Education Opinion

Choosing Between What Matters and What Counts

By Learning Forward — March 04, 2015 4 min read
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Stephanie Hirsh

Many states have recertification or relicensure rules that require educators to earn 100 to 200 professional development hours over a specified period of time. In my view, educator relicensure and recertification processes are a missed opportunity when it comes to ensuring that educators have access to the professional learning they want and need to help students succeed. Why? Here are several reasons.

  • Educators see little connection between these requirements and the challenges they face on a daily basis.
  • Educators receive little guidance about the choices or resources to support them in meeting this requirement. As a result, convenience and price heavily influence the decisions educators make.
  • Attendance is often the only criteria for educators to earn credits toward relicensure.

Too few states and districts have systems in place for awarding credit for the professional development educators value most: job-embedded, team-based, and collaborative learning.

This system needs to change. We know that educators want and deserve more and better professional learning to meet the challenges they face every day. We can find better ways to leverage these precious learning hours to support our educators. Imagine if ...

... Educators’ options for professional learning did not include what we refer to as “adult pullout programs.”

... The relicensure system encouraged educator learning aligned with individual, team, and/or school goals for improvement and educators prioritized their goals based on substantive data analysis. Such a system would also acknowledge that educators in many roles -- teachers, librarians, and counselors, for example -- bring very different needs as they contribute to collective learning and improvement.

... We promoted collective learning and spread of new ideas by tying relicensure processes to structures that allow educators to learn in teams and even as entire faculties.

... We recognized that the hours educators spent learning together exceed an archaic hours-based requirement and forced a re-examination of the policy.

How could we approach this? We might begin by developing shared goals for continuing education processes. Consider the following as a place to start:

  • We want students and educators to learn and perform at high levels.
  • We want educators to experience effective and powerful professional learning so they acquire the knowledge and skills they need.
  • We want to support and recognize educators for advancing their competencies and assuming new leadership responsibilities.
  • We want our stakeholders to have confidence in the quality of our education workforce.

Then we could discuss strategies for best achieving these shared goals. Here’s my start on possibilities:

  • Create links between increasingly meaningful educator effectiveness systems and relicensure policies. Why should educators have to establish multiple demonstrations of knowledge, skills, and growth for different purposes?
  • Create state- and district-level systems of peer review tied to relicensure where both renewing and contributing educators grow through giving and receiving feedback.
  • Shift the expectation from documenting hours of learning to demonstrating impact on educators’ practice and student learning.
  • Focus on having educators demonstrate, perhaps through a portfolio, that they have the knowledge and skills aligned with performance as well as curriculum and instructional standards.
  • Tie salary advancements to demonstrations of knowledge, skills, and competencies and the assumption of leadership responsibilities rather than to records of attendance in courses.
  • Engage representatives of all educators in developing new systems for recognizing and rewarding educators who meet and/or exceed such standards.

We have leaders in this field who are already taking some of these steps. We have states that incentivize demonstrating impact, others that use portfolios, and some that are piloting the use of peer review. We need to dig deeper into these opportunities to support, attract, and retain the educators we need now and in the future.

At the same time, we recognize that this in itself isn’t enough to transform professional learning for all educators. This is just one part of a comprehensive professional learning system. However, we know that relicensure or recertification is often an educator’s entry point to professional learning and may make this a logical starting point for discussions about transformation.

What would you add to this list? How will we take these next steps? Now is the time to seize this opportunity.

I will support a panel discussing these ideas and more at a SXSWedu session on March 9. Join the discussion and share your point of view. I also hope you’ll share your thoughts here.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director,Learning Forward

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.