Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Teacher Learning and Professional Development: The Real Stuff

It’s been 25 years and a few days since the report A Nation at Risk was released, yet the concern about student performance in American schools still exists, including how American students fare in comparison with their peers around the world.

In the Christian Science Monitor article Despite 25 years of reform, U.S. schools still fall short (April 24, 2008), Linda Darling-Hammond notes that teacher quality is one issue the nation must come to grips with because teachers make the most difference in student learning. She cites the McKinsey & Company report How the World’s Best-Performing School Systems Come Out onTop.

Well, I knew that! But how do we make sure that teacher learning becomes central to the mission of our schools? And, for those of us in the classroom, how do we make time for ourselves to learn both alone and with our colleagues?

Like many of you, I’ve sat through any number of “professional development” sessions that were anything but—leaving at the end only wishing my colleagues and I had been given that time to work together on how best to help our students learn. NCTE’s “Principles of Professional Development” reaffirm that wish and on Advocacy Day NCTE asked for support for high quality teachers in our high-need schools.

But in reality, it’s the everyday that counts. We want and need to work together with our colleagues, learning and practicing the best ways to support our students’ learning. We can do this through NCTE’s Pathways Professional Development Program at our own pace, within our own school, and with participants from across the nation. We can pursue a variety of inquiries in the Pathways for Advancing Adolescent Literacy or the Pathways for Teaching and Learning with English Language Learners, and soon we’ll be able to learn with Pathways for Teaching and Learning with 21st Century Literacies. We can enjoy a “best” model of professional development characterized by sustained activities, engagement with administrators, and community-based learning that will first enhancing our teacher practice and then lead to student learning.

8 comments:

reichle said...

While I agree that teachers make a significant impact on student learning, there is a learning factor that is continuously neglected and that is a student's role in the process. The finest teacher can be thwarted by students who are uninterested, unmotivated, or simply exhausted. Students are immersed in a culture with dozens of choices about how to spend one's time, and they are making decisions and judgments about what's important with an undeveloped, adolescent world-view and intellect. An intellect that is shown by research to still be in development for possibly two years after graduating the school system.

Then, besides an inherent physical immaturity of reasoning faculties, something no one can do much about, there are other, sociological factors at work. In the school I teach at, the students are over-involved in extra-curricular activities. In my classroom, it is the rare day when every student is there to learn, and it isn't because of absenteeism. The students are out for football, track, plays, speech, golf, choir, band, etc.

Add to this another current trend that students, or Americans in general, have to be entertained every second of their lives. Pulling at every young person, who is at an age where a need for social belonging is disproportionately inflated, are the internet, ipods, video games, television, movies, cell phones, texting, etc. As I walk around my campus, it is the marked exception to see a student without ear buds or a cell phone pressed to his or her ear or some electronic device cradled in hand.

In addition to this, many, if not most, students work. Most are employed over twenty hours a week. And the hours they are given, out of necessity, are those after school, forcing them to work late.

Compounded with these other pressures, when is a student supposed to take the time for thinking and reflective thought that are so important to the learning process? When are they going to have the time to fully engage the long writing process of drafting and revision?

When will schools, teachers, administrators, and government finally stand up and say something about these factors in our failing education system? Teachers and schools bear the brunt of criticism about failing students, which is in total compliance with the current social trend of blaming anyone but the individual involved. The belief is that students fail because the educational system has failed them, not because they have possibly failed themselves. As the finger pointing goes on, I am reminded of the old saying, "Remember that when you point a finger at someone else, three fingers are pointing back at you."

professornana said...

Back to the topic of professional development: from the point of view of someone who sat in workshops for years and now who delivers PD, there is another important factor in teacher learning and PD. Teachers have to have a stake in the PD being offered. Too many times I have faced a hostile audience because a well-intentioned administrator thought requiring all faculty to attend a workshop would somehow be transformative. Teachers need to be shareholders in the type and duration and other facets of professional development. It is still the "one size fits all" dilemma: there is no one workshop that will speak to all teachers. Let faculty and staff have some input into PD.

I hope that administrators will consider more PD through online communities such as Pathways and listservs and webinars. I applaud NCTE for being on the forefront of such PD activities.

teri lesesne

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Staff Development for Educators said...

Your blog is very motivating. When I was reading it, I get drawn in. I am totally agreed with your thoughts. Thanks for sharing this beautiful thoughts with me.

Ms Beaker said...

Thanks for your blog, I totally agree with all the points that you have made, particularly that where possible we as teachers should have an option to choose our PD to suit our specific needs.
Ms Beaker

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