I’ve been reading Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book The Flat World and Education, and while I’m finding it rich with detail about everything that’s troubling about the US education system (and the potential fixes), I’m also struck by the fact that there is very little here in terms of a meaningful discussion around what role technology plays in educating for a “flat world.” Kind of ironic.
Anyway, I’ve been particularly interested in her section on professional development and the huge disparity she writes about in terms of the time that teachers in other countries get for both individual and collaborative learning and planning as opposed to the US. She writes, “the landscape of supports for quality teaching looks like Swiss cheese.” In short, we spend more, much more time in the classroom than in other countries, we get only a fraction of the time for professional learning, and there is a huge disparity in the quality and types of professional development that teachers in the states receive. (Not to mention a huge disparity in the amount of pre-service education and on the job training we get before even entering a classroom.) And even more troubling, according to Darling-Hammond, is just the general inconsistency in the delivery of professional development. Here are a couple of extended snips that paint the picture pretty compellingly:
No high-achieving country approaches teaching in this way. These nations realized that, without a comprehensive framework for developing strong teaching, new resources in the system are less effective than they otherwise would be.: Reforms are poorly implementedÂ where faculty and leaders lack the capacity to put them into action; districts and schools are often unable to develop and maintain comprehensive training opportunities at scale, and scarce professional development dollars are wasted where teachers turn over regularly. Furthermore, when a profession’s knowledge is not organized and made available to the practitioners who need it most, advances in the state of both knowledge and practice are slowed (195).
If teachers, principals, superintendents, and other professionals do not share up-to-date knowledge about effective practices, the field runs around in circles: Curriculum and teaching practices are inconsistent, many poor decisions are made, and the efforts of those who are successful are continually undermined and counteracted by the activities of those who are uninformed and unskilled. The American educational landscape is littered with examples of successful programs and schools that were later undone by newly arrived superintendents and school boards marching to a less well-informed drummer. Equally common are successful initiatives that were not sustained when the teachers and principals who made them succeed moved on to be replaced by others with less skill. Good teachers create little oasesÂ for themselves, while others who are less well prepared adopt approaches that are ineffective or even sometimes harmful. Some seek knowledge that is not readily available to them; others batten down the hatches and eventually become impermeable to better ideas. Schools are vulnerable to vendors selling educational snake oils when educators and school boards lack sufficient shared knowledge of learning, curriculum, instruction, and research to make sound decisions about programs and materials. Students experience an instructional hodgepodge caused by the failure of the system to provide the knowledge and tools needed by the educators who serve them (196).
And in terms of the effectiveness of the professional development we deliver when do make time for it?
Short workshops of the sort generally found to trigger little change in practice are the most common learning opportunity for US teachers…A summary of experimental research found that short-term professional development experiences of 14 hours or less appear to have no effect on teachers’ effectiveness, while a variety of well-designed content-specific learning opportunities averaging about 49 hours over a 6- to 12-month period of time were associated with sizable gains: students of participating teachers gained about 21 percentile points more than other students on the achievement tests used to evaluate student learning (205).
I know there is nothing earth-shatteringly new with any of this, but what is particularly daunting is coming up with a solution. I know in the work that Sheryl and I have done with PLP has attempted to change the model to at least give teachers an extended period of time in an immersive environment, one that addresses most of the issues that Darling-Hammond cites. But even with 6-7 months to learn deeply, we know that many of our participants struggle with time. A few schools actually give their teams release time on a regular basis to talk about and reflect on their experience, and there’s no question those teams get further down the road than most others. Most who participate have to make or find the time on their own, and those that do walk away with a deeper personal and practical understanding of what’s changing.
Darling-Hammond advocates for state and federal intervention in much of this, writing that “ultimately, a well-designed state and national infrastructure that ensures that schools have access to well-prepared teachers and knowledge about best practices is absolutely essential.” I’m not optimistic that will happen anytime soon. We can’t seem to agree on much in this country these days. I’m wondering instead when we’ll get to the point where a major part of teacher preparation is teaching teachers how to teach themselves, how to be transparent, networked and “do it yourself” learners. Not that there still wouldn’t be a need for structured professional learning, but that we’d be a lot further down the road, I think, if the culture of teaching moved toward a more open, collaborative, shared enterprise than it is today.
Wesley Fryer says
While I have no doubt systemic changes are needed, I share your pessimism that those can or will happen soon.
Empowering educators to become more self-directed in their learning, advocating for scheduled time for additional self-directed PD, and educating adiministrators as well as teachers / librarians about the availability of self-serve PD options seem like important paths forward. Of course I always think of K12online. I would love to find ways at ISTE2010 this year to let more people know about it.
David Warlick says
Wake County Schools (Raleigh) established a regular professional development time by conducting an early release every Wednesday (or every other Wednesday) — which is laughably insufficient in my opinion. However, some parents were so much in arms about having to find alternative care for their children, and the local paper played so much on that parent dissatisfaction, that the balance of the school board shifted in a drastically conservative direction, when candidates played exclusively on the vocal parent complaints.
I think that we have to start emphasizing to our communities that being an educator today involves more than standing in front of the classroom (keeping their children). In our blogs, classroom web sites, newsletters, Tweeted picts, and in every other way possible, we need to include images (picts/texts) showing teachers engaged in professional development, self-development, research, collaboration, liaising with the community, materials development, evaluation of assessment, planning, …
Telling that new story…
Denise Herrenbruck says
Will and David,
I read Chapter 7 Darling-Hammond’s book last week and was also struck by those numbers. Average hours taught per year by teachers in US are: 1,080. Compare that with averages of 660 hours for secondary teachers and 800 hours for primary teachers in 31 OECD countries. The average in Japan appears (from the graph) to be below 500 hours. Yikes, that’s less than half the US teaching hours, at the secondary level. There’s evidence of 100 hours of professional development per year in some countries.
Online professional learning communities can help with the time/place barriers to PD in the US — the teachers I teach online find it effective and I experience my students (who are teachers) as highly interested in deep reflection about their practice. But time seems to be major barrier for them; they feel stretched to the max by trying to effectively teach 175 students all day and find an hour or two for their own children and families at night. Personal learning can take a back seat even for dedicated teachers.
I think the commitment to professional development by OECD countries occurs without releasing students from school. Still, David’s point about helping the public better understand teaching and education issues at a deeper level is important. Besides the digital divide, there is another divide between professional experience and public understanding. As an educator, if you interact with the public on day to day issues, you are reminded about that. In reaching out to the general public I think we still need to provide introductory level information and do some publishing in “old-fashioned” news media as well.
I appreciated Darling-Hammond’s contrast between “professional policy” and “government prescriptions for practice.” (p 219) She endorses the use “professional policy” for standard-setting, licensing and accreditation in fields where knowledge and it’s appropriate application is substantial and complex. Although she supports a government role, public policy should not subjugate professional knowledge.
Brian Crosby says
Being a classroom teacher and also someone that delivers some professional development classes and presentations, I see teachers that are starving for this. I’m also in a state that is about 50th in funding of schools all the time (we moved up to 46th a few years back and you could tell the difference). Teachers want to modernize and hone their practice, but are held back by funding and a lack of vision by administration, politicians and the general public to see value in giving teachers control over more of what they are to be held accountable for (teaching children), and providing time and resources to do so.
I also see however, despite the usual “Teacher Union” is too strong and gets everything they want rhetoric, see teachers as part of this issue in that we don’t raise our collective voice in a key area like this. I keep hoping that as awareness is raised and policies like Rttt are pushed we will hit the breaking point and demand that we are heard here. So maybe David’s idea of blogging and speaking up in general, by making it part of every presentation we do, and just in simple conversation call people to action.
Should be easy enough! Learning is messy!
Tony Baldasaro says
The recent economic downturn is not doing anything to help with “the PD problem”. Districts have been forces to cut programming and PD dollars from their budgets. This is also a time when hiring younger, cheaper teachers has become more common, yet induction and mentoring programs are being cut.
I want to echo David’s comments above. With the schools in which I work or know most closely, those that embed PD as part of the work day and develop a culture around self improvement and development are those that show the most growth, which typically transfers successfully to the students.
Gary Stager says
Teachers should not consider themselves professionals if they themselves do not oversee credentialing, determine who gets to be a teacher, professional conduct standards and most importantly in this discussion, continue to develop. Professionals develop when in a context in which it is expected and supported. That is regardless of what their bosses do or not do.
There are studies in which teachers name “lack of professional development” as a major concern even when “PD” is abundant. Could this quixotic quest for more PD just be a reflexive response or symptom of teacher helplessness?
Want to see an alternative? Take a look at this:
Yes, this is an ongoing professional education institution created and led by public school educators for themselves and their colleagues in a partnership between the school district and the teachers union. Whoa! Freaky!
..and they’ve been doing this for decades.
(From the web site) “Teachers began this program because they believe that the best teachers are alert, open-minded people who continue to learn and to translate their insights into appropriate experiences for their students.”
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach says
I think it is a hard sell to say teaching as it is currently structured is a profession– it is at best a semi-profession for the very reasons you cite.
Dawn Sulpizio says
You mentioned the use of technology. There are many tricks and tips out there to help teachers save time and energy with lesson plans. There are many technical applications, WebQuests and other time saving devices that are available whenever teachers have a few minutes of spare time to research and learn about them. School technology training should show them how to get the most out of their free minutes here and there to find these applications. One on staff technical advisor could help a staff of teachers improve their effectiveness and teaching.
Carl Anderson says
Why does PD have to be something we do that is set apart from our normal daily routine? Having worked as a technology integration specialist for the past three years and having been involved in a similar program as yours where we take teachers out of the classroom for day-long intense PD sessions through my work with Hamline University I have seen both methods in action. While the PLP-style PD is highly effective it is not sustainable across broad groups. With all the other school initiatives and the little time and money available for PD such rich experiences are not likely for most teachers, not by a long shot. What I have found that seems to work best is a combination of asynchronous “workshops” and job-embedded PD.
What I do is replace the traditional workshop with a recorded 5-15 minute “Weekly Tech Tip” aimed at the broader school audience. I then email these tips (or links to them) to all staff. Teachers can then watch them on their own time, pause them, rewind if necessary, and dialog on the comments. They can also ask questions through emails. This also reduces the fear a lot of teachers might have of sounding ignorant in front of the other staff.
By job-embedded PD I mean two things. First, I hate having an office. In fact, most of the staff at my new school thought I was crazy for telling them not to give me one. By sticking the TIS in an office they miss too many “just-in-time” PD opportunities. Almost daily there is something I find I can teach a teacher or student just by being in the classroom, media center, or computer lab and noticing something they would otherwise not have know was possible or an option. Job embedded PD also means team-teaching with teachers. I try to get into classrooms with teachers to demonstrate new technology-enhanced teaching methods. One huge barrier to technology integration is teacher comfort level. If you are not comfortable doing something you are likely not to do it in your classroom. This becomes a problem when “doing it” is a prerequisite to learning it. By team teaching I can provide that safety net to get teachers beyond their discomfort.
This approach seems to work well without taking up any “workshop” time. It allows me to differentiate instruction for all teaching staff and doesn’t eat up much time, the teacher’s most valuable resource. Of course, I do still provide workshops for teachers. I have also found organizing PLCs around technology issues helps greatly. They provide sustained focus over time and commitment by teachers to push themselves.
Denise Herrenbruck says
These are great practical tips for coping with two major technology use barriers: teacher time and comfort level. They also reflect the pedagogy we want to use with our students: meeting them where they are, and application to the real world.
Kent Chesnut says
Will, another great conversation.
I wonder how other professionals deal with Professional Development??
* As an engineer, very little of my day is scheduled as face to face with the “customer” or the “public”. Therefore, it’s not too hard to engage in professional development on an as-needed basis.
Teachers, on the other hand, have their day tightly pre-scheduled. But I suspect there are a number of professions that face this same problem…
* How do people in professions that do have the bulk of their day pre-scheduled fit professional development in?
* Are there some readers out there from tightly scheduled professions (other than teaching) that have faced this problem? Any ideas?
Have a great day, Kent
Time alone won’t solve this problem. It will take self-directed individuals bringing this conversation to the schoolhouse. In my role as a school librarian I have been engaged in long-term reflective conversations with my colleagues. We collaboratively plan research projects where I introduce new technologies,research models (including inquiry), and information resources. These are sometimes difficult and challenging conversations to have (especially with peers who have been teaching for decades longer than me).
The error being made in this thread is to assume that if every teacher had enough time they would do what we are doing. There are a variety of teaching philosophies/models and experiences in the mix. We need meaningful (embedded) time to bring those views and past experiences to the table and see if they really match up to the reality of today.
So, how do you have those challenging conversations? How do you open a difficult line of discussion with peers?