By guest blogger Alyssa Morones
A new multimedia report released this week aims to give principals and district leaders a window into what good teacher development could look like in their classrooms.
The report—produced by two education nonprofit groups, America Achieves and New Leaders—focuses on school leaders and provides concrete examples of ways that principals can support their teachers, especially as schools go through a massive transition to implement the Common Core State Standards and new student-assessment and teacher-evaluation systems.
But rather than having the conversation about instructional improvement centered on teacher evaluation, “really it should be centered on, how do we develop teachers to get the best results for kids?” said Peter Kannam, managing partner of America Achieves, an organization that focuses on changing state and district-level policies to support school improvement. (There’s a strong link between America Achieves and New Leaders—Jon Schnur co-founded both groups and currently serves as the executive chairman of America Achieves.)
Embedded in the report are three videos featuring schools where leadership is having a positive impact on teaching quality. America Achieves partnered with New Leaders to put together the video content and accompanying case studies to illustrate structured opportunities for teacher growth and development and gives examples of strategies that school leaders could immediately implement in their schools.
One of the three videos, titled “Teachers Teaching Teachers,” features Merrill Middle School in Denver. The principal created “Learning Labs” for teachers, bringing them together to observe and learn from one another. She also provides regular teacher training on the guidelines for offering meaningful feedback.
These aren’t changes that districts and principals can make on their own, though. According to Kannam, policymakers must figure out, “how do we structure time in schools so teachers have time for peer mentoring or learning labs, where schools have to build things into their calendars?” he said.
For that reason, the report includes policy recommendations from New Leaders on what states and districts need to do to enable this type of development. Among them:
- Emphasizing skills for improving teaching at every stage of the principal pipeline;
- Investing funds in principal effectiveness;
- Fostering the role of teacher leader by removing regulatory barriers that prevent teachers from taking on additional responsibilities in their schools;
- Defining the principal as an instructional leader and talent manager; and
- Giving principals some autonomy to decide the types of professional development most useful for their school staff members.
The importance of professional development time, and what good professional development looks like, has been under the microscope lately, especially in light of the new standards. For example, proposed Utah legislation would allow districts to devote up to eight days of class time each year toward professional development.
“It’s important to invest time and energy in developing teachers,” said Kannam. “It can’t be an add-on. It has to be central to how the school operates.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.