Teacher-Directed Professional Development
Jan. 24, 2007
Teacher-Directed Professional Development
Guests: Corrina Knight, 6th grade language arts/social studies teacher at Salem Middle School in Apex, North Carolina; Linda Emm, educational specialist with Schools of Choice in Miami-Dade County, Florida, and a consultant with the National School Reform Faculty; and Carolann Wade, coordinator for National Board certification and liaison for Peace College Teacher Education for the Wake County, North Carolina, school district.
Anthony Rebora (Moderator):
Welcome to our live chat on teacher-directed professional development efforts. I want to thank our distinguished educator guests--Linda Emm, Corrina Knight, and Carolann Wade—for joining us. They are all members of the Teacher Leaders Network, and have had some excellent first-hand experience in this area.
Before we get started, one housekeeping detail: We had some technical difficulties late last night and this morning (now resolved) that resulted in our losing some of the questions submitted to this chat. So if you submitted a question this morning or early this afternoon, please re-submit it now if you can. I will try to make sure that as many questions get through to the guests as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Question from Joellen Killion, director of special projects, National Staff Development Council:
I frequently hear that teacher-led professional development is merely “sharing ignorance.” How do you answer those critics?
How do teachers engaged in know that professional “development” occurs when teachers are collaborating?
The idea that teachers engaged in learning from one another is “sharing ignorance” is illustrative of the disregard in which classroom teachers are often held - shockingly often by those who supervise and work with them. This is also part of the paradigm that “professional development” is something that is done TO teachers. Teachers’ work is filled with dilemmas, with units we want to make better, with lessons that work great for first period and bomb with period four. We want our assessments to tell us if our students have mastered our content. We want to understand how to help the silent voices in the back of the room. We have data, data, data, and we want to know how to use it in a meaningful way to drive the decisions we make in our planning and implementation of lessons that engage each student we see. THESE are the areas where we want to learn and grow. Who better to collaborate with us in managing and dealing with these issues than our colleagues who share our context, our concerns, and our students? People (many times administrators and district people)can’t imagine what this will look like. They need to see it. Better yet, they themselves need to be working on their own work in similar ways. How many times have we heard the term “touchy feely” applied to teacher collaboration? We need to take that head-on. The Myers-Briggs learning styles tell us that there are two ways of taking in and then processing information - touching and feeling. So why is this a BAD thing? Organizations like the National Staff Development Council, the National School Reform Faculty, the Looking at Student Work Collaborative, the Coalition of Essential Schools - all have been engaged for years in figuring how how best to support teaching professionals as they construct new knowledge about their craft and their students. What we need to get better at, I think, is making our learning public outside our small learning communities. Teachers also need to value the time they spend, as Phillip Schlecty calls it, “working on the work”. The disdain their supervisors feel for the value of their collaborative work is passed on. I have actually heard a teacher say, “We don’t have time to think about improving our practice - we need to get ready for the test!” In what universe is this a sane response, and yet - everyone in the room nodded their heads in vigorous agreement. Time and time again we ask teachers, in debriefing and reflecting on our collaborations, “how is this professional development?” Because we need to learn how to answer that question in ways that will help our critics understand that the learning most likely to impact our own practice is learning in which we are actively engaged with our peers, focused on the students we serve.
Question from Mary Lasris, Grant Project Manager, Pioneer Regional Education Service Agency:
Sometimes I find it easier to have teacher buy-in than administration buy-in. How do we help administrators see teachers need time and choice/input into what they learn?
I think this is a particularly challenging question because I think that a lot of what you are asking has to do with relationships and trust. Due to the accountability that administrators are held to, I imagine that it would be difficult to give up control (which requires trust). Administrative selected professional development produces easy evidence that teachers are learning (or at least the opportunity was provided).
At my school, teachers create a professional development plan (anyone can look at it, ask us about it, etc.) As a team, we should be able to discuss our plan and see results. Our ability to defend our plan and yield results is key because it establishes teacher credibility and builds trust between teachers and administrators.
A powerful way to achieve administrative buy-in is through results. I don’t think there is anyone out there that could argue against something that produces calculable student success and learning. Teachers that do action research often do it without direct support from administration. The problem with this route is that teachers have to juggle the additional responsibility of embarking on something new without extra time built in by administration, and/or possibly their backing. Also, action research doesn’t take away a teachers obligation to whole school PD. However, if teachers can clearly prove how the work that they’re doing is producing favorable results for their school then administration would likely create time and allow flexibility for this work to be continued.
Question from Andrea Ray, Teacher, Red Clay Consolidated School District, Wilmington, DE:
Have you discovered any conceptual models that are helpful in designing effective professional development offerings?
Yes. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is a wonderful conceptual model. It includes the essential components of effective professional development, as follows:
1. occurs over time, several months to several years 2. is job-embedded, requires teachers to implement theories and methods in their own classrooms 3. causes teachers to examine their own practices and reflect on their own teaching to see what is effective and what needs improvement 4. provides collegiality, working with teammates
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has funded many professional development opportunities over the past few years. I was fortunate to participate in one called TEAM (Teaching Excellence in Mathematics). As a team, 60 teachers in North Carolina participated in a 5-year professional development to raise both our content knowledge and pedagogy in mathematics and foster our leadership skills. NSF may have some recommendations on these conceptual models to offer soon.
Question from Bob, Educator, Bucknell University:
What in this program is new or innovative? Learning teams seem to have been around for decades. How is this program/are these programs different?
Learning teams HAVE been around for decades. Some have been effective, and actually were learning communities under a different name. Some weren’t. What defines this work is that the people in the group (grade level team, academy, critical friends group, whatever) work together over time with the express purpose of working on their practice. They do this by examining their own and their students work and becoming experts about their students’ strengths and weaknesses. They design instruction that is engaging and assessments that are authentic. If the only thing that changes is saying, “you’re now a learning team”, then you’re right - nothing of substance will change.
Question from Maria Hirst, Curriculum coordinator, American School of Guatemala:
I would like for you to share the creative ways in which your different schools designate time for this type of professional development. At our school, six times a year students leave at 12 and teachers can work from 1-4p.m. and then every Tuesday, teachers stay after school from 3-4 p.m.
One thing that I have to mention before I answer your question is that I believe that true professional development takes a lot of time. On my team, we typically set one large goal a year (not to say we don’t address other things, but we don’t take on multiple large tasks.) The reason I think that this is so important is because often times PD is seen as: Go to a training one or two days after school and now you are professionally developed. I believe that to be truly developed you have to implement your knowledge, find out what works and doesn’t and determine what gives you the results (student learning) that you set out for. With that said…Here are some things that we do with time:
1. Common Planning with our Learning Team: At my school we have a common planning time built into our school day. We are obligated to spend one planning session a week with our learning team. To be honest, we spent more than that the first year we started establishing out teams. Now we spend ninety minutes together each week. We have a meeting agenda and team norms (expectations) to help us be as productive as possible during our planning time. Our teams are based on the subjects we teach and our grade level, however teams can be set up numerous ways. Something also important to consider is that the more people there are on a team the longer it takes to get things done. Because teachers have different needs based on their students and subject, it is natural for teams have different PD focuses.
2. Professional Development Days: Another thing that our administration has provided our learning teams is something we call “Data Days.” The administration provides substitutes on an instructional day so that learning teams can meet all day to analyze the data results that have been produced by their PD efforts. We are given endless flexibility with this time. Some groups use the time to analyze data, some research their PD focus, some create common assessments that will give them data, and some create remediation and enrichment lessons based on their data analysis. My group (really I think most groups) tends to do a little of all of this.
3. Resorting Students: In our building it isn’t unheard of for students to be with a teacher not on their schedule. We have the flexibility to move students around (usually we do this for remediation/enrichment). This allows the remediation rooms to have smaller numbers.
Two of the teachers on my learning team are also part of another team that they don’t share common planning. To combat the lack of planning time with their additional team members, they send their students to other teachers every Tuesday for thirty minutes for a whole class activity (yes, the teacher receiving the kids has a full house). Although this doesn’t allow a full ninety minutes with the other team, it dose keep the planning time within the instructional day and not “after work.”
4. Duty-Free: Our staff has come up with various creative ways to minimize non-instructional duties. Our administration covers lunch (teachers use this time to remediate students, and/or work with their learning teams). Another way we’ve gotten creative is with assemblies, sometimes the administration will cover and we have also had parent volunteers come in and sit with the kids during the assemblies (with an administrator in there too).
One thing that really helps generate time for true professional development is innovative thinking by all, teachers and administration. When you’re thrown a “no” because of time – find a way to make it a “yes”.
Question from Emily Castleberry, Literacy Coordinator and Director of Teacher, UNC Center for Public Television:
Do you consider teacher-led professional development to be more effective, and if so, does use of teacher-led professional development lead to greater teacher retention in our classrooms?
A few years ago, “Educational Leadership” devoted an entire issue to teacher retention. In every single artice, over and over again, it stressed that when teachers felt a sense of being respected, listened to, and not alone in their struggles, they were more likely to remain in the classroom. That alone should have us scurrying to find the money to support more teacher collaboration time. Of course, that time has to be spent well, and thoughtfully designed to maximize the efforts of the group. Just saying, “you now have 90 per day to collaborate with your grade level team/academy/department/whatever... go forth and collaborate” is not enough. It takes skilled faciliators, and a willingness on the part of the group members to work in different ways. To actually learn in community. Teacher-led professional development can be as ineffective as anything else if it’s only different because a teacher is doing the “telling” instead of an “outside expert”. I think teachers who engage in learning from each other in a sustained, supported way do get more out of it. They focus on what they need to learn (and what their students most need them to learn), and therefore, have immediate applications. Because they are learning with colleagues, there becomes a lateral accountability that is so much more powerful than any top-down system ever devised!
Question from N.Stegmann, speech/language pathologist, Ichabod Crane Primary:
How is collaboration time built into the school day so staff can discuss students needs and plan lessons?
My school is on a block schedule in which all core grade level teachers have the same ninety minute planning block. This allows for us to meet as a grade level, with our departments, and our teammate that shares our same students. Additionally, as mentioned in another post, we also come up with other creative ways to manipulate time.
Question from Ann Waddle, academic coach, Darden Elementary:
Do you have data for your school(s) to show the effects on student achievement that are related to the change in your professional development model? How long has this change/reform been in process?
My most powerful information I get is from my teachers who have pursued National Board Certification who tell me how they have grown as teachers and teacher leaders as a result of National Board candidacy. I can see how they are teaching differently when I enter their classrooms. How they are more intuned to their students’ needs. Many of our teachers conduct action research within their own classrooms and have their own data on student achievement gains. We have been trying to offer more effective professional development for several years now so it is an evolving process.
Question from Miles Myers, Senior Researcher, ISCA, Los Angeles:
Your Teachers Leaders Network has been a strong supporter of National Board Certification. But the National Board does not release tapes and portfolios from the teacher applicants. As a result there is no professional review by the teacher community of the rankings of teachers by the National Board. Without this visability and critique, it is unlikely that teacher quality will get the kind of analysis it should have. Do you agree?
I believe the National Board assessment process is very sound. Teachers are given rubrics of how their work will be assessed. I trust the assessment process as I know how rigorous the training and cross-checking is for the assessors. Though no process is without its challenges, I have not seen a professional development opportunity as stimulating and thought-provoking as National Board Certification. Our teachers are growing, examining their own teaching practices and identifying areas in which to improve. I have been in professional development for many years. I see National Board candidates grow significantly through the process, whether they certify or not.
Question from Michelle Jardin Teacher Manhattan Pace Ellementary-LAUSD:
As a second year teacher-I am faced with constant duplication of professional developments-and have become discouraged at the beuracracy behind the course work required to clear my credential. What suggestions to have on approaching an administrator to effectively change the PDs to benefit our learning community?
There may be some rationale behind the redundancy. As a beginning teacher, you may consider working with your mentor or coordinating mentor if you have one, to talk about your concerns. You may want to make a list of the professional developments you have attended and ones you must attend in the future to show how they overlap. You may also be prepared with some suggestions of what professional development you think you need, that would be beneficial to you.
Question from Elizabeth Hueu, Academic Coach, ‘Aiea Elementary:
In your opinion, do you feel a structure for professional learning is necessary for learning communities which take place during school-paid time? At least to start with? What if teachers are not interested in participating?
I do believe there needs to be a structure - at the very least the understanding that we will meet at certain times on certain days, the work will be facilitated (first by a member of the group trained and skilled, and later in a more shared facilitation model). Clear understandings about ALL of us taking an inquiry stance into our own practice is key to the success. In schools where administrators are able to model this, teachers are more likely to willingly want to participate. And the “distinterest” is the sticky issue. You can force someone to put in seat time during the school day, but you can’t force them to be open and to challenge themselves. This happens over time. Every group is different and every group has a different time table for trust. What I’ve found is that deep trust is built by doing meaningful, important work together. When the culture of the school suports collabortive learning as “the way we do things around here”, it is less easy for the naysayers to flourish.
Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid Career Student , Penn:
Teacher leaders and professional learning communities go hand in hand . How can one to begin to establish a community of trust in an effort to create taecher leaders who will guide PD activities. What can the school leadership team do tomake this happen and build trust?
I think the most powerful thing a school leadership team can do to establish learning communities is to become one themselves. Only then will they truly understand the work and the challenges that it presents. Trust is also strengthened when teachers see leaders engaged in the same work they are being asked to do. I believe that learning communities grow teacher leaders. As people get comfortable sharing both their strengths and their struggles, a confidence grows. Knowing that I don’t have to have all the answers, but I have a group of colleagues who can help me find what I need goes a long way to building my confidence as a teacher leader.
Question from Teresa Harris, Professor of Elementary Education, James Madison University:
For first year teachers, what are the best ways to get involved so that you receive the support you need as you try to negotiate all the challenges that you’re facing as a novice?
Hopefully you have a mentor and several experienced teachers who are supporting you through your first years. If not, seek them out. You can learn so much from them. Many professional developments are probably required for you to attend so you can learn the ways your new school system wants you to teach. Attend them all, as you need that information. Form a network with other beginning teachers in your school and system to support each other and share ideas. This is a challenging time for you, but hang in there. You have picked the best profession of all!
Question from Catherine Glass, Project Director, UCF:
How has technology been implemented to assist with teacher-directed professional development efforts?
Since I work in a very large school district with often many miles between schools, we use Blackboard and other listservs as a way for our teachers to work together. Many are conducting action research and meet together monthly or bi-monthly, but to chat on a regular basis and to post resources, Blackboard works well.
Question from Bob Marino, Literacy Consultant:
Teachers taking charge of PD is a great idea but my experience as a principal leads me to ask this question: What if the level of teacher directed PD rises no higher than “the easiest way to cut out letters for your bulletin board?”
I would hope that wouldn’t be the case, but I think that you start with looking at what PD really is (maybe even as a discussion with your staff). PD is about teacher learning in a way that fosters student success. Here are some things we do at my school to ensure that that isn’t the case: 1. We have a shared mission. (We established it together as a whole staff) our PD self selected PD is driven by our mission. 2. As a learning team, we have to be able to defend the validity of our PD and display how it has lead to student success. 3. We also submit a plan of what our goals are and what outcome we expect to see. If our plan was to include letter cutting…I’m sure someone would come asking questions.
Question from email@example.com:
How is teacher-directed professional development monitored/observed/evaluated?
Agendas can be shared and posted. Observers can be invited to attend sessions. The participants themselves evaluate the work continuously. We have people write formal reflections at the end of each session in terms of: What new learning/insights are you leaving with? How will this apply to your daily practice? What needs to happen next to better support your learning? We also consider this work as taking an inquiry stance into one’s own practice. So at the end of the year, a community event where learning communities/teams/critical friends groups can come together and share what they have learned and how they learned it. In Miami-Dade County there is also a formal online evaluation of professional development sessions, no matter whether it is presented by inhouse or outside providers. This enables the office of professional development to keep track of what is happening and how it is being received. I think learning community work has much to offer in the context of being job-embedded and ongoing, the most likely to have an impact on what happens in the classroom with students.
Question from :
How can educators convince school district leaders that teachers should have more decision-making power in selecting better professional development experiences?
Teachers are the ones who know students and what students need. Teachers are also the ones who know what instructional methods work. Unfortunately practicing classroom teachers are not frequently consulted in the planning of professional development. Administrators select new programs and instructional methods and teachers receive training on how to implement. Administrators welcome teacher input if it is done in a clear, concise, and professional manner. Before teachers approach administrators with suggestions on professional development, they should be prepared to answer who, what, when, where, and why.
What? What type of professional development are you advocating? Data speaks volumes. If teachers work together and gather data and perhaps conduct action research on an area of need, they can have concrete data to provide when stating the case for a need.
Why? Why is this particular professional development needed at this time? As a teacher, take information from what you see in your classrooms and student achievement information, presenting gaps to show why there is a need.
How? When? Where? When you meet with administrators with your recommendations, have suggestions on how you would like the professional development to be delivered. Where would you like it to take place and how often? What times of day do you prefer? Have reasons for your recommendations but be flexible, willing to compromise because there are often financial and logistical information teachers may be unaware of.
Who? Who will participate in this professional development? Will it be required or voluntary? Most importantly, which students will benefit from their teachers being trained this way and why?
When seeking to have input in professional development, teachers need to keep system and schools goals in mind, aligning as much as possible. Developing relationships with administrators to be asked to the table in decision-making takes time and preparation but the rewards of quality professional development are well worth the effort.
Question from Candace Crawford, Research Associate-Teacher Quality, The Education Trust:
The point that Linda made about needing skilled facilitator(s) to provide structure to collaborative time is important. Where did Linda receive the training to become a skilled facilitator?
I was trained by the National School Reform Faculty as a facilitator for Critical Friends Groups in 1996. Since that time I have continued to learn more about this craft. One of the things that sets NSRF apart from many other entitites is the requirement that those doing the work with others MUST be practicing members of a Critical Friends Group themselves. This keeps the work grounded in the practical and very complicated real life of schools.
Question from Karen Jamison, Department Chair, Elementary Education, Florida College:
Are there any models being used for college-beginning teacher professional development? I am particularly interested in how colleges of education can provide leadership and support for professional development for alumni of their teacher preparation programs.
That is part of my role with my school system, offering professional development and leadership opportunities to our classroom teachers as partner teachers, working with a local college’s teacher interns. We pay experienced teachers to work with our interns, modeling effective teaching practices and having rich discussions about why they do what they do as far as assessment and instruction. Our interns attend professional development with their partner teachers after school when available, so our interns will be ready when they have their first teaching job (much professional development already attended).As a perk, we offer our partner teachers courses such as Spanish to help them learn and grow. Both our interns and our partner teachers are reflecting and growing. Who better to serve as partner teachers than teachers who are alumni?
Question from Dan Fuchs, Teacher Network Facilitator, New Visions for Public Schools, New York, New York:
Is there a place for outside help from organizations who want to help teachers help each other? I think sometimes we assume that all “professional development” looks the same when this isn’t necessarily the case.
Sure…The National Staff Development Council (NSDC.org) and the National School Reform Faculty (www.harmonyschool.org) are two organizations that provide valuable resources and support to help teachers work together.
Question from Vickie Treadway, teacher, Blytheville Intermediate School:
In a school with majority low income students, we are told to learn the culture. I have yet to attend a workshop that actually helped with that or told us what to do with the information. Any suggestions?
Roland Barth defines culture as “the way we do things around here”. If that’s so, I think we need to become students of our students’ communities and how they do things. We need to engage the community members and parents as our teachers. There is no one-size-fits-all answer or model for doing this and each school community needs to figure it out for themselves. One thing for sure, the more we can do this, the easier our job becomes!
Question from Jack Judkins, Accreditation Coord, Bemidji State U:
Action research as a broad strategy or unifying theme for professional development. If it’s a good idea, what must a district do to encourage a high level of participation?
Start simple. Offer professional development on action research in cohorts in the same school or close vacinity so the teachers can work together if possible. Give them simple steps. Many teachers hear the word research and don’t understand that action research is what they are already doing. They just keep better records and write their results more formally to share with others. Having administrator support is critical. A little time off to do the paperwork and some money or renewal credits are also a perk. The biggest thing is to start small and simple, and praise/uplift the teachers who make the effort to participate. If you work hard and make extra effort, it’s nice when officials like the superintendent notice.
Question from Dan Fuchs, Program Officer, New Visions for Public Schools, New York City:
I find it interesting that several new and recently-hired teachers have contributed to this chat. How do you feel that teacher-directed professional development directly speaks to the issue of turning around the trends of teacher burn-out/attrition?
I think when teachers are part of an authentic learning community with their colleagues, burn out is less likely - because they are not alone. Milbrey Mc-Laughlin and Joan Talbott did research years ago about teacher efficacy. They talked about those who taught solely “subjects” as opposed to “children” and teachers who were interested in learning all they could about themselves and their students. In this last category, the thing that made the difference between teachers who burned themselves out and teachers who felt empowered and effective was that those who felt effective were part of a community of learners themselves.
Question from Bill Camp, Professor, Cornell University:
Action research can be excellent or it can be very poorly conceived and executed. How do you handle quality control issues for teacher action research? Who decides and what criteria do they use for acceptable quality?
It depends on the purpose of the action research. If you want products to be presented for the purpose of making change, the action research needs to be monitored closely. If the action research has the purpose of helping teachers improve and share findings of new ideas with other teachers, a less formal approach can be used. I have participated in college courses doing action research and we followed rubrics and monitored each other’s work, like in qualitative studies. Most of us get better as we do things more and more. If we train our teachers how to conduct action research and support them through the initial stages, I have found some pretty powerful work teachers have been able to share with colleagues and with our decision makers.
Question from Shelley Chawla, Manager of Educational Services:
Do most districts that offer teacher led PD courses also offer outsiders to lead PD courses as well? (Just so that a different perspective is presented)
Absolutely, only a portion of my PD is self selected. We have district mandated PD that may include outside organizations and school specific PD that also could something that is not teacher selected. I would argue though that the most valuable PD experience for me has been the team( my PD is decided on through my collaborative learning team) selected because of the ownership we have over it and the learning that I can take away from it. Based on my experience, I would consider my other county and school mandated PD as informational training and my team selected PD real development and learning.
Question from Sheri Hunter, Director of Professional Development, Clinton Central School District:
In our district, teachers are required to do a minimum of 14 hours of professional development per year beyond the school day. One of the ongoing discussions we have is whether or not curriculum development counts as professional development, or whether it is a separate entity. Could you talk a bit about the distinction between the two, and how we might develop a clear policy to help us with it?
If I were to make a distinction between the two, I would say that curriculum development is a sub category of professional development. Based on my preferences and experience, I believe that authentic professional development is achieved when the learner (teachers, administration, etc.) is invested in the topic and
If you’re looking to develop a policy in your district and you have want to limit or encourage curriculum development as a form of professional development maybe you can set some sort of parameters (ie. 2 out of the 14 PD hours can be curriculum based).
Question from Lorie Owens, Asst Director, Ohio Dept of Education:
How do you recommend we facilitate the rethinking of professional development and move beyond unproductive past practice?
A lot of work has already been done in this area. The National Staff Development Council has a wealth of research and a record of practices that ARE productive. NSDC’s mission is that every teacher will experience high-quality professional development as part of their daily practice. What would that look like? Pedro Noguera in Miami last week reitereated that high quality professional development is job-embedded, site-based, ongoing. Sounds like a learning community to me. Just as we know that students are most engaged by hands-on, project-based learning experiences with real-world applications - surprise! The same thing is true for adults. It just depends on how ready we are to give up the “easy” model of standing an expert in front of the room with a powerpoint and replace it with groups of teachers who skillfully negotiate the messy waters of making sense of curriculum in ways that will engage our students with rich ideas that will serve them far beyond their school years.
Question from Francis Gardner, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Biology, Columbus State University:
I have conducted over 30 teacher workshops (in content mostly; space science and biology) and taken more than 15 workshops and Chatauqua courses myself. My concern and question(s) is/are: Can the blind lead the blind; especially in critical areas that need reform? Certainly we need the expertise only obtained by experience, but too often this trumps good, sound research. For example, education has been fraught with “trends and fads” for more than 100 years; usually created by complex interactions, especially in teacher education programs, with little input from content experts. What checks and balances will be used in these “in-school” staff development programs? Does this approach offer just another over-simplified lip-service to “improving education”?
In my experiences, it takes a mix of content experts and practitioners for effective change to occur. When I as a practicing classroom teacher and taught a professional development or college class with a content expert, we meld our knowledge and the results have been powerful. We need research to know what has worked and not worked well in the past, and we need real rubber-meets-the-road input as to what works and what does not as well. Teachers need content experts but they also need a role in the planning and presentation of professional development. One of my most effective professional developments I have attended included both content experts and practitioners planning and leading together.
Question from Joan Mory, Professional Learning Communities Institute:
Teachers understand the value of collecting and analyzing data to guide changes in curriculum implementation and instruction. How do we support teachers in being able to make data driven decisions?
First, they need the time to make sense of the mounds of data that is available. Which data tells us most about what our students tomorrow? Then, we need autonomy over the curriculum to implement what the data tells us needs to happen. If we are prescribed a certain skill that must be taught in “X” manner at “y” time, and we are all on the same paragraph at 9:15... it doesn’t much matter what the data says. All that happens then is we get frustrated and angry. If we are going to use data to drive instruction, the steering wheel needs to be in our hands.
Question from Teresa Dalle, Associate Professor, ESL/Linguistics:
What role will teacher educators, especially at the university level, play in this new trend? Can they help in establishing and guiding such programs and/or become consultants once the programs are off the ground?
I see teacher educators at the university level having a significant role in both the planning and implementation of quality professional development, especially in working with cooperating teachers and future teachers. Teachers need to identify what they need in professional development. Professional development planning should begin with what areas of support they identify. It is critical to have content experts share their knowledge. As an ESL/Linguistics expert, you can help teachers learn to work with our ELL students and you as college faculty can learn from the practicing classroom teachers, helping you stay in tune with reality in our classrooms today. This will help you be more effective in preparing your teacher interns for the real world. Its a win-win to work together.
Question from Laura Fine, Assistant Coordinator/Professional Development Specialist (Nassau BOCES SETRC, Long Island, New York):
How can we, as regional professional development specialists, help targeted and at-risk school districts build the capacity to facilitate these type of professional development? Teachers have expressed that they have problems with instruction and with behavior issues in their classrooms, causing them to be in “survival mode.” They are more concerned about getting through their day and are not thinking about their professional development at that level. Support may be limited at the building level to assist them and districts often bring in consultants or send staff to regional training. How can we help districts develop teacher research, subject area teams, and professional learning communities so their teachers and faculty can read and analyze data, study best practices, and solve real classroom problems at the school level???
This is going to sound like a smart-alec answer, but it honestly isn’t. We have to just do it. This is EXACTLY the struggle we are facing in several at-risk schools in Miami. The “survival mode” is really code for “we have our priorities all mixed up”. The problems with instruction and with behavior issues is largely connected to a lack of student engagement, right? Say we have tons of students coming late to class, mingling in the hallways. What do we do? We could “sweep” the halls when the bell rings and send 100 kids to detention and in-school suspension (which, incidentally, still doesn’t get them in class!). That’s the quick answer. But it won’t last. The hard thing to do is to bring the issue to my academy team and make it our mission to find out why students are not engaged and to address that. It’s even harder to do this in at-risk, struggling schools, because everyone wants a quick turn-around. So what do we want? Do we want it to LOOK good for the newspapers, or do we want it to BE good for kids? I think we need to be more public about schools and districts who have done this kind of work well. Then those who only believe what they see can have models and evidence that the hard way is the only way if we want to have a lasting impact.
Question from Joan Mory, Professional Learning Communities Institute:
What can be done to support the growth of teachers in viewing themselves as leaders? How do we break down the school cultures that dismiss the idea that teachers ARE leaders?
I think that it is imperative for teachers to be in leadership positions within the school. Administration must create opportunities for leadership beyond the administrative team. At my school we have various ways that teachers can get involved in committees/teams/groups that make critical decisions in the shaping of our school.
To break down the barrier we need to have authentic conversations in our building about teaching and learning. Teachers are an untapped wealth of knowledge with in a school that needs to be uncovered.
Additionally, teachers need to speak a language that extends beyond the classroom. We have to be aware that there are a lot of the people that make decisions about our job from outside the classroom…We need to know their language.
Question from Gucci Estrella, Educational Researcher, SRI International:
For those starting up or simply exploring the possibility of this model of PD, where can they go for guidance? How do we ensure that teacher-led PD is done with rigor?
A Facilitators’ Guide to Professional Learning Teams by Anne Jolly.
Question from Joan Mory, Professional Learning Communities Institute:
How can schools who are interested in becoming a collaborative PLC get started and sustain themselves over time?
Begin with a plan of action. There are some wonderful books with PLC models for you to follow. Get all stakeholders to the table, including teachers, administrators, and parents. Give the reasoning why you want to develop a PLC and get their buy-in and support. You’ll need time away from class, materials, and hopefully some other perks such as renewal credits, which administrators can provide. I think it is more effective when it is voluntary but that’s up to your situation. Identify a topic of interest that many of your teachers would like to learn about, and make this part of your school improvement plan, so the development must be revisited often.
Question from Jean Bankos, Education Advisor, Governor Office, VA:
Please explain how teacher directed professional development may impact/influence teacher evaluation.
Interesting question. I’m not sure how they would connect in that way. Not if you’re really taking risks to address your own personal challenges in your own practice. That’s work you need to do with trusted colleagues, and confidentiality is an issue that is often quick to surface. A system that really valued teacher collaboration and learning communities might devise a system where teachers regularly participated in collabortive inquiry and was able to present their findings at some regular interval. Portfolios of teacher learning could also be used. But again, I’m not sure how you would say “this person is learning enough”, “this person - not so much”. That might be a slippery slope. But to require/ask that teachers participate in ongoing learning experiences - I think this would be reasonable.
Question from Joan Mory, Professional Learning Communities Institute:
If teachers in a school want to form study groups to learn more about teacher leadership, teacher-led professional development, etc. what are some books that you would recommend to get them started?
How to :Professional Learning Communities at work by Richard DuFour and Robert Eaker, Teacher-Researchers at Work by MacLean and Mohr, Camel Makers Building Effective Teacher Teams Together by Kain.
This is why: From the Inside Out by Richardson and Transforming Schools by Zmuda.
Question from Joan Mory, Professional Learning Communities Institute:
How are teachers supported in becoming teacher leaders beyong their own classrooms? What advice can we give to teachers who have a strong desire to “pay it forward” in the profession and support the growth of others?
Often it only takes an encouraging word from an administrator or fellow teacher leader and an opportunity to get started in leadership beyond the classroom. Make sure the teachers know about the leadership opportunities available to them. Time away from extra duty responsibilities and sometimes away from teaching may be needed as support. Financial support is great if possible. Just a little more money and little more respect can speak volumes to teachers. Administrator support, as with most things, is critical. If a teacher desires to get involved in teacher leadership, I tell them, develop a trusting relationship with the administration and let him/her know you are interested in taking on a leadership role. Most administrators, once they trust you, are happy to support you to grow. To pay forward in encouraging other teachers to be leaders, watch them and see what they like and what they are good at doing. If you see a leadership role fit, encourage them. Even consider taking the teacher with you to one of your leadership functions to see how empowering leadership can be.
Anthony Rebora (Moderator):
That’s all the time we have for today. I want to thank our guests for taking the time to share their expertise, and thanks to our readers for the great questions. A transcript of this chat will be posted shortly on www.teachermagazine.org and www.edweek.org. I hope it’s a useful resource.
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