To the Editor:
In his Dec. 11, 2017, Commentary, “Students Must Be Prepared to Reinvent Themselves,” Christopher Dede describes an increasing demand for education to better align itself with the growing realities of careers and the workplace. Contained within this call is a need for teachers to rethink and retool their own learning, as well as the learning of their students in response to the press of these realities.
I readily agree with Dede, but assert the work of responding to these new realities is now underway. Acknowledging this progress is critical. Seeds of change in teacher learning are being sown and nourished by designers of new and innovative models of professional development. Some models, such as the Next Generation Science Exemplar System for Professional Development in which I am a co-designer, have taken advantage of blended or virtual professional-development environments to bring about change. These are research-based, multi-faceted environments in which teachers engage with new genres of instructional materials and pedagogical tools, motivating shifts in their own learning and the learning of their students.
With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, or the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education, many schools and districts are already moving forward to engage teachers with innovative professional-learning opportunities. The reform visions made explicit in these standards focus on the foundational skills and abilities Dede references: establishing classrooms as collaborative learning spaces, developing students’ abilities for problem-posing and problem-solving, learning to use evidence-based reasoning, and a much-needed focus on questions generated by students, not only by teachers.
A number of new professional development models include video-based classroom cases of teachers and students as they make teaching and learning shifts in classrooms. These video cases are an educative tool for teacher learning, supporting teachers and even administrators as they study and analyze classrooms at various stages of change. Video cases can be made available to teachers 24/7 to support their ongoing learning. Video is becoming an essential tool in helping the field to motivate new and critical intellectual work by teachers.
All to say, changes in how teachers are learning—the tools they are using within the new, more accessible and multi-faceted learning environments made possible through technology—are already progressing to align teaching practices and new student learning goals with new societal realities. Is there a need to accelerate this work? Absolutely. Support on many levels is needed to help PD designers, researchers, and instructional-materials developers work in partnership with teachers across districts and states, ultimately taking this work to scale.
A version of this article appeared in the February 07, 2018 edition of Education Week as Teachers Are Already ‘Reinventing’ Themselves