Wednesday / May 29

Birds of Transfer: 6 Ways to Transfer Learning From PD to the Classroom

A highly respected principal told this story in one of our workshops about the need to support her teachers in their classroom craft. “Yes, I believe in professional learning for my teachers. I know the teacher is the key to success for the kids in her care… great teacher, great year for the kid. It’s that simple. In fact, I just sent six teachers to a three-day literacy training. They are bubbling over with ideas. I can’t wait to see what take-aways they will share in their classrooms.”

Now, imagine the six teachers returning from that professional learning experience on literacy strategies. Imagine it also featured a specific segment on how to coach each other for authentic application on their return to their classrooms. As they came in the next day for a follow up debriefing, they were all talking about birds. Curious, the principal asked them about what new strategy they were going to try with the students and if they had learned anything about themselves as professionals.

As they shared their reflections, the principal began to understand. She realized that the metaphor of the birds had given the six teachers a common language to talk about transfer (take-aways). In fact, their “transfer talk” became the central theme of professional learning debriefings.

Ollie, the Head in the Sand, Ostrich

Olivia said, “I’m not really ready to do anything yet. After looking over the sheet, I decided that I’m definitely an Ollie, the Head in the Sand, Ostrich, too much of the time. Even though I loved the idea of the Agree Disagree Chart, somehow when I get in the classroom today, I need to get on with my lesson plans. I guess I really do overlook the new ideas when I get back here. It’s funny, I had never really thought about that before.”

Dan, The Drilling Woodpecker

“My take away is a pair-share with a list of statements for them to discuss and then agree or disagree. I didn’t write on the Agree Disagree handout, so I can duplicate it and use it immediately with my students today, exactly as she showed us. I usually ask for a copy of the slides so I can use them right away, but I didn’t have time today. I guess I’m Dan, the Drilling Woodpecker, just duplicating the ideas as fast as I can.”

Laura, the Look-a-Like Penguin

“What about me? Well, I like to take the idea and make it my own. I want to use the Agree Disagree because it is rich with speaking, listening, and thinking skills, but it will be with my content. I’ll change the Agree Disagree statements to go along with the science text on photosynthesis to review during tomorrow’s lesson. I guess you could say, I replicate because I copy the idea, but change the focus to fit. Even though I will probably use it in the same context, it will be relevant content each time. You can call me Laura the Look Alike Replicator. It always has my mark of creativity on it.”

Jonathon Livingston Seagull

“This may sound arrogant, but I already do the Agree Disagree. It’s not really new to me. But I did like the suggestion about having the students write the statements and then pass the page along to another team. I’ll just integrate that into the activity and use it at a higher cognitive level by having students generate the charts. I’ll call myself, Joanne Livingston Seagull, working with a raised consciousness about an old strategy.”

Cathy, the Carrier Pigeon

“Oh, my goodness. I am definitely Cathy, the Carrier pigeon. I will take this Agree Disagree to class with the geometry quiz, to my Saturday real estate class on marketing, and I’m thinking about using it in summer school when I‘m teaching camping skills. It’s so perfect, because it ties into higher order thinking with analysis, and evaluation and in a way, a synthesis because the pairs will try to come to agreement, even though I’ll tell them they can always agree to disagree. By the way, it was a great PD day. This is just one of the strategies I can carry with me like the Carrier Pigeon.”

Samantha, the Soaring Eagle

“Okay, I’m last, but, by no means least. I have a genius idea, if I do say so myself. My thought is to use an Agree/Disagree Class Survey, following the pair share conversations. Still in pairs, students will write one high level, Agree/Disagree Question that helps to evaluate the pair share A/D activity. The survey questions will be compiled for Survey Monkey, as all pairs turn in their question. Then students will complete the Survey Monkey and, still in pairs, write a summary of the findings and at least one inference of conclusion they can draw.”

Begin the Conversation

Once teachers are aware of explicit expectations for transfer from the workshop to the classroom, they start paying more attention to how they might transfer ideas into their instructional practices. They begin the conversation in collaborative professional dialogues, identifying opportunities to integrate new academic learnings:

  • Strategies (reflective stems, assessments options, actionable feedback, reciprocal teaching)
  • Skills (developing proficiency in math fact fluency, appropriate use of QR codes, Poll Everywhere, and other digital tools such as Wordle, Dragon Dictation, Spritz), close reading, determining point of view
  • Concepts (metacognition, , student agency, engagement)
  • Attitudes (growth mindset, self-confidence, bullying, social media etiquette)

Just the knowledge that they are there to learn and do something with the learning is a giant shift from traditional debriefing comments, “I thought it was an okay workshop,” “She went so slow, for me,” “I did like the summarizing strategy.”

In brief, teaching teachers about the Birds of Transfer opens the door for more immediate, relevant, and appropriate application from shared staffroom ideas to the creative classroom lessons.

Our challenge to our readers is to find out more about Coaching for Transfer in our newly revised edition of From Staff Room to Classroom: Planning and Coaching Professional Learning, Chapter 7. Think about how the take-away ideas from your PD sessions, and design transfer a take-to strategy for your classroom.

Written by

Brian M. Pete is co-founder and CEO of Robin Fogarty & Associates. Educated at DePaul University of Chicago, he has worked, exclusively, with the adult learner for the past seventeen years in schools throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and in the Middle East GCC-Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. Recently, Brian has co-author of the 2nd edition of From Staff Room to Classroom I and II, Corwin Press. Supporting Differentiated Instruction, How to Teach Thinking Skills, The Right to Be Literate, the 2017 Teachers’ Choice, Book of the Year. His latest book is Everyday PBL; Quick Projects to Build Problem Solving Fluency with ASCD and reads and writes for a number of blogs. 


Robin J. Fogarty’s doctorate is in curriculum and human resource development from Loyola University of Chicago and has trained educators throughout the world. She has published articles in Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan and the Journal of Staff Development and the Middle School Journal, writes posts for 4 blogs regularly and has authored or co-authored over 30 books for teacher, leader resources. Untapped Talent: The True Story of Developing Student Expertise with Teachers College Press, is the latest book, in press.

Latest comment

  • This blog is wonderful. Such a fresh application of the metacognitive aspect of the PD experience.
    It also reinforces what great teachers do: observe and know each student, and connect
    one on one with them each day. Likewise, this exercise invites each teacher participant to share their
    unique take and be known.

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