(This is the third post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)
The new question-of-the-week is:
What are the biggest problems with common teacher professional development practices and how can they be fixed?
Part One’s contributors were Diana Laufenberg, Dina Strasser, Heather Wolpert-Gawron, Debbie Silver, Rita Platt and Dr. Melissa C. Gilbert. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Diana, Dina, Heather and Debbie on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here. By the way, you can also now listen to the show on Google Play and Stitcher, in addition to iTunes.
In Part Two, Douglas Reeves, Jessica Torres, Melissa Eddington, Jared Covili, Daniel R. Venables and Harry Fletcher-Wood shared their ideas.
Today, Nancy Fichtman Dana, Sally J. Zepeda, Jeffrey Wilhelm, James “Jimi” Cannon, Andrew Miller, Catherine Beck, Judy Bell and Pia Lindquist Wong offer their suggestions.
Response From Nancy Fichtman Dana
Nancy Fichtman Dana is Professor of Education at the University of Florida and author of ten books and over 80 articles on teacher and principal professional learning. She has worked with numerous schools and districts across the United States and abroad to craft job-embedded professional development programs with a particular focus on inquiry and professional learning communities. Her work is summarized in her latest text from Corwin Press, The PLC Book, offering practical tips to make the most of this powerful mechanism for teacher professional learning”
As I classroom teacher, I remember well the two days a year that were scheduled into the district calendar for our professional development. Called an “in-service,” students enjoyed the day off as my colleagues and I reported to work and were filed into the large high-school auditorium to hear a speaker on the latest promising initiative our district was promoting. While we may have been intrigued and even inspired, the next day we would all return to the hectic pace of our classroom routines, and whatever was learned during that one “in-service” day, quickly faded from our memories.
Teachers call them “One-Shot Wonders.” Decades of research indicate the ineffectiveness of such models of professional learning. Yet, in 2017, this practice continues to be a pervasive approach to professional development and the biggest problem with common teacher professional development practice remains - the one-shot wonder alone does not create rich and powerful ways for teachers to learn throughout the professional lifetime.
Instead, teachers need ongoing opportunities to learn in and from their own classroom practice, with and from one another, as they collectively wrap their heads around meeting the needs of every student they teach. Rather than give students a day off for professional development to occur, students become the foundation and focus of on-going, job-embedded professional learning, through mechanisms such as professional learning communities (PLCs), defined as small groups of teachers who meet on a regular basis to engage in deliberative dialogue about student work and student learning.
To start or renew an effective PLC, keep these three “P“s in mind:
- An effective PLC has Purpose. To develop purpose, teachers work together to formulate a burning question they have about their practice that will guide the PLC work, for example
- What actions can we take as fourth grade teachers to improve reading achievement of our lowest achieving students?, or
- How can we engage parents at the secondary level as partners in their student’s learning?
- An effective PLC has a Plan. To keep PLC members focused on student work and student learning as they explore their question together, a PLC develops a plan that includes a projected timeline for desired PLC activities. Over time, PLC activities generally include the following:
- Selection and reading of high-quality literature related to the topic of the PLC work,
- Articulation of curriculum and/or teaching actions PLC members develop and try together related to their question,
- Ways in which the PLC will collect and analyze multiple types of data (i.e., student work, observations, videos, digital pictures, surveys, reflective journals, progress monitoring tools, grades, standardized assessment measure scores) to understand and document the ways PLC members’ actions are contributing to student learning.
- An effective PLC makes its work Public. The rich learning that comes from the collection and analysis of data as PLC members innovate practice in response to student work and student learning has broader impact when shared with others. This can be accomplished through:
- sharing regular PLC progress reports at faculty meetings,
- making presentations at larger district and staff meetings, and/or
- presenting a PLC’s work at local, state or national conferences!
The three P‘s of PLCs (Purpose, Plan, and Public) work together to ensure the ineffective one-shot wonder days of professional development transform into ongoing powerful professional learning for all.
Response From Sally J. Zepeda
Sally J. Zepeda is a Professor in the Department of Lifelong Education, Administration, and Policy at the University of Georgia. Her book--Job-Embedded Professional Development: Support, Collaboration, and Learning in Schools (NY: Routledge)--situates teachers, leaders, and other school personnel at the front of the class with its exploration of numerous approaches and models of job-embedded professional development:
Many years ago, I published a synthesis about what teachers need, want, and get from classroom supervision. In sum, teachers wanted more than what they got. They wanted to be more engaged in their learning than starring in the famed dog and pony show played out in ritualistic fashion every time an administrator walked in the door. They wanted to be active in gaining knowledge about their teaching, and they wanted to examine their own classroom practices with a supportive supervisor--their evaluator. These teachers believed that they could overcome the perennial and adversarial rift between the image of the supportive supervisor and the same person holding the hammer at the end of the year to evaluate.
Through effort, supervision, professional development, and teacher evaluation can be practiced in ways that each works in tandem to support the growth and development of teachers empowered to co-construct their own learning based on their needs. With this view, supervision, professional development, and evaluation unfold coherently, seamlessly creating a personalized path of learning for adults. For example, the knowledge gained from a classroom observation would inform professional learning, and the progress toward goals during the current year and the results of the teacher evaluation would work in concert to frame and personalize professional learning for the next year.
With a telescoped view, professional development is the center of all efforts. Today, not tomorrow, we need to examine what teachers need and want, shedding the shackles of ineffective professional development that have consistently and pervasively disappointed our profession.
Pouring through “what works” in the field of practice and research, it’s pretty convincing that job-embedded learning opportunities must become the foundation of a teacher’s work day. Learning opportunities before and after school is mostly at odds with what we know about effective professional learning.
Take five to reflect about how you would feel learning after spending seven-plus hours engaging with children, forgoing lunch to make phone calls to parents, and serving on school-wide committees during personal planning. Although daunting, there is opportunity for teachers to engage in learning if we become opportunistic with finding the time in the day for teachers to learn from and with their peers.
Needed--Professional Development that is Professional
We know what great teachers do differently. Great teachers, in my view, realize that learning to teach never ends. They also know that professional development is a process, not a destination.
The following ideas can support teachers as they continue to grow as professionals.
PD is not a Fix-it List. Teachers are not broken and except for the rarest of situations, teachers can verbalize where they need to grow and where they need support. PD is personalized with teachers leading their learning.
PD is Content Focused. Teachers want content-focused professional learning that is inextricably applicable to meeting the needs of their own students. PD is embedded within the lessons learned during the day-to-day experiences in the classroom. They own it!
PD is Collaborative. Professional development is nestled in a community of learners that embrace an ethos of support. In schools that support a culture of care, collaborative partnerships between teachers and school leaders are built on a foundation of trust and positive intent for learning. Teachers in such an environment build and sustain supportive relationships with their peers.
Leaders model respect, civility, empathy, and humility by learning besides teachers as co-constructors of knowledge to improve classroom practices. The big take-away is that schools cannot succeed without a school dedicated to building a learning culture.
PD Embraces Risk-Taking. Teachers need and want to be supported as they tackle the thorny issues of practice while they are doing the “work” of learning in their classrooms. Teachers want to commensurate, to celebrate, and to re-focus efforts as they learn from the risks of doing things differently. Effective PD includes processes such as feedback, focused coaching, and sustained conversations over time between peers.
PD is Actionable. Teachers need to be able to adopt, adapt, and try on for size the content of formal professional development in their own classrooms. Teachers need follow-up feedback on the implementation of lessons learned in professional development, and they need to make sense of things by engaging in reflective conversations that allow them to look deeply at their practices.
PD focuses on Student Learning. When we learn from our practice, we grow. If we want students to grow, then teachers must actively engage in learning, too. Effective professional development--regardless of its content or form--engages teachers in studying student work exemplars coupled with data. Teachers can note patterns, begin to associate instructional or assessment practices tied to data, and make informed decisions about what worked or not, becoming more nimble at responding to student needs.
PD is Sustained over Time. “One-shot” professional development is replaced with learning opportunities sustained over time, aligned to content and its complexity, the long-term outcomes needed to be met, and the learning needs of the adults.
None of these ideas will work very well if a school does not mobilize its resources and energy to support teachers learning about what they have been called to do--teach. If we work toward embracing professional learning that supports teachers, schools can become a hub of learning for everyone.
Response From Jeffrey Wilhelm
Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm is currently Distinguished Professor of English Education at Boise State University and regularly teaches middle and high school students. He is the founding director of the Maine Writing Project and the Boise State Writing Project, and author of 32 texts about literacy teaching and learning. He is the recipient of the two top research awards in English Education: the NCTE Promising Research Award for “You Gotta BE the Book” (TC Press) and the Russell Award for Distinguished Research for “Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys":
You may have heard a version of this joke: Joe really wasn’t dead; he just happened to be attending a school in-service. The reason for this joke is that so much PD lacks vitality and connection to our professional practice.
Think about how medical doctors get PD. During my wife’s health journey over the last ten years we have often experienced doctors giving and receiving embedded PD in the context of solving real wolrd medical issues in the hospital or examining room. The same is true of other professions and crafts. When we lived in Germany, every “master” plumber or carpenter was involved in apprenticing journeymen and apprentices in the context of actual work. This kind of work is based on the principle of situated motivation and cognition: that it is a context of actual and immediate use that co-produces all motivation, knowledge and new expertise.
The Problem: The Big Itch
What is the biggest problem with Teacher Professional Development? To be blunt, it is precisely this: it is not typically experienced in or connected to the context of our classroom instruction and professional knowledge.
Teachers possess many different areas of professional knowledge, but the central, most profound, and most influential kind of knowledge they develop is that of “pedagogical content knowledge” (Shulman, 1986/1987): namely the knowledge of HOW to plan and then HOW to teach students HOW to engage in expert disciplinary practice - e.g. how to read a data set or story more like an expert, how to practice science to solve pervasive environmental problems more like a real scientist, etc. Improving teaching and learning is about instruction and only about instruction. Therefore, PD must focus on the mindful development of pedagogical content knowledge
To take a positive view with a wider angle lens, here is what PD needs to do:
1) Align with teachers’ most pressing instructional concerns
2) Focus on one or two of these concerns over time and provide PD about these concerns over time
3) Give teachers time to work together on these pressing concerns
4) Recognize and then extend teachers’ existing expertise
5) Focus on instructional planning and implementation (and developing more conscious “pedagogical content knowledge” while doing so
6) Identify measurable outcomes that will show visible signs of progress
7) Create action plans for deliverables that work towards the outcomes
The influential book Rousing Minds to Life (1990) puts it this way: to learn deeply and outgrow one’s capacity, teachers need exactly what students need - focused assistance over time to meet a few powerful and clearly articulated goals.
The Solution: The Big Scratch
I have been a National Writing Project (NWP) director for the last 23 years. To my mind, the National Writing Project model gets it right and provides the solution for providing engaging and useful professional development.
Principles of Successful PD
Though every NWP site is different, following are a few of the common principles embraced across various NWP sites:
*Expertise about teaching resides with teachers.
*Teachers are the best teachers of other teachers
*Knowledge is a collective social construction.
*Teachers, like all learners, must construct their understandings with others who share their concerns.
*The most pressing problems and challenges of involved teachers should be the subject of current PD.
*The central way to improve engagement and learning is to focus on planning and instructional practice.
*PD should not be top down, but should involve thinking partnership between all parties, bringing a variety of unique perspectives, interests and knowledge to bear on the common project.
When PD proceeds from principles like these, then it is sure to be on-point, purposeful with clear payoffs, meet teacher needs, generate teacher buy-in, build on teacher knowledge by encouraging the invention, extension, and revision of existing knowledge -- and the invention of new professional knowledge so that it is immediately applicable, useful and transferable across situations.
PD at the Boise State Writing Project
At my own NWP site, the Boise State Writing Project (BSWP), we engage in what we call “thinking partnership.” That means that the PD we do is based on the articulated challenges of teachers on site and reciprocal efforts to address them as a team.
Whether we are working with a school, a department, or a self-selected interest group, we first work together to identify a common pressing problem (e.g. how to differentiate instruction for a wide variety of learner needs).
Next, we discuss the challenges and the possible reasons for these challenges (e.g. we teach students with different interests and current capacities, and have an influx of refugee students, yet we value having students work together on common projects so they can learn from each other and engage in democratic dialogue).
Then we brainstorm possible ways forward in addressing challenges despite the inevitable constraints (e.g. use inquiry environments so everyone can bring their own unique interests, experiences and capacities to bear on the common project, reading different texts and creating different knowledge artifacts about the inquiry topic)
We then create an action plan that includes a timeline and commitments and ongoing assistance to meet our goals.
The Idaho Coaching Network
Another example of these principles in play is the Idaho Coaching Network. This initiative is a partnership of the BSWP and the Idaho State Department of Education to foster teacher-led professional development. All of the literacy coaches are experienced classroom teachers and BSWP fellows, who work with current teachers K-12 on the development of instructional units in any content area. At the outset of the school year the classroom teacher decides which unit they will revise, or create, while their coach supports her in this effort with ongoing professional development about literacy instruction. Mid-way through the year teachers share units with one another, provide feedback, and revise before teaching them. Finally, during the summer teachers revise their units based on student work and feedback from students and colleagues. The common denominator every step along the way is the teacher makes the final call on everything because the coach believes they are working on what they and their students most need at this time.
The Edcamp model is another example of how we do this kind of PD for the fellows at our BSWP site. (Just to be clear, these are not “official” Edcamps because they do not follow the program model of being completely open to anyone and everyone. We wholeheartedly support official Edcamps as well.) We’ve adapted EDcamps at our site when there are events with large numbers of BSWP Teacher Consultants meeting together at once. The model is based on the fact that when teachers pool ideas about pressing challenges they will come up with plenty of things to discuss. When it is time to meet, we get together and vote on what challenges are most pressing for the group. Then we identify rooms where different challenges will be addressed. At our latest Edcamp style meeting the first hour featured sessions focusing on differentiation, matching students to appropriate texts, and improving our teaching with inquiry methodologies. Teachers went to the session of their choice and stayed as long as they liked, moving to another session whenever they wished with no guilt. Sometimes people moved out into the hall to discuss an aspect of a featured issue, or to pursue a new one that came up. If participants don’t want a session to end, they skip the next round and continue to discuss until they’re finished. A host facilitates the discussions and keeps notes on helpful ideas, insights and action plans. If pairs or larger groups break off, they also take notes that can be shared and serve as a kind of archival knowledge document. After an hour, we shift to new sessions. We end by visiting and eating together - and inevitably rich conversation about instruction ensues. Participants solidify action plans and write up commitment cards to try a new approach and a plan for reporting out to “running buddies” making similar commitments.
A Radical Departure
This kind of PD is a radical revision of typical PD. It is radical in that it recognizes that the authority and expertise about teaching resides with teachers, and that teachers are the best teachers of other teachers. It foregrounds teachers’ existing knowledge, while using social structures to build on, extend and then apply new instances of teacher knowledge. This is the kind of PD that overcomes the salience and the problems associated with traditional PD. No one ever leaves any of our professional development offerings fearing that they have had a near-death experience! In fact, teachers are engaged and enlivened and have ways of moving immediately forward in their professional practice and knowledge making. This is the way PD should be!
Response From James “Jimi” Cannon
James “Jimi” Cannon is Director of Professional Learning Development for Scholastic Education, focused on the creation of new professional learning courses and programming to support teachers. He began his teaching career in 1982 and has since trained in and taught all aspects of literacy instruction at all grade levels. Jimi’s expertise in supporting underserved student populations stems from his time in the classroom and from research he undertook while earning his Master’s in Reading focused on second language learners:
For over a decade, I have had the privilege of supporting teachers, schools, and districts across the country as they commit to making changes in the way literacy is taught in classrooms. Interestingly, when the visionary changes set forth by district or school leadership are not realized, the content or methods of literacy instruction are often not the reason. In my experience, lack of student growth or teacher change can almost always be traced back to how the professional learning was developed and implemented. These problems of practice seem to have some common threads. For example:
Problem #1: Professional learning is not based on learners’ needs and has not been examined by all stakeholders.
Solution: Use student and teacher data to choose the focus of professional learning. For example, if a school has identified a goal of raising test scores, the principal, instructional coach, and grade level team might meet to examine running records or other assessment data to look for reasons students are not meeting goals, and instruction data to discover the types of instruction offered. This close dive into the numbers can help identify patterns such as students not monitoring for meaning as they read or teachers not explicitly teaching the active and constant use of comprehension strategies. With this data-focused approach, district leadership can then shift the emphasis of professional learning to teaching comprehension strategies--meeting the needs of students and helping move the school toward its goal of improved test scores.
Problem #2: Teachers have learned about instructional intervention as part of their professional learning, but there is little change in instruction.
Solution: Examine data that shows teachers actually understand each component of their professional learning by building an implementation plan that includes clear expectations, support, and accountability. In an instance where a school has identified that students need to better monitor for meaning as they read, the instructional coach and principal can co-facilitate professional learning by helping teachers identify what monitoring for meaning looks like in practice. This might start by drafting a strategy observation guide that describes what to look for in the classroom, including student and teacher actions. As a next step, the larger group can then plan a “monitoring for meaning” lesson together, with the instructional coach modeling the co-planned lesson while teachers and the principal use the observation guide to take notes. Teachers are then able to take these observations with them as they teach the same lesson in their classrooms, making sure to videotape their approach. By watching and reviewing these tapes together, school leadership can provide constructive feedback to better meet the needs of the students and, if necessary, make revisions to the observation guide.
While these two examples address common problems of practice in professional learning that supports teachers, they also illustrate collective responsibility, committed instructional leaders, and the cycle of continuous improvement, which are critical components to the long-term success of effective professional learning.
Response From Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller started his teaching career at a traditional high school in the areas of English and Social studies. He then transferred to be founding faculty member at a new school focused on Project Based Learning and STEAM education. After successfully implementing numerous projects across grades 6-12 he took the opportunity to become a full-time faculty member of the Buck Institute for Education, where we he traveled internationally to work with teachers to implement PBL across all grade levels. He has been with the Institute since 2010. He is also a consultant with ASCD and writes regularly for Edutopia. Currently, Andrew is back in the day-to-day work of education at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China where he serves as an instructional coach:
I think the biggest problem with professional development is the baggage that comes with the term itself. When we say “professional development” it carries a lot of misunderstanding. One area we might think of is “training,” Professional Development can be training, such as learning how to use a new Learning Management System, but often is really more than that. Training doesn’t change thinking about teaching and learning. Yes, training provides us with skills, but a lot of professional development is focused on pushing our thinking. I do a lot of professional development on Project Based Learning, and I cringe when I hear people use the term “training” to describe a workshop. Perhaps I gave some tools on how to do PBL, but I really belief a good workshop or professional learning experience promotes thinking more than a training can do.
Further baggage the term “professional development” carries is an immediate equivocation with a workshop or conference. Indeed, many schools have professional develop funds that are just for that. I believe that is a huge misunderstanding. Working with a coach is professional development. Engaging in a book study is professional development. Watching colleagues teach is professional development. Collaborative as a teacher team is professional development. We need to do more to expand our idea of what professional development is. It is not just a training or a workshop, it is anything that promotes deeper thinking about teaching and learning. This will allow us to reevaluate how we use resources to grow our teachers and ensure professional develop is not simply a one-time event.
Professional development is constant and job-embedded. In addition, the implication is that teachers are always growing and reflecting and are never truly done learning. Teacher professional development is not an event; it is a system and mindset for continuous improvement to positively impact student learning.
Response From Catherine Beck & Judy Bell
Catherine Beck, Ed.D is currently the Director of Schools in Cheatham County, TN. She is a professor for Concordia University and the American College of Education. She is the author of “Easy and Effective Professional Development,” and “LEading LEarning for ELL Students.” You can find her at @cathypetreebeck
Judy Bell has been an elementary teacher for 11 years, a middle school teacher 3 years, and a middle school principal 7 years. Judy is currently supervisor of Federal Programs (Title IA & IIA), 504 Coordinator, testing and textbooks, and middle school supervisor in Cheatham County School District:
Traditional professional development practices no longer work in today’s personalized learning era. We see that PD practices are not specific enough to meet individual to teachers’ needs. The teachers’ needs should be based on quantitative, qualitative data coupled with their particular passions.
Historically, professional development has been a one-size-fits all show. The person delivering the learning is supplying the knowledge in a one way continuum.
There is no follow up, no opportunities for support, practice, feedback or reflection. How can we measure the effectiveness of these sit and get models without these components in place? Here again, you need the data, personnel, or means to make sure the PD worked. Another problem is time: just like the students, each teacher learns at a different rate. Some teachers can learn something and start using it immediately. Other teachers might require several learning, modeling, and coaching sessions before being able to make the needed changes in the classroom to show student success.
An additional issue with past models of professional development has been the cost. Traditionally professional development has been one of the biggest expenditures in a district’ budget. With ever tightening budgets, districts are forced to think creatively to provide high quality professional development for staff member.
There are several ways that we can and must begin to think about professional development differently. Questions we need to ask ourselves include:
- Are we offering professional development or training? There is a difference and while both are needed we need to understand the contrast.
- Are there differentiated opportunities for professional development offered?
- Do we have a variety of modalities in terms of professional development delivery?
- Are we leveraging the talent in our district to give staff members opportunities to create and facilitate engaging professional development for all?
Once we have answered these questions we can begin to build a quality professional development program. High quality professional development is focused, job embedded, ongoing, with opportunities for practice, feedback, and reflection. Do your opportunities meet this criteria?
Do an audit of professional development wishes by the staff. Measure your offerings against the goals of the district and the mission and vision statements. Are the professional development opportunities aligned? Think creatively and brainstorm what resources you have to work with. Different forms of professional development that can easily be offered include participating in Twitter Chats, having teachers create Google Classrooms, the use of a formalized peer observation process, Voxer book studies, and Skype sessions with others who have a particular expertise. The key is variety, personalization, and choice. We value this in instruction for our students. We also value this in professional development for our staff.
Response From Pia Lindquist Wong
Pia Lindquist Wong is a professor in the Teaching Credentials Department at Sacramento State University. She has been a teacher educator since 1995 and focuses on urban teacher preparation. She is active in local education politics (co-chaired a successful bond campaign for a local school district) and state educational policy-making (she is on the Board of Directors for the California Council for Teacher Education and is also co-chair of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s Committee on Accreditation.) She has co-authored two books, one on Paulo Freire’s tenure as Secretary of Education for Sao Paulo public schools (“Education and democracy: Paulo Freire, education reform and social movements”) and another on urban professional development schools (“Prioritizing urban children, their teachers and schools through professional development schools”):
I am involved in several professional learning programs that afford me the distinct honor and pleasure of working side by side with in-service teachers on dilemmas of practice, particularly those that relate to teaching our rigorous standards (especially Next Generation Science Standards) to California’s diverse learners. I engage in these programs with colleagues from Sacramento State. Our teacher participants consistently tell us that their experience in our sessions is distinct and, admittedly, preferred to what they normally experience in professional development. Based on their feedback and what they have recounted to us, I have constructed a list of what appears to be missing in common teacher professional development.
First, typical professional development takes a “banking” approach to teacher learning, does not tailor activities to the audience, and assumes they are blank or, worse, inadequate slates upon which content will be transcribed. In our work, we always begin with activities that allow teachers to define their goals for our sessions. I am humbled and inspired by what these teachers state. When queried about their hopes and dreams for their students, they respond: "...for them to be independent, lifelong learners...,” “develop a sense of inquiry,” “feel comfortable and safe in my science classroom,” “develop math confidence,” “enhance their skills for academic discourse so they can learn the content better,” and so on. When asked what they want to learn or improve upon, their lists are typically long, specific, and involve considerable professional risk-taking. Starting with where the teachers are does not mean that our sessions have no structure or lack rigor; rather, our sessions begin with information about what the teachers already know, what they want, and what they need.
Second, common teacher professional development often does not model high quality pedagogy and/or pedagogy that is likely to result in deep learning, application, and/or transferability. For many teachers, the new standards (Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards) require pedagogical strategies that the teachers themselves have not experienced as learners. Intellectually, they understand what the new standards can achieve and they can implement aspects of it, just based on their professional knowledge base and experience. But, for deep and masterful implementation, they must engage in inquiry, sense-making, model-development, argumentation with evidence, etc. as adult/professional learners. This must be followed up with relevant resources, collaboration time, reflection time, experimentation opportunities, and other kinds of support in order for these experiential modes of learning to be translated into professional practice. Part of what makes the professional learning sessions that we offer a challenge to us as university faculty is that we must learn ourselves how to create activities and tasks that model high quality pedagogy in ways that are appropriate for the adult, professional learner. It is a challenge that is worth the effort, however.
Finally, it has been stated repeatedly in academic and trade journals, but it is worth repeating. Too much professional development is “drive-by” or “one and done.” This does not reflect what we know or what cognitive science tells us about how people learn new material and transfer it to professional decision-making and action. Meaningful professional learning, especially professional learning that is supposed to change professional practice, must be recursive and extensive. Teachers must have time to learn new content, reflect on it, experiment with it, receive feedback on their efforts (from peers, supervisors, and/or students), and then refine their understanding; this last step can often require additional information and content. Moreover, most teachers find this recursive process to be particularly productive if it can be done in collaboration with others - grade level or department peers form the most obvious learning community, but technology makes cross site and even cross district collaboration a viable possibility for productive professional learning communities. In our professional learning programs, we support lesson study teams and action research teams and we also typically require schools to send teams of participants (often with a grade level mix, with administrators, and/or with general and special educators) so that this collaborative, learning community norm is part of the learning.
In our professional learning programs, we have found that when we tap into teachers’ professional goals, provide them with authentic and rigorous learning activities that model high quality pedagogy, and support learning communities, the professional transformation always exceeds our expectations.
Thanks to Nancy, Sally, Jeffrey, James, Andrew, Catherine, Judy, and Pia for their contributions!
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