Staff Development Programs for the 1990's
School improvement is first and foremost people improvement. If nothing else, the reform efforts of the 1980's have taught us that the attitudes and abilities of teachers and administrators cannot be ignored if schools are to tackle successfully the problems confronting them.
Whether the current notion of "restructuring" will fall from grace or drive reform into the 21st century remains to be seen. But whatever its fate, the impulses for fundamental change--for example, the demands of international competition and demographic shifts in the student population--will persist. Rigorous staff-development programs will be essential in preparing educators to face these challenges.
The discipline of staff development, including a broad range of activities designed to help teachers, administrators, and other school employees perform effectively in their jobs, has made substantial progress in the past 10 years. We have learned, for instance, that school-focused efforts produce the most significant and lasting gains. Successful projects in Richardson, Tex., Dade County, Fla., and Hammond, Ind., among other districts, demonstrate the value of such approaches. These efforts are most powerful when aimed at specific, building-level goals that are shaped by district expectations.
We also know a great deal more than we once did about both the content and process of staff-development efforts that improve student learning. We can share with teachers recent research about such practices as cooperative learning and mastery teaching, and we better understand the training through which teachers are most likely to learn and apply these skills. For instance, successful instructional change almost always requires intensive classroom coaching, often best provided by a peer. And teachers benefit from regular meetings of problem-solving teams or study groups.
Both teachers and students benefit, we have learned, when teachers play a broad role in school improvement. In many districts, teachers serve on policymaking committees at the district and school levels. They are also acting in other leadership roles--as trainers, mentors, curriculum developers, and researchers--while maintaining their classroom responsibilities.
It is easier to start teachers and administrators off on the right foot than to shift their courses after they are set. A variety of programs that spread widely during the 80's, including induction plans, leadership academies, administrative-assessment centers, and mentor programs, all began with the same assumption: Intensive one-to-one assistance and targeted training programs can help educators early in their careers acquire professional skills and develop a sense of satisfaction with their work.
But staff development in the l990's must differ in several significant ways from that of the last decade if it is to contribute to school reform. The following elements will be vital in fostering the new outlooks and broader understanding educators will need in the coming years:
Change must be viewed as a constant; the economic and social conditions that compel far-reaching reform will not merely linger but intensify in the years ahead. Staff developers must become more sophisticated in establishing a school culture that supports ongoing change. One promising approach to creating such an atmosphere--a project in Richmond County, Ga.--is described in the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's yearbook, Changing School Culture Through Staff Development.
Greater attention must be given to the development of the larger organization, both at the district and school levels. Beyond helping individuals improve their job performance, developers will need to work with the organization in assessing its communication patterns and its capacity for renewal, among other factors. With the information provided by such analyses, developers can design interventions allowing the organization to continually improve itself.
Staff development must address a broader audience. Programs should include all those who influence the welfare of students, school, and district: board members, the superintendent and other district administrators, principals, teachers, classroom aides, secretaries, custodians, and bus drivers. The importance of a staff's learning and working together to achieve common goals could be underscored through the use of incentives.
Greater emphasis must be placed on teachers' content knowledge and content-specific instructional strategies. While the generic teaching skills that were frequently the focus of workshops during the l980's should not be neglected, keeping teachers informed about their disciplines and about discipline-specific approaches to teaching will be increasingly important. Indeed, the researcher Lee Shulman, who, with colleagues at Stanford University, is working to develop an assessment system through which teachers can demonstrate competency, argues that good teaching can be understood only in relation to a given group of students within a particular content area.
The improvement of teachers' thinking must be a primary goal of staff-development programs. Teachers cannot give what they do not have; if students are to improve their capacity to think, it is critical that they be taught by teachers who themselves are sophisticated thinkers. Teachers will use these skills not only as they work with students but also as they assist colleagues, conduct research in their classrooms, and serve on committees that shape the future of their schools.
Educational leaders must become informed students of research who can help teachers integrate various approaches into a coherent system for classroom use. Several essays in the February issue of Educational Leadership--devoted to "connections" in staff development--suggest ways in which schools can link strategies such as cooperative learning and mastery teaching.
Educators in the 1990's must be viewed as whole people. Human beings
cannot be neatly divided into compartments--job skills, emotions,
physical health; their
health and feelings can affect their enthusiasm, energy, and desire to learn.
Teachers' self-esteem and job satisfaction must become issues for staff development. While a few districts currently offer workshops on mental- and physical-health concerns, this approach is not widespread.
A broader view of who is a staff developer must be taken. Presently, in many districts, a particular staff member is thought of as the developer. While district coordination of programs will remain important, it is essential that virtually everyone with leadership responsibilities--the superintentent and other central-office administrators, principals, and teacher leaders--regard staff development as one of his or her key duties. In this context, a recent upswing in the number of districts offering training on leaders' roles in development is promising.
Long-range planning must be used to guide comprehensive programs, and time for development must be found through new organizational structures and changes in the school year.
Some districts--Howard County, Md., for instance--are considering adding staff-development days to the school year. Alternatively, schools could re-arrange existing schedules to free the entire faculty or groups of teachers for extended periods of time for planning and study.
Educational leaders must recognize that improving schools means paying greater attention to their most important resource--the employees whose daily work affects the lives of children.
Vol. 09, Issue 33, Page 40