California, Will We Keep Up?
I’ve spent the past couple days in Seattle, at the summer conference of the National Staff Development Council (NSDC). As a California teacher, I’m a rarity here. If Californians were represented proportionally at this conference, I’d expect that we’d be around 10% of the participants, and given that the conference is on the West Coast, you might even think there would be more of us. Instead, I found myself outnumbered by the contingent from Guam in one session on Monday morning, and the lone Californian in a group of 35 educators on Tuesday morning.
I know there are budget issues and a weak economy, but that’s true in the other states as well. What I fear is that as a state, California does not understand and does not commit itself to the professional development of its teaching force.
Some legislators and school boards, along with the voters they answer to, may not understand exactly why professional development is so important. They might question why teachers need to learn more if they’re any good at their jobs, and why the state should invest in professional development when money is so tight.
In fact, professional learning is not a concept that is unique to education. Business and management experts offer the same advice, as I’ve tried to highlight in a series of previous blogs posts (beginning here). Ongoing learning is vital to maintaining excellence, not only because it sharpens the skills necessary in such complex work, but also because it improves working conditions and motivation, which are essential contributors to effectiveness. Professional development is also one of the best remedies to high turnover, a chronic problem in struggling schools, and one that bears significant costs. It is actually in the state’s best interests, educationally and financially, to invest up front in a quality teaching staff, in order to save money later in more efficient school systems, and to improve our economy in the long run by equipping students to become more productive members of society.
For too long, professional development has been treated as something that takes place at the occasional workshop, in-service day or conference a handful of times a year. Under this model, schools are closed, substitutes are hired and results are rarely determined or reported. This model is not as effective as it should be.
Fortunately, a more cost-effective and proven approach to professional learning is being deployed in a number of schools. This approach leverages knowledge that higher-quality teaching depends on teachers having access to real-time data on their student’s performance and being engaged with their colleagues in cycles of continuous improvement.
One can only hope that Californians will also heed that message, and demand of our elected officials the changes that we need to restore a once-exemplary state education system. Teachers cannot provide continuous improvement in instruction, as our students deserve, if the state is not committed to the continuous improvement of schools, particularly through the ongoing professional development of all teachers.