New Ideas, New Programs Fuel Reforms in Staff Development

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The first two articles in this series described the present system of staff-development training for teachers and detailed critics' analyses of its shortcomings.

Most of the nearly 50 people interviewed for this series believe that staff development can be improved, and that it must be if the standard of teaching in public schools is to be raised.

First, staff development should be "school-based," most agree, because programs involving an entire district are often fragmented and poorly coordinated. Staff-development programs at the school level, many educators believe, would be easier to manage and could be more easily combined with long-range school-improvement plans, which now are also rare.

Staff development organized at the school level is also "more likely to be relevant to the everyday context in which teachers work, and, therefore, more likely to be implemented," says Joseph C. Vaughan, who studies staff development for the National Insititute of Education (nie). "It also offers the potential for building col-legial teams of staff within the school," he adds.

Most critics of the current situation also agree that if teachers are to take staff development seriously, and if it is going to serve their classroom needs more effectively, they must play a greater role in its design and delivery.

"Many teachers view staff development negatively, as remedial work. Until they feel they have some ownership of their programs, they are not going to get involved," says James F. Collins, director of the National Council of States on Inservice Education, an organization of state and other staff-development professionals.

Many of those interviewed also said that staff development must be more than a series of "one-shot" workshops or lectures.

"School systems have to keep working with teachers to make sure what they learn gets put into practice in the classroom," says Mr. Vaughan. "So far, there has been very little follow-up."

But some progress has been made.

"Despite all the weaknesses of local staff development, I've seen a slow, steady increase in its sophistication in a number of school systems," says Betty Dillon-Peterson, director of staff development for the Lincoln, Neb., schools, and a founder of the National Staff Development Council, a 7-year-old group of about 200 school-system staff-development directors.

And there are some promising programs around the country.

The Jefferson County school system in Colorado has a Staff Development Academy with three full-time staff members who familiarize 400 full-time teachers from the district with the latest education research. These teachers, who are chosen for their teaching skills and are paid extra for their work, then pass the new material on to their 4,600 colleagues in the district, usually through group meetings that continue throughout the school year.

In Lincoln, Neb., a cadre of full-time "master teachers" designs and teaches curriculum-related courses to colleagues. The school system also frees them to work with other teachers through classroom visits and follow-up sessions, under a "cooperative classroom program." And the program offers the master teachers a way of earning more money than they would be able to under Lincoln's regular salary scale.

"When your colleagues are teaching the course, it has a lot more credibility," comments Jane H. Fredrickson, a 4th-grade teacher in the Lincoln system.

Teachers Helping Teachers

Similar teacher-helping-teacher arrangements are used in some 300 teacher centers across the country.

Florida spends $7.55 for every student in the state ($12 million this year) to run teacher centers in each of the state's 63 school districts. In an attempt to improve the working relationship between school systems and the education schools, $2.5 million of this money must go to education-school faculty members, who are hired to work with teachers at the centers.

Because they are usually run by and for teachers, teacher centers are also considered by many to be models for more direct teacher participation in staff development. Teachers praise the opportunity the centers afford them to work with colleagues on practical classroom problems.

However, many school-board members, wary of the autonomy the centers give teachers, resist the concept. And the movement lost its national leadership and major source of funding when the Reagan Administration closed down the federal teacher-center program on July 1 and folded it into the new education block grant.

Syracuse University has begun bridging the school-college gap in a different way.

Last year, its education school began contracting with local school systems to provide several kinds of specialized services. Education-school faculty members work with the systems to "diagnose" their staff-development needs; together, they draft a "prescription"; and then a faculty task force goes into the school system to work with teachers in their own classrooms.

However, a major barrier to wider use of this kind of "institution-to-institution" relationship, says David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, is the budget system used by most colleges and universities and state education agencies.

Because the budgets of most departments or divisions of education are determined by how many students they bring into the university or by the amount of published research a faculty conducts, Mr. Imig explains, "there is a disincentive to go into school systems on a facultywide basis."

"Universities do not recognize the teachers you are helping there as 'students'--so you are not bringing any money into the department," he adds. "And the faculty is not doing research, so it isn't building up 'credentials.' There is no prestige in going into the school systems."

Says G. Thomas Fox Jr. of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a draft of a forthcoming study on school-college staff-development efforts: "[Working with school systems] is considered the blue-collar work of the 'academician."'

Seminars and Tutorial Work

Another highly regarded school-college program is the Yale-New Haven Teacher Institute. Beginning its sixth year, the program brings New Haven teachers together with Yale faculty members for five months of seminars and tutorial work on humanities and science topics chosen by the teachers.

The result, those familiar with the institute agree, is revitalized teachers and fresh curriculum material for the New Haven schools. Last month, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the institute a grant of $368,000.

There are also thousands among the 2.1 million public-school teachers, many point out, who make constructive use of the existing staff-development system, growing professionally and helping their students by making themselves better teachers.

But retraining and reinvigorating adults who have been at their job for years is a delicate and often difficult task, one that, despite past efforts, is just now beginning to be fully understood, according to Mr. Vaughan and others. Moreover, some add, educators and concerned citizens who are eager to improve teaching often fail to realize that for far more teachers today than in the past, teaching is merely a job. For many teachers, a number of recent surveys have shown, the traditional sense of commitment is gone.

Says Gary Sykes, who is also involved with staff development at nie: "We're not talking about paragons of virtue. Teachers are normal human beings. We're talking about the 45-year-old guy who used the GI Bill to get into education. He's seen the earning power of his paycheck dwindle at a time when he's sending his own kids off to college. He sees the prestige of his chosen profession decline. Now you are chiding him for not getting involved in staff development and school improvement. There is something slightly unreal, in plain human terms, about all this talk of staff development. How can you put the burden for renewal on teachers unless you also give them support?"

Vol. 02, Issue 06

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