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Professional Development Evolving

January 25, 2014
Promoting Quality Teaching: New Approaches To Compensation and Career Pathways

Promoting Quality Teaching: New Approaches To Compensation and Career Pathways

In late 2012, Accomplished California Teachers produced a policy report that recommended expanded roles for teachers in schools and districts, with a third-tier advanced certification for teacher leaders. You can read more about our proposals here. Since then, I’ve offered occasional blog posts highlighting some promising practices that advance our profession in the right direction.

One of the main areas of promise for teacher leadership is in professional development. Most teachers I’ve talked to and engaged with are craving both more and better professional development, an impression supported by survey data from American teachers. Even if we had the resources available, many of us lack the time to put resources to good use: compared to our international peers, we spend much more time in the classroom, leaving less time for professional learning and collaboration. It would be a step in the right direction if we could even set aside a protected, guaranteed one-hour per week, but in many schools and districts even that hour is hard to come by.

It seems clear to me that the key to both incremental change and the eventual transformation of our profession is not only to expand the capacity of teachers to achieve professional growth, but also to design and lead professional growth experiences. To that end, we need teachers who are increasingly aware of developments in the field, increasingly networked and engaged, and increasingly willing and able to lead.

We’re moving in the right direction, with more teachers taking on coaching and support roles in schools and districts. We have ever-expanding opportunities for learning and networking online, formally and informally, and those efforts are leading to more face-to-face networking as well.

But in the long run, small changes won’t be enough. My hope is that we are gradually building a critical mass of teachers who expect to have more say in their professional development, and who are developing the knowledge, skills, and disposition to take ownership of that work and lead it. That approach would be a significant improvement over the predominant model – trainings and presentations too often conducted by outside providers who won’t be around to engage more deeply or regularly. These sessions are unaffectionately known as sit ‘n’ git or spray and pray professional development.

Matthew Lindner leading professional development for fellow teachers (photo by Tabitha Kappeler Hurley, used by permission)

Matthew Lindner leading professional development for fellow teachers (photo by Tabitha Kappeler Hurley, used by permission)

For a recent example of a better way, I offer you the retooled professional development day as conducted by Palo Alto Unified (PAUSD) elementary teachers earlier this school year. Early in the school year, teachers were invited to submit proposals for professional learning experiences that they could lead for their peers. Those proposals were organized to create a one-day, intra-district education conference. Teachers from a dozen elementary schools met on the campus of one of the high schools and took over one of the buildings, choosing for themselves the sessions that best met their needs. It was a first for the district, and hopefully the start of something that will continue, and even improve.

The opportunity to share learning and ideas with colleagues beyond the school site but still within the district increases the likelihood of ongoing collaboration. The practice of organizing professional learning for one’s peers increases the the knowledge, skills, and leadership capacity of the presenting teachers. And hopefully, witnessing this productive and successful approach inclines the district administration and the community to support the idea of growing our own expertise and leadership, investing in our own people more often, depending less on outside personnel, organizations and companies to do for us what we can do for ourselves.

Video production in the elementary classroom - teacher Ellen Kraska demonstrates use of a green screen in a professional development activity for other teachers (photo by Tabitha Kappeler Hurley, used by permission)

Video production in the elementary classroom – teacher Ellen Kraska demonstrates use of a green screen in a professional development activity for other teachers (photo by Tabitha Kappeler Hurley, used by permission)

But not to get carried away, I would add the following ongoing concerns. First of all, if this approach is limited to professional development days, we’ll see only marginal improvements. I would love to see events like this continue, but they should become secondary in focus behind more consistent and ongoing professional learning. And secondly, it’s important for teachers and our associations to take the lead in guaranteeing the quality and efficacy of professional learning approaches that we design or direct . That kind of accountability is something we must embrace if we hope to be full partners in the leadership of our schools and districts.

If we accept that responsibility, we must also have the full support of our districts and schools; we must be afforded the time and trust to navigate this learning, to analyze and reflect on our work, to make some mistakes along the way. Every bit of reading I’ve done on organizational management (much of which I’ve written about) suggests that a thriving team doing complex work depends an having an atmosphere of safety and trust. Teachers will not commit to take chances on new roles and responsibilities if administrators or school boards are perceived as enforcers waiting to pounce on a mistake.

Teachers choosing the peer-led professional development activities that meet their needs - in this case, a session about iPads in education. (photo by Tabitha Kappeler Hurley, used by permission)

Teachers choosing the peer-led professional development activities that meet their needs – in this case, a session about iPads in education. (photo by Tabitha Kappeler Hurley, used by permission)

We can do this, together. In teaching, it’s called gradual release of responsbility, where we model what students need to do, practice with them, and provide feedback as needed to help them soar independently. In the field of education, we need teachers, unions, administrators, school boards and policy makers to be forward-thinking enough to foster conditions in which teachers can gradually assume both greater control and greater responsibility for the continual improvement of schools.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2014 9:24 am

    “That Used to Be Us”. In the 1990s where I worked, we did just this. For a coupe of summers we even did what we called a Summer Symposium. The idea was for teachers to have opportunities to extend even their content knowledge and breadth. We avoided the routine stuff, and teachers grew and learned.
    This was he time of he NCTM Standards and in math, we worked on developing master teachers. We sent teachers to summer courses and workshops.
    Sadly, NCLB and what came along with it killed so much.
    We need to go back to go forward.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      January 25, 2014 10:30 am

      Thanks for adding your perspective here, Peter. Was that in California? I began my full-time public school teaching experience in CA in 1998 (after several years of other teaching experience), but haven’t seen or heard much of this types of PD. As for the influence of NCLB, I think there’s something to that. Because the expectations were unrealistic and the consequences so punitive, I suspect education leaders (admin., board trustees) were under pressure, and inclined to see their existing staff as the people who couldn’t solve the existing problem. Therefore, the thing to do (it might seem) would be to bring in outside programs, experts, consultants who claimed to have the solutions. Looking forward, I hear we’re supposed to be helping students become life-long learners, preparing them for a workplace that is flexible, creative, team-oriented, etc., and I wonder how we’re supposed to do that effectively if we don’t break out of the old paradigm ourselves.

      • January 25, 2014 10:41 am

        David, it was actually in Horry County in SC. Myrtle Beach.
        One thing hat your post reminded me is that we need to think beyond he policy debates and talk about what classrooms should look like and how we can allow teachers to get to where they need yo be.
        As we worked to implement he NCTM Standards, I realized that teachers had to change their own mathematics and their relationship to it. Sort of like discovering Piaget and Montessori.

  2. January 25, 2014 2:02 pm

    I find what you write about “trust” extremely interesting. I am a 46 year old currently in a post-bacc. program to obtain my teaching certificate. As I spend time in schools learning and beginning my student teaching, I am struck by how differently teachers in public schools are treated than “white collar” office employees. I am working with these incredibly knowledgeable teachers who are experts at what they do, and yet, they are often restrained form doing what they KNOW to be best for their students. Some of the ones with whom I am lucky enough to observe are what I would consider to be VP level at a big company, and yet, I am ascertaining that teachers are not trusted by their administrators and public officials. Loved reading about Palo Alto USD teachers providing professional development to one another. Teachers are in the trenches teaching and learning every day and have so much to share with one another. It is hard to imagine an outside consulting firm or organization could do better, not to mention the amount of money diverted to them instead of to the students.

  3. January 26, 2014 9:41 am

    In Vallejo, our PAR program specifically had a portion in which teachers were to be surveyed about the type of PD they wanted and it was supposed to be site driven and/or issue driven. In the 90’s, I’m told that Vallejo had a wonderful professional development center (PDC) that was run by the teachers. When we went into state receivership, the state appointed administrator gutted the PDC program and swept the funding for PAR when he was allowed to do so.

    When the current superintendent came in, the main thing she wanted taken out of the PAR language was giving teachers the right to have a say in their own PD. She believed that this should be district driven based on their mission, vision, values and goals. I will never understand this line of thinking unless your view of teachers is that they are like assembly workers working with widgets.

    The work that is being done in Palo Alto Unified is work that I applaud. However, teachers need to active participants. That is, we can’t say we want a voice in PD and we want to lead PD if don’t show up to actually engage and lead.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      January 26, 2014 10:17 am

      Thanks for your comment, Christal. Two thoughts come to mind for me. First off, it’s important to know as we advocate for what seems “new” to some of us right now that there is precedent for some of these ideas. Second, what about PD for administrators, school board trustees, etc.? I can’t believe how often I hear about leaders whose control issues seem to come straight out of a book or advice column detailing how not to manage an organization. I don’t mean to disparage administrators broadly – many are wonderful, and probably all of them are stretched quite thin. They’re under considerable pressure and under-resourced, but sadly, too many people respond to that stress by trying to tighten control and ensure compliance, rather than work on building trusting teams with distributed leadership to share the work of meeting goals.

  4. Chris Miraglia permalink
    January 26, 2014 6:49 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful post on an area that seems much neglected especially with the implementation of Common Core. It is rare to find any professional development that is sustaining and meaningful. Fortunately, I have been able to attend sessions that were sustaining and that changed my teaching that were put on by the Teaching American History grant project and California History Social Science Project (CHSSP). Both of these opportunities were given during more financial stable times. Unfortunately the CHSSP sessions cost money and there is very little chance that our school, let alone district would send teachers. Even asking for much needed planning days in order to work on curriculum that addresses Common Core is a stretch, yet we are continually told to change with the times. The model provided by Palo Alto should be one reviewed by districts in these lean times. I see two clear advantages: 1) teachers are given the opportunity to share their successes and expertise with their peers, 2) districts do not have to spend lavishly to bring in a so called “expert” who will undoubtedly turn off many teachers with their quick fixes. I do agree with Christal in that their needs to be an active movement to get teachers involved in the process or we stand to continue with the status quo.

  5. December 4, 2014 3:05 pm

    Reblogged this on DAVID B. COHEN and commented:
    Reblogging a post I wrote on InterACT early this year, regarding the ways in which professional development is changing. Seems appropriate to revisit this as I prepare to attend the Learning Forward Conference in Nashville. I’ll be there Dec. 8-10, and presenting with colleagues from my district on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 9:15 a.m. The title of our presentation, coincidentally: “Evolving Professional Development: Re-Examining Our Efforts” (Session F38, if you’re attending).

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