“In education, research has shown that teaching quality and school leadership are the most important factors in raising student achievement. For teachers and school and district leaders to be as effective as possible, they continually expand their knowledge and skills to implement the best educational practices” Mizell, p. 7.
To realize this goal, educators must participate in professional development. Professional development can take many forms- before or after school sessions, teacher release time during the school day, beginning of the the year and end of the year summer days, online courses and webinars, and even independent studies. Rather than explore which of these options is most beneficial, because they are often tied to funding, contractual, or unique situations that are difficult to change, I decided to investigate the role teacher voice could place in making professional development more meaningful.
Some districts have surveyed teachers to make it more relevant. Wynne (2016) wrote about Farmington School District, “By gathering survey data first, we knew where to focus our discussion and our efforts.” After discussion of teacher pain points in relation to professional development, the Board of Education approved a plan for substitute teachers to enable “just in time” professional development for all teachers. Stating low investment with significant payoff, after three years, the favorability at the secondary level was 35 percent. I think the important take-away is not that teacher voice was sought, but that what was heard through the survey was acted upon.
Anne O’Brien (2016, July) drew the same conclusion in her blog post. Professional development is often seen as a “compliance activity” disconnected from a teacher’s daily work. She provides five recommendations for school districts from a whitepaper, Moving from Compliance to Agency: What Teachers Need to Make Professional Learning Work, by Learning Forward: “1. Make all professional learning decisions only in serious consultation with teachers and principals.” She states a 50% representation is recommended. “2. Rethink organization of the school day so that educators have time to meet regularly to collaborate with colleagues to improve teaching and learning. 3. Involve and support teachers in analyzing data and identifying teaching and learning challenges. 4. Give teachers choices regarding their professional learning, including whom they work with and where they focus their learning. And, 5. Resist the temptation to “scale up” or mandate a particular form of professional learning without thoroughly examining the context in which it will be implemented.” While some of these could cost money, like organization of the school day (late starts or substitutes), others are free. I liken all of this to a well written and executed lesson plan. You must formatively assess to ascertain student needs, differentiate for the learners, look at the data, provide for choice, and be intentional and thoughtful in delivery and facilitation.
So how does a district do this? How do they begin on a path that truly values teacher voice? Another blog post by Anne O’Brien (2016, July) points to a three-step method by Russell Quaglia, president and founder of the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations, and Lisa Lande, executive director of the Teacher Voice and Aspirations International Center. They suggest: 1. Seek out and talk (and establish other methods) to a variety of teachers to hear needs BEFORE they come to you. 2. Ask questions when you might not agree or understand. And, 3. Spend more time facilitating than directing. Meaning, let the teacher(s) be leaders and have ownership. These steps makes me think of Knowles six principles of adult learning that I examined in my previous blog post. Knowles principles that come to mind, looking at these steps, are that adults desire for self-direction and relevancy.
In fact, the five recommendations and three steps all support ISTE Coaching Standard 4b of Professional Development and Program Evaluation which tasks coaches with designing, developing, and implementing technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning. So, let’s have a call to reflection and action! Are you a coach? Are you a principal? Are you part of district administration? What evidence do you have that you are proactively seeking out teachers’ pain-points? How could you verify that a significant number of teachers are involved in the leadership and professional development decision making process? Would any of your teachers be able to share a story of how they did not agree or understand the professional development direction and were asked questions by administration in response?
“Get Started, Get Better.”
So, if this post resonated with you, I encourage you to “Get Started, Get Better.” These are the words that my Superintendent frequently says when we see something that needs to happen in our district. It’s okay to jump in the best you know at the time, knowing you will be fine-tuning the work as you go.
ACU (Australian Catholic University). (2017). Knowles’ six principles of adult learning. Retrieved from http://www.acu.edu.au/staff/our_university/faculties/faculty_of_health_sciences/professional_practice_resources_for_supervisors/interprofessional_resource_library/Facilitating_Learning/knowles_principles
International Society for Technology in Education. (2011). ISTE standards for coaches. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-coaches
Mizell, H. (2010). Why professional development matters. Retrieved from https://learningforward.org/docs/pdf/why_pd_matters_web.pdf
O’Brien, A. (2016, July). Five ways to increase teacher agency in professional development. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/five-ways-increase-teacher-agency-professional-development-anne-obrien
O’Brien, A. (2016, June). 3-step method to increase teacher voice. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/increasing-teacher-voice-decision-making-anne-obrien
Wynne, K. (2016). How teacher voice can improve professional development. Retrieved from http://www.eschoolnews.com/2016/08/25/how-teacher-voice-can-improve-professional-development/
Stevebustin. (2014). Man holding microphone. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/nJBSFg