When I first began teaching, I had one measure for the quality of any professional development experience: Did I walk away with something I could implement the next day in my specific grade?
I loved sessions where a teacher of my same grade would tell me a bunch of math games to play or how to set up centers during guided reading. Better yet were those sessions I walked away from with a packet. It could be a packet outlining books for certain writing skills, listing songs for morning meeting, or containing actual pre-made centers ready to cut out. No matter what was inside, I had information that was mine to keep.
Recently I’ve noticed a trend around coaching teachers. Coaches will come in your classroom and either whisper to you the exact words to say in that moment, or interrupt you and model what you should say and how in the moment. I see the value in modeling and in giving teachers specific language. We do that with our students. We model for them. We give some of them sentence stems to get them started. I’ve even whispered into a child’s ear the exact question I wanted her to ask her partner right then and there.
But something in this coaching doesn’t sit right with me. Underlying this style of development seems to be the belief that teacher learning is about a transference of skills. I believe that professional development, no matter how it’s done, must be about teachers developing a deep understanding rather than just a set of skills. I hold myself to that same expectation when teaching my own students. For example, I don’t just model writing a realistic fiction story and expect them to do it. We talk about why and when you write one. We discuss our mistakes and why our really good ideas are really good. That way my students can write independently in different contexts.
Now, after six years of teaching, I still love a session when I walk out with a handout or an idea I can use the next day. But it’s not my only measure, and it’s certainly not my most important one. I want a session or a coach that explores problems in student learning with me or guides me to deepen my understanding and practice. Now that is truly information that is all mine to keep.
Jessica Hahn has taught elementary grade children for six years in Phoenix and New York City.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.