Teacher-Led Professional Development is Crucial

As education innovators across the state figure out ways to improve teacher professional development, we have a crazy idea that we’d like to throw out there: talk to our most effective teachers and have them share their lessons with teachers that need development. There has been a lot of noise in the education debate about the best way to ensure effective PD for our teachers, but one of the common themes we’re seeing (and strongly agree with) is that of finally treating teachers like the expert resources that they are. Two particular articles have caught our eye. The first article, from EdWeek, is by National-Board certified teacher Julie Hiltz, and talks about 4 ideas that she and other teachers have for teacher-led PD:

  • Conferences: Off-site conferences like ECET2  provide productive learning environments. They allow teachers to discuss pedagogy and practice one day, and then implement new solutions the next. Participants can engage in respectful discourse without fear of administrative retribution, and are freed from the guilt of not spending their “free time” attending to unfinished classroom tasks.
  • Instructional rounds or video PLCs: Instructional rounds encourage teachers to invite peers in to their classrooms to provide feedback on specific areas of practice. Peers can provide insight on the learning from the student perspective and the team can work together to make suggestions for improvement. The observations are reciprocal, allowing peers to take ideas or teaching methods with them. In lieu of site visits, teachers can also upload their recorded lessons for colleague feedback.
  • Virtual communities: Online personal learning networks can allow teachers to learn and lead together through webinars, live chats, discussion posts, and more. Teachers can connect with peers from across the country or around the world at times convenient to their schedule. (Just one example: Center for Teaching Quality‘s Collaboratory.)
  • Teacherpreneurs: These are expert teachers who have half-time release from their teaching duties to work on leadership and learning projects within their schools, districts, and beyond. Teacherpreneurs can develop, pilot, identify, and share innovative practices with their colleagues. Teacherpreneurs can also make connections between teacher leaders across districts to broaden collaboration and discussion.

These ideas are fascinating points of discussion that all focus on a single premise: Teachers should play a major role in their professional development, and that this development should be relevant, accessible, and deeply participatory. Additionally, the idea of having teachers that are both teachers and PD leaders in their respective buildings is something we’ve heard from all sides of the debate as being a solid concept with a lot of merit. The second article, also from EdWeek, is from one of our favorite thought leaders in education, Harvard Professor Jal Mehta. Professor Mehta continues to explore the concept of practice-based knowledge, but laments that our current systems do not allow for this knowledge to be gathered and disseminated:

There is (or could be) a lot of knowledge that comes directly out of practice. There is almost no teaching problem that hasn’t been solved by someone somewhere. But there are few mechanisms for this knowledge to be made visible, captured, shared, and vetted. The invisibility of this practical knowledge has been a huge lost opportunity for the field in terms of how to get better.

Mehta continues to go on to make another worthwhile point regarding teacher prep and its connection to PD once inside the classroom:

Criticisms of teacher preparation are legion and corroborated both by research and by the experiences of almost all practicing teachers. Training is too theoretical and not closely enough tied to practice, higher ed faculty don’t have enough experience in schools to deliver more relevant knowledge; almost everything that teachers learn is on the job. There is little connection between these pre-service training programs and what schools or districts do (either in terms of induction or just more generally in terms of professional development) meaning that there are generally not trajectories that build common and deeper understandings of a given subject. Once they become full-time teachers, teachers still teach mostly in closed classrooms, lacking the time and sometimes the inclination to collaborate and learn from one another. Districts send out initiatives at a frenetic rate, which leads experienced practitioners to try to keep their heads down, close the door, and ward off outside influences.

Unfortunately in Nevada, we know this all too well to be true. We constantly hear from teachers about their dissatisfaction with the status quo in PD efforts; they lack support, time, and resources. But we need to remember that this is a symptom of a profession that has not developed, for a number of reasons, the right tools to spread knowledge and assistance to professionals in need. What tools do we use in order to accomplish this? What changes to the system need to occur? How can Nevada lead the way? The concepts in these articles only address a fraction of the obstacles that teachers and administrators face in their efforts to improve teacher PD. But with so much to discuss and consider, one thing is certain: teaching as a profession needs to evolve, with effective experienced teachers leading the way.