Professional Development Opinion

5 Ways to Respect and Support Teachers

By Learning Forward — May 05, 2014 3 min read
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Stephanie Hirsh

This is the week we take time to acknowledge the incredible contributions of our teachers to our country. Their dedication and commitment leads to every great achievement in our nation.

Our teachers have never faced more demanding challenges. At the same time their students’ needs continue to grow, teachers face ever-tougher expectations from their states, school systems, and schools. The many demands on teachers include newly adopted career- and college-ready standards, new student assessments, new teacher evaluation requirements, and emerging technologies.

Here I outline five actions that systems can take to demonstrate their respect and support for educators, support them on their journeys to achieve excellence, and encourage them to see the learning profession as one worthy of a lifetime commitment.

Give teachers the feedback and support they need to increase their effectiveness. Too many teachers spend years in the profession without receiving feedback on their performance or help with their problems. Teachers need school systems to create the structures and invest in the people who will provide teachers with the feedback and support they need to improve their practice on a daily basis. Systems can choose to make this a fundamental part of their employment compact, and teachers can choose to work in places where the support is nonnegotiable.

Give teachers access to colleagues who share the responsibility for the success of a select group of students. No teacher should have to turn far to find support with his or her immediate problems of practice. Just as in higher-performing countries, teachers need to be assigned to learning teams with clear expectations that they share responsibility for a designated group of students.

Give teachers time during the work day to collaborate, problem solve, and learn with colleagues. Teachers should not be expected to learn only on their own time. While some learning may take place beyond the work day, substantive time and support should be scheduled within every teacher contract to acknowledge that learning is a core responsibility of every educator.

Give teachers time to implement new initiatives with accuracy and fidelity. The teachers I know are eager to learn new skills and apply new technologies that have potential to help their students achieve more. They are committed to the promise of higher standards. They are eager to introduce new curriculum and write new lessons that engage their students in deeper learning. They also know their efforts may not work as intended the first time around. They want time to improve their craft and get implementation right. When systems connect new standards to high- stakes immediately, teachers’ efforts to innovate are stifled, their willingness to learn from mistakes is compromised, and returning to old practices is safer. Let’s give teachers the time they need to implement new practices in an atmosphere of appreciation, recognition, and support — as opposed to fear, punitive accountability, and shame.

Make the teaching and learning profession attractive to those willing to make a lifetime commitment. This year I celebrate more than 40 years in the learning profession. I was fortunate; I paved a path that gave me countless opportunities to develop and exercise leadership skills. While I moved away from the classroom, I still ensured I would interact with teachers on a regular basis. We need many more pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and at the same time continue to serve students. Many teacher surveys and the growth of teacher leadership initiatives demonstrate that teachers want to teach and serve the profession simultaneously. Organizations outside school systems shouldn’t be the only ones creating these options; rather, such pathways should be a fundamental part of how each district supports its work force.

Let me hear about how you rank my five recommendations. Where is your school system in relation to these actions? Are these the right steps to move us forward? I will continue to work on these actions and report on our progress a year from now.

Until then...Happy Teacher Appreciation Week to Mrs. Knuckles, Mr. Roslawski, Mr. Young, Mr. Mansur, Mr. Lovercheck, Dr. Ponder, Dr. Kemerer, Mrs. Ceballos, and the countless other teachers who make me who I am today!

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director, Learning Forward

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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.