Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What's So Hard About Teacher PD?





So, I'll start off by saying I'm currently in the midst of completing my dissertation which basically looks at the impact of online professional development on teachers' classroom practices.  I'll save all of my links to the scholars, experts and everyone else who thinks they have the cure for what is wrong with teacher development in this country.  Here's why:
  • I was a teacher for roughly 15 years, all of which was spent teaching in urban neighborhoods with some pretty tough kids in some cases.
  • The best professional development I ever had was ALWAYS long-term & pushed me to think & use strategies I was learning in my own class.
  • For me, the most meaningful experiences were those that were not evaluative; they were more conversational and encouraged me to share with others and experiment freely without feeling like my mistake were going to end up lowering my evaluation and following me for the rest of my teaching career.
  • My classroom was open to other teachers, visitors and parents but this was part of being in an open and supportive school culture.
  • When I began conducting my own professional development as department chair, I created the conditions that were important to me as a teacher; I listened, asked questions and encouraged my teachers to be brutally honest about things I was asking them to do.
  • I gave my teachers the autonomy, trust and respect I appreciated when I was in their shoes; absolutely no one wants to be treated like a child being reprimanded by people who do not know & love students as they do.
  • I read, revised, learned and taught alongside teachers I coached and mentored.  I believe they appreciated my willingness to roll up my sleeves & teach side-by-side with them, which often included making mistakes and being honest about my own frustrations in the process.
What's the big idea here?  I've seen hundred of rubrics and initiatives over the years aimed at improving teacher practice but very little evidence that many of these things actually work.  Drive-by professional development and policies developed by those with little-to-zero expertise in the field and  are why teachers are finally taking their development into their own hands by joining thousands of online communities to connect with others and build their internal own expertise as a profession.  After all, in Finland, Singapore and other locations across the world where both students & teachers are flourishing, teachers are encouraged, allotted time and compensated for taking control of their professional development.  Several blueprints already exist for what works. I wonder when the US will take notice.