So many of my non-teacher friends love to highlight 2 things about my “easy” profession: I get summers off, and I only really have to create something once. The former is definitely a perk, but I always map out the time spent after I “clock out” and they soon realize I am just putting in their yearly hours in fewer months. The latter is a bit more frustrating to discuss because I know many teachers who adapt very little year after year. For a few it is because they just don’t want to, but for many it is because they simply run out of time. The only way for education and students to improve is if we are willing to improve as well. This is what PL should be used for: the opportunity to evaluate our own techniques and the techniques of others so we can work together and improve upon them. Teaching is not something that you simply master and repeat. It is a process that needs to be adjusted every year, month, week, and day, and PL should be an opportunity to do that.
Most PL is ineffective because it doesn’t allow the teachers to practice or apply whatever it is the focus is (Gulamhussein, 2013). This isn’t a common occurrence at my school, but just the other day it happened. There was a meeting held with the special and regular education teachers who will be co-teaching with one another this school year. We had a large group discussion about how we all need more time to communicate and work together on planning only to run out of time before we were allowed to work in our pairs. Most of us had another meeting we had to attend, and instead had to try to schedule an independent time to meet outside of that meeting. The irony is almost painful. For us to effectively use PL, teachers must be able to use that time to create, collaborate, and apply the topic(s) to their own classrooms.
When I think about all the PL sessions I have participated in so far in my career, I can’t even imagine how they cumulatively add up to the $18,000 estimate provided by TNTP (2015). I suppose most of it is spent on pay increases for degrees and reimbursement for graduate classes, but $18,000?! If that number is in fact accurate at my school, then I have no idea from where it is coming. While I find this specific data a bit unrealistic in my own district, I do find it interesting that for the teachers who are apparently getting $18,000 worth of PL, most do not find it useful because it is not tailored to their needs, and few actually improved performances in the classroom (TNTP, 2015). This is something that I found to be important about this report. If these 4 schools are spending that kind of money, they should be seeing results. The fact that they aren’t shows the money isn’t being spent effectively and they seem to need their own PL time to reflect.
This perspective shift on how to use PL to improve teacher learning provides more time and opportunity to actually make those changes happen. With that, there should be more measureable progresses within our classrooms. Something that is really great about the school in which I teach is that PL (or professional development as we still call it) is free to be run however the presenter wishes. Most, if not all, development activities are already focused on the “go and show” method. The activities that rarely follow these methods are those done through outside companies (i.e. the suicide prevention training we experienced yesterday that was a 2 hour lecture). I’m not sure we will be able to affect these activities unless we band together with other districts.
My colleagues and administrators all encourage presenters to use alternate forms of PL as they apply to the topics. Many sessions are led by teachers and they already follow the 5 principles of PL. Our district has recently limited its focus to a few areas (just as we learned is important to do in 5304), which has allowed it to achieve principle 1: maintaining ongoing professional development. We don’t simply have one meeting on a topic, but instead have them throughout the year. There is also significant support (principle 2) and engaging activities (principle 3), which allows teachers to work on the new practice and get the help needed to avoid frustration and avoidance. Many experts assist with these new initiatives within each department at the high school who model for all teachers, but more importantly for those who also teach their content. This fulfills principles 4 and 5 and provides more confidence for teachers. When I first began teaching in my current school, our professional development sessions were rarely run this way. They were sporadic, frustrating, and ineffective. I’m so lucky to be in a school that understands the reality of making changes and the importance of the 5 principles of PL (Gulamhussein, 2013).
These readings and videos have all made me truly appreciate the environment in which I teach. I already knew I love my school, but this has helped me support why. The way my school now approaches PL is one major reason I love in-service days. I rarely hear teachers from other schools say that, but I do. After watching the Ted Talk, I then realized the real reason I am so lucky: my colleagues are amazing. As John Hattie explains, student success isn’t most affected by structure, student attributes, or technology. The biggest effect is “the power of passions, and teachers’ collaborative expertise” (TEDx Talks, 2013). We challenge and support each other every single day, and our students clearly benefit from it. This is what makes having summers off less satisfying and improving old lessons and assessments so much fun. My workplace makes me a better friend, wife, community member, and teacher.
Gulamhussein, A. (2013). Teaching the Teachers Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability. Center for Public Education. Retrieved from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Staffingstudents/Teaching-the-Teachers-Effective-Professional-Development-in-an-Era-of-High-Stakes-Accountability/Teaching-the-Teachers-Full-Report.pdf
TEDx Talks. (2013, November 22). Why are so many of our teachers and schools so successful? John Hattie at TEDxNorrkoping [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzwJXUieD0U
TNTP. (2015). The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development. Retrieved from http://tntp.org/publications/view/evaluation-and-development/the-mirage-confronting-the-truth-about-our-quest-for-teacher-development