Education Opinion

Teachers See Benefit in Peer-to-Peer Interaction

By Learning Forward — August 15, 2011 3 min read
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If your work in any way involves teachers, you’ll want to take a look at the National Center for Education Information’s recently released Profile of Teachers in the U.S. 2011. This survey of 2,500 randomly selected K-12 public school teachers addresses a whole range of topics, from teachers’ perceptions of their preparation programs to their overall job satisfaction.

I was especially intrigued by the data on teachers’ perception of their own competence. Of the teachers surveyed, a whopping 93 percent felt “very competent” to teach the subjects they teach, while only 44 percent felt they were “very competent” when they started teaching. When asked, “What’s most valuable in developing your competence to teach?” a significant majority of teachers cited their own teaching experiences and their work with other teachers and colleagues. Rounding out the top five answers to this question were life experiences in general, courses in subjects being taught, and professional development activities.

I have to admit I was initially disappointed by the fact that “professional development activities” came in as the fifth most frequent response. As a representative of the world’s only association focused entirely on professional learning as a vehicle for educator and school effectiveness, I was hoping more teachers would see the link between professional development and their own competence. But as I read the data more carefully, I realized teachers were simply specifying what Learning Forward has long believed: teachers value their professional interactions with each other, and, when done well, those interactions can be a powerful form of effective professional learning.

I’ve come to realize that the problem with so many professional development activities is they are just simply bad. “Drive-by trainings” where consultants are off to the next school before ideas have a chance to become knowledge and change practice; workshops and conferences attended by many and remembered by few; and those infamous beginning-of-the-year district-wide meetings full of “really important” information that could easily be shared through email... these have become the norm even though our teachers are pleading for more job-embedded professional learning that is directly tied to their practice.

The Learning Communities standard in the revised Standards for Professional Learning reads: “Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment.”

In such a professional learning environment, teachers would be working in grade-level, subject-area, or building-wide teams to:

  • Use data to determine student and educator learning needs;
  • Identify shared goals for student and educator learning:
  • Engage in targeted professional learning to extend their knowledge of content, content-specific pedagogy, how students learning, and management of classroom environments;
  • Select and implement appropriate evidence-based strategies to achieve student and educator learning goals;
  • Apply their learning with local support at the school and classroom level;
  • Use evidence to monitor and refine the implementation;
  • Evaluate the results.

Teachers who engage in these types of professional learning experiences would be quick to see the link between professional development and their own perceived competence to teach. More importantly, they will begin to see the connections between their own learning and increased student learning. I also believe teachers in these environments will experience greater job satisfaction, because teaching will no longer be a guessing game. No longer working in isolation, they will employ the same strategies as their colleagues and adjust as the data suggests. At the end of the day, should student achievement rise in their schools, these educators will know which of their strategies led to the gains.

For more information regarding the Standards for Professional Learning and how they are connected to educator effectiveness and student learning, please visit Learning Forward’s web site.

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development, 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.