In May 2013, I attended my first Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching conference, or ECET2. The intent of ECET, which incidentally was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is to bring together teachers from different school districts engage in personal and professional development—by teachers, for teachers.
Those two days changed my life. I was inspired by the stories of teachers and students who had overcome a myriad of challenges to find their success and passion. I found answers to questions about my practice and helped others to find solutions to implement immediately in their classroom.
This shouldn’t have been a life-changing experience. But sadly, teachers spend the bulk of their careers in isolation, working behind closed doors. We rarely have the opportunity to take advantage of the human capital in our buildings: our collective experience and wisdom.
For this reason, I think that philanthropists looking to have an immediate and long-lasting impact on student achievement should fund programs that support high-quality professional development for teachers, including:
- Conferences: Off-site conferences like ECET2 provide productive learning environments. They allow teachers to discuss pedagogy and practice one day, and then implement new solutions the next. Participants can engage in respectful discourse without fear of administrative retribution, and are freed from the guilt of not spending their “free time” attending to unfinished classroom tasks.
- Instructional rounds or video PLCs: Instructional rounds encourage teachers to invite peers in to their classrooms to provide feedback on specific areas of practice. Peers can provide insight on the learning from the student perspective and the team can work together to make suggestions for improvement. The observations are reciprocal, allowing peers to take ideas or teaching methods with them. In lieu of site visits, teachers can also upload their recorded lessons for colleague feedback.
- Virtual communities: Online personal learning networks can allow teachers to learn and lead together through webinars, live chats, discussion posts, and more. Teachers can connect with peers from across the country or around the world at times convenient to their schedule. (Just one example: Center for Teaching Quality‘s Collaboratory.)
- Teacherpreneurs: These are expert teachers who have half-time release from their teaching duties to work on leadership and learning projects within their schools, districts, and beyond. Teacherpreneurs can develop, pilot, identify, and share innovative practices with their colleagues. Teacherpreneurs can also make connections between teacher leaders across districts to broaden collaboration and discussion.
The greatest asset schools have to improve student achievement is their human capital. And for most school districts, that resource is underutilized. The problem is worsened by the fact that teachers do not have the time to collaborate within a traditional teaching schedule. Philanthropists should help schools tap their invaluable resources by providing funding for teacher-led professional development of all kinds—including the additional personnel that may be needed to secure more time for teachers to collaborate and learn.
Julie Hiltz is a 2013-2014 CTQ teacherpreneur who helps Florida teachers personalize their leadership roles and works as an educational-media specialist in Hillsborough County, Fla. She is a National Board-certified teacher.
The opinions expressed in Teaching Ahead: A Roundtable 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.