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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Teaching Gains?

The Boston Globe printed this article today that demonstrates that much of the money spent for professional development in schools is wasted.

I'm not surprised, and find that this article presents a positive challenge to schools and educators everywhere.

First, what is good teaching? Leaders in Massachusetts have defined this with 33 elements. I analyzed the elements in an online book, Reflect for Success: Teaching Well, and my experience and education makes me believe that the elements listed are attributes of good teaching.

Yet, with regard to professional learning, how do we carefully spend the dollars and time to truly facilitate and prompt an educator's professional growth and development. What matters?

For the most part, it's important to bring the learning in which means rather than one-time learning events, instead employ learning processes that mirror the kinds of good learning that's happening in classrooms.

The process promoted by Massachusetts is formidable. It includes steps below, steps for positive professional learning as well as teaching:
  1. Through a shared teacher-leader evaluation process, highlight and target an educator's priority learning goals--goals that deeply affect the students they teach. 
  2. Create a path with the educator for professional learning. 
  3. Review, reflect, and revise along the way to ensure that the learning is targeted, helpful, and positive with regard to the educator's ability to teach children well.
  4. When the goal is met, move on to the next goal.
  5. Assess the learning with metrics that clearly demonstrate what efforts worked and what efforts didn't work. Look at cost assessments too--where did you really get value for your dollar with regard to professional learning.
In many cases, professional learning is treated like frosting. It looks good, but it doesn't have much nutritional value when it comes to real learning and teaching. Valuable professional learning is not decorative, instead it's a messy, deep process that is ongoing. Most of the real learning happens with an intersection of outside-of-school resources and school-centric work. There's a lot of expertise in every school building that can be accessed with more time for meaningful collaboration, communication, and share. 

Getting teachers involved in the conversation about their own professional learning is a first good step to making the development more targeted and successful. Surprisingly teachers are often left out of the conversation or the efforts with regard to professional learning. This is simply ridiculous and definitely a lost opportunity.

Also maximizing resources in school systems can save dollars, and increase targeted, meaningful, and successful professional learning amongst school staff. Tracking professional learning efforts in real-time, truthful ways also has potential for leading systems towards better, more cost efficient development. 

One challenge in this arena may be that many jobs have been created to fix or develop teachers--jobs that may not be all that useful when it comes down to what really matters in schools. It's important to audit the jobs that exist to make sure that these roles have powerful, positive results. I believe that most school dollars should be spent on worthy resources, facilities, and time-on-task efforts with students. Too many leaders cost lots of money and sometimes don't translate into better service to students, though it's important to have some leaders overseeing systems work and direction.

Personally, I find the following structures benefit my teaching gains substantially:
  • The use of professional learning communities and shared teaching strategies and models.
  • Online learning via Twitter, chats, blogs, and research.
  • Courses and workshops led by experienced, dedicated professionals in the field. 
  • Beginning-to-end research-based, inclusive initiatives that are based on a targeted teaching/learning need and that follow a process from identifying the success criteria to utilizing apt strategies to review, reflection, and revision to final steps and assessment. (Too many initiatives never get past the first or second step in this process, and too often the true results of initiatives are not well shared.)
  • Working with the whole team in any initiative: students, family members, educators, leaders, and community members.
  • A routine of reading, research, reflection, and application of new ideas.
  • Collecting, analyzing good data, and then using that data to inform better practice. 
The dollars best spent in my professional development include the following:
  • school provided personal computer--that's awesome!
  • access and funding to terrific, well regarded learning events. I'm choosy. I listen to the advice of colleagues online and off, and choose the best learning events. 
  • time for research, collaboration, and learning design in school and outside of school.
  • support for innovation, new ideas, and taking risks--we learn best by doing.
  • good data collection systems and services that I can access and utilize to inform my work.
  • professional share of information, ongoing research, vision, ideas, and plans. 
  • presenting at workshops. Presenting is a terrific way to learn more and better. 
How do you assess teacher growth in your system? What efforts do you believe promote the best of what educators can do? How do you thoughtfully manage the dollars spent in this regard? 

Today's article points us in the direction of better assessment, better work, and better management of the resources with regard to professional learning. Taking today's article seriously and working to improve this aspect of teaching/learning organizations is a step in the right direction with regard to teaching children well.