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A Reimagining of Guskey's Five-Stage Model for Evaluating Teacher Development

I wholeheartedly advocate for the application of Dr. Guskey's five-stage model as a catalyst for promoting self-directed learning in our classrooms.

Guskey's Model & Research

Dr. Thomas R. Guskey introduced his five-stage model for evaluating teacher development in 1999, igniting a vital conversation about redefining how we evaluate professional learning in education. This urgency echoes through his extensive body of work, spanning from the 1980s, where he delved into teacher perceptions and attitudes toward instructional improvements, to his most recent publications as of 2023.

In his seminal 1999 paper, Guskey acknowledges the challenge of proving the direct impact of teacher development efforts, highlighting the importance of gathering compelling evidence instead (Guskey, 1999). This sentiment resonates with his later work in 2023, where he emphasized the imperative to enhance the "predictability" of student learning outcomes through mastery-based teaching practices (Guskey, 2023). While Guskey underscores the significance of effective teaching practices, he also champions the need to adapt to evolving educational landscapes.

A Shift in Perspective

One significant hurdle hindering the widespread transformation of Student Learning Outcomes lies in the prevailing belief that teachers must retain exclusive control over student learning. With the prevalence of increasing teacher-student ratios, it is no surprise that teachers are increasingly unwilling to give students "ownership" over a learning process for which they have little to no knowledge or skills. The traditional paradigm, often reinforced by concerns about large class sizes, posits that students are ill-equipped to assume responsibility for their own learning. Compelling, yes?

However, embracing the principles of self-directed learning, or heutagogy, presents a promising alternative. Heutagogy empowers students to take ownership of their learning process, fostering adaptability and critical thinking—skills essential for success in today's dynamic world. The focus of heutagogy in a group

It is critically relevant to highlight the 2015 report, "The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development". Near the end of the Executive Summary, the report offers a significant assertion for improving teacher development:

"Teacher development appears to be a highly individualized process, one that has been dramatically oversimplified” (Jacob & McGovern, 2015).

Despite the complexity of teacher development, it is often approached simplistically. Many professional development initiatives offer generic strategies or workshops without considering the specific contexts or needs of teachers. This oversimplified approach can lead to ineffective or irrelevant training that fails to address the nuanced challenges faced by educators in their classrooms. This is where individualization can improve teacher development as much as it can improve student learning outcomes.

A self-directed, student-centered classroom places the onus of teacher development on identifying student needs - cognitively, socially, emotionally, and psychosocially. This means that students receive metacognitive instruction and support that promote self-determined learning strategies (i.e. heutagogy). By fostering a self-directed environment, students are coached in peer-to-peer learning and metacognitive awareness and management skills to enhance their understanding and critical thinking abilities. In this learning space, teachers are not instructors of content as much as they are facilitators of student learning where the authority and responsibility over the learning process is balanced in developmentally appropriate ways between students and the teachers across elementary, middle, and high school students.

What makes this heutagogical approach so powerful is that it not only empowers students to take ownership of their learning but also cultivates a community of learners who learn to understand each other's metacognitive growth and development. As for the teachers, they end up with a relatively smaller roster as more students internalize the competence, reliability, and relatedness within themselves as well as their peers resulting in a sense of self-determination toward learning as a process (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Above all else, individualizing education requires a belief that it is not only effective but also possible. If the focus of Guskey's five-stage model is to improve student learning outcomes in education, and a common conclusion of major academic studies and reports promotes personalized self-determination in students, then imagine how Guskey's model can improve the development of teachers in promoting self-determination toward learning in their students.

Incorporating Guskey's Model

Guskey's five-stage evaluation model offers a robust framework that can be effectively harnessed to cultivate heutagogical learning strategies in students. By aligning this model with heutagogical practices, which emphasize student agency and autonomy, we have the potential to transform classrooms into dynamic hubs of self-directed learning.

Consider a middle school math classroom where, instead of traditional lectures, students are encouraged to explore mathematical concepts that align with course-specific standards and assignments that allow for the incorporation of student interests. For example, a teacher might provide a menu of math topics, each accompanied by a variety of resources such as online tutorials, problem-solving tasks, and real-world applications. Students are then empowered to select the topics they find most compelling and explore them at their own pace, with the teacher serving as a facilitator and guide rather than a lecturer. This approach not only fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility in students but also promotes collaborative problem-solving and critical thinking as students engage with mathematical concepts in ways that resonate with their interests and learning styles.

In a language arts classroom, rather than prescribing a set curriculum, students are given the freedom to choose the novels, poems, or plays they wish to study. Through book clubs, literary circles, and independent reading projects, students are coached based on their interests to engage in discussions, analyze literary devices, and explore diverse perspectives. By allowing students to take the lead in selecting texts and guiding their own literary exploration, traditional grading and reporting can allow students familiar with that kind of external motivation to develop a more genuine appreciation for literature and cultivate their unique voices as writers.

For those who imagine those scenarios and frantically worry that students learning at their own pace may not cover all of a year's content within the academic school year, reflect on the percentage of middle school students who struggle with fractions, percentages, and probability, or who struggle with structuring a comparative analysis of literature with appropriate use of active versus passive voice. Acknowledge that students are already socially promoted through grade levels without mastering all of the prerequisite standards each year. Reflect on what they could be gaining if teachers were focused more on developing student competence, reliability, and relatedness, in addition to the academic rigor that comes with self-determined learning practices, than having to continuously prove their quality as teachers based on the performance of students who are being taught how to be taught to perform on assessments.

Using Guskey's Model with Heutagogy in the Classroom

Guskey's model can guide educators in assessing the effectiveness of these heutagogical learning strategies in their classrooms. As a reminder, Guskey's model has five stages:

(1) Participant's Reactions

(2) Participant Learning

(3) Organizational Support

(4) Use of Knowledge/Skills

(5) Student Learning Outcomes

In the first stage, just as school leaders can gather feedback from educators about their engagement versus resistance to new practices, educators can gather feedback from students to assess their level of engagement and satisfaction with self-directed learning activities. This feedback can inform adjustments to the learning environment to better meet students' needs and preferences.

In the second stage, educators assess students' acquisition of heutagogical learning strategies and metacognitive knowledge and skills, enabling students to demonstrate their learning in ways that align with their interests and strengths.

The third and fourth stages are more focused on the school's readiness, preparedness, and implementation of teacher development, just as they are on the teachers' readiness and implementation of heutagogical teaching and learning practices in the classroom.

The piece that I would argue is most important throughout these stages is how schools and teachers incorporate the use of change models to identify and measure readiness and resistance to new and novel teaching and learning practices - in both staff and students. By identifying specific stages of readiness of individual staff and students, educators can apply specific interventions, strategies, and techniques to further personalize the learning environment to the needs of the individuals in a shared learning space.

Moreover, by fostering school-wide support for this kind of transformational change, staff and students can identify and address barriers specific to their community, such as the demand for rigid expectations for age-based, grade-level curriculum requirements or concerns about limited access to resources. This may involve advocating for policy changes, reallocating resources, or increasing coaching opportunities for teachers specific to heutagogical practices that better support student autonomy.

Ultimately, by embracing Guskey's model and integrating heutagogical practices, educational institutions can create learning environments where students are empowered to become active participants in their education. By nurturing curiosity, independence, and self-regulation, educators cultivate lifelong learners who are equipped with the skills and mindset necessary to thrive in an ever-evolving world.

Looking Ahead

Making this shift towards heutagogy is not only feasible but also imperative for the future of education. Imagine a learning environment where students actively participate in setting their learning goals, exploring diverse resources, and reflecting on their progress. Such an approach not only prepares students for the complexities of the real world but also instills in them a lifelong love for learning.

As we navigate this transformation to self-directed classroom learning environments, let us leverage Guskey's model as a roadmap for evaluating the effectiveness of student-centered approaches. By embracing self-directed learning, we can create a learning ecosystem where every student thrives.

Let's embark on this journey together and redefine the future of education.

Greg Mullen

March 28, 2024


Guskey, T. R. (1999). New Perspectives on Evaluating Professional Development. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. [ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED433273]

Guskey, T. R. (2023). Implementing Mastery Learning (3rd ed.). Corwin.

Jacob, A. C., & McGovern, K. (2015). The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth about Our Quest for Teacher Development.

Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (1984). The transtheoretical approach: Crossing traditional boundaries of therapy. Dow Jones-Irwin Dorsey Professional Books.

Prochaska, J. O., & DiClemente, C. C. (2015). The Transtheoretical Approach. In J. C. Norcross & M. R. Goldfried (Eds.), Handbook of Psychotherapy Integration (2nd ed.). Oxford Academic.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

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