training/knowledge; to provide an overview to an unfamiliar area (e.g., an instructor who would like to know more about teaching pronunciation or vocabulary; an administrator considering incorporating Canadian Language Benchmarks into a program).
• As a reference for someone taking on unfamiliar responsibilities (e.g., an instructor who is moving into curriculum development or administration).
• As a reference document for instructors lacking full TESL training.
Others may use the Best Practices…
• To spark dialogue and discussion among co‐workers in a program. For instance,
o A group of instructors teaching a particular level could work through the Best Practices from the instruction section to identify strengths, weaknesses, and gaps in their instruction of a particular level.
o A group of curriculum developers could discuss the current curricula in terms of the relevant Best Practices.
o During a staff meeting, instructors could be divided into groups and each group given a separate Best Practice to discuss. They could discuss whether they feel that, as a group, they are meeting Best Practice, and make recommendations.
o A group of instructors could identify one Best Practice that they wish to work on. They identify what they are doing well, what they are not doing, and what needs to be improved. Together they identify actions/steps to be taken.
• For instructor training and professional development:
o A TESL instructor and student teacher could use selected Best Practices from the instruction or other relevant sections to focus their discussion after a practicum observation.
o An administrator and instructor could use selected Best Practices from the instruction or other relevant sections to focus discussion during an instructor evaluation or after a class observation.
o For discussion in TESL classes.
o For development of professional development presentations/workshops at local and provincial levels.
The Best Practices document has been written in light of the above suggestions, with every attempt being made to ensure a broad range of applications for a variety of users.
The following sections include specific suggestions for using the document (1) for selfreflection, (2) for program evaluation, and (3) for identifying effective programs.
Using Best Practices for self-reflection
Following is a suggested process for using the Best Practices for self‐reflection.
Begin broadly by reading through Section 1: Best Practice Statements and identifying those Best Practices that are relevant to your practice. You may do this systematically by using a series of symbols as you read, for instance, by
• Putting checkmarks beside those Best Practices that seem to particularly describe your own practice.
• Putting question marks beside those Best Practices that are relevant but that don’t seem to describe your practice.
• Putting stars beside those Best Practices or themes that you definitely want to explore further.
Narrow your focus by choosing a few Best Practices to explore further. To begin with, you may wish to choose one or two of the Best Practices with checkmarks and a larger selection of Best Practices with stars or question marks. In Section 2: Best Practice Guidelines, read each of these Best Practices along with their indicators. Again, you may decide to work through each Best Practice systematically using a series of symbols, for instance, by
• Putting checkmarks beside those indicators that you feel are definitely in place in your practice.
• Putting question marks beside those indicators that may sometimes be in place, or that you are not sure about.
• Putting stars beside those indicators that you want to consider further.
Narrow your focus further by focusing on one or more of the Best Practices. This can be done in a number of ways:
• Invite collaboration by talking through one of the Best Practices with a colleague (e.g., another instructor teaching the same level you teach). For the indicators that you placed checkmarks beside, give examples of how they are present in your practice. For indicators with stars and question marks, discuss together how (or perhaps whether) these could be applied in your practice.
• Do further reading and research on the topic69.
• Make a list of “actions” that you intend to take to more closely meet the best practice.
• Invite another instructor to observe your class to give feedback based on which indicators were evident or not demonstrated regarding a particular Best Practice.
• If your supervisor conducts regular class observations, ask the supervisor to concentrate on a particular Best Practice during the observation.
• After focusing on a particular Best Practice, again collaborate with a colleague – talk through the steps you are taking, invite feedback.
Using Best Practices for program self-evaluation
Following is a suggested process for using the Best Practices for program self‐evaluation.
Step 1: Determine which aspects of the program will be evaluated and identify the relevant Best Practices.
An administrator or committee will need to determine the scope of the evaluation based on the purpose of the evaluation:
1. Will every aspect of the program be evaluated?
2. Will one or more aspects of the program be evaluated? If so, the relevant theme(s) needs to be selected.
3. Will the program be evaluated on a selection of Best Practices? If so the relevant Best Practices need to be selected.
Step 2: Determine who will be responsible for evaluating each identified Best Practice.
The administrator or committee should then identify who will conduct the evaluation. In general, staff should be chosen who understand the program well enough to knowledgeably evaluate it in terms of the Best Practices that have been identified. Ideally, this should be a collaborative effort, with two or more staff working together through each Best Practice.
Step 3: Evaluate each Best Practice.
Check off all the indicators and sub‐indicators that are currently in place in the program. This may entail additional steps, such as class observations, interviews with program staff or learners, and examination of documents, policies materials, curriculum, lesson plans, etc.
Add in any additional indicators that are true of the program and would demonstrate that the program is meeting the Best Practice in ways not specified. Based on the number and distribution of the indicators that have been checked, evaluators should agree on the best “score” for that Best Practice on a scale of 1‐ 570, where
1 = No indicators have been checked; there is agreement that the Best Practice is not at all in place.
5 = All or a substantial number of the indicators have been checked, and perhaps additional indicators are in place; there is agreement that the program is very clearly and substantially meeting the Best Practice.
If the Best Practice has been given a score of 1 or 2, evaluators should consider the following questions:
• Are there any reasons why this Best Practice is less relevant or not relevant to your particular program?
• Is there anything that the program has plans to do, but hasn’t quite implemented, that is relevant to this Best Practice?
• Are there any constraints the program faces that make it difficult to meet the Best Practice?
• Evaluators make a list of actions the program could take to more closely approach the Best Practice.
Step 4: Use the results to identify program strengths, gaps, and challenges.
1. Best Practice sheets should be collected from evaluators and the scores recorded in the Evaluation Tool (see Appendix 3)
2. Using the Evaluation Tool, identify those areas that distinguish your program – the themes that have Best Practices with scores of 5 and 4. This does not mean that there is no room for improvement, but it does mean that these are areas that you can capitalize on and emphasize. They are the distinctives, the strengths, of your program.
• Can these strengths be brought into focus in some way? Can they be capitalized on or recognized in ways that benefit the program and others (e.g., Could representatives of the program make a presentation at a conference? Could these strengths be focused on in publicity documents?)
• Are there any steps that could be taken to strengthen these areas?
• Collect and prioritize the actions identified for these themes.
4. Identify those areas that are not at all or are very minimally in place – the themes that have Best Practices with scores of 1 and 2.
• Are any of these Best Practices not applicable to your program for some reason? If so, re‐score them as NA.
• If they are relevant to your program, identify the constraints your program faces in these areas.
• Identify initial and ongoing actions that can be taken to start developing these areas.
5. Identify those areas in which there has been some progress made towards reaching Best Practices – the themes that have mostly 3s, with perhaps a 4 or a 2.
• Identify actions that can be taken to move the program closer to Best Practices in these areas.
Step 5: Use the report
The resulting report can be used in a number of ways, for instance:
• Identified strengths can be used to justify the worth/value of the program (to the broader institution, to funders, to learners, to community stakeholders, etc.).
• Identified weaknesses can be used to focus plans for program improvement.
• Identified gaps and areas of weakness can be used to determine a focus for professional development.
• Identified gaps in the program can be used to justify requests for funding (e.g., “We are missing this key piece…. We are missing this key piece because…. We need funding to put ____ in place to fill this gap.)
Using Best Practices to identify effective programs
Step 1: Request a program review referenced to the Best Practices document.
Provide the Best Practices document to programs requesting funding, with the request that they review their program using the document. This could be a formal review (see previous section), or for a program just starting up, a more informal review.
In some cases, it might be beneficial to narrow the scope of the review, indicating which areas the program should focus on depending on the needs of the program or the requirements of the funder. The program could be asked to fill out the Evaluation Tool (see Appendix 3) for specified sections.
Step 2: Use the results of the program review to guide further discussions.
The program evaluation report, the Evaluation Tool, and the Best Practices document can then guide discussion of the following questions:
• What are the strengths of your program? Which of the Best Practices are you meeting? Specifically, what indicates that you are meeting this Best Practice? Describe how you are meeting this Best Practice. Which of these indicators are in place? What evidence do you have to show this? Are there indicators not listed that are true for your program and show you are meeting the Best Practice?
• What are the gaps in your program? Which of the Best Practices are not at all in place? What constraints do you face in this area? Are there any steps you can take to mitigate this gap? What are your timelines for these plans?
• Which Best Practices are partly in place? What constraints do you face in this area? What steps do you plan to take to move you further along in meeting the Best Practice? What are your timelines for these plans?
• What do you need from us to help you fill the gaps and more closely approach best practices?
Based on discussion of these questions, and the quality of the answers provided, a funder should have a sense as to whether or not a program is well thought out, based on principled practice, and likely to be effective.