Monthly Archives: May 2012

What is Professional Development?

Is training focused on understanding how the standards will be tested really professional development?

I guess it depends on what we believe a teacher’s job to be.  If one considers a teacher’s sole purpose to train a child to pass a test, then I guess this would be appropriate professional development.  By understanding how each standard is tested, the teacher can tailor instruction to the test expectations and thus be considered successful as a professional.

But I have a problem with this.  I did not go into the teaching profession to teach kids to pass tests.  I chose this profession to inspire greatness in my students,  to help them realize their fullest potential, to make this world a better place.  It’s insulting to think that my role has been so devalued.  I refuse to consider myself simply a trainer for a bunch of test takers.

In my opinion, true professional development should be focused on inspiring students to be critical thinkers, creative problem solvers, and lifelong learners.  These are the skills that enable students to reach their potential, motivate them to continue learning, and allow them to persevere when faced with challenges.  Teach me ways to facilitate proficiency of these skills.  Teach me the latest research on cognitive development.  Teach me how to determine what critical thinking skills students are using well and which ones may need to be strengthened.  Teach me how to design lessons that will engage my students in real world application of skills at a high level of rigor.  But don’t try to convince me that knowing how the standards will be tested, and planning my lessons to match these assessment conditions,  is sufficient for my students to attain critical thinking & problem solving skills that they can apply in the real world. In real life, does it really matter if standard X.Y.Q.1.2.3 is tested at a cognitive complexity level of 4 using a multiple choice format?

Don’t get me wrong.  I do think it is important to know the test item specifications to be a well informed teacher, but please don’t provide training on this information, emphasizing that I should address each benchmark to a certain level of rigor with the justification of “this is how it will be tested,” and then assume that I have received quality professional development that will help me provide a better education for my students.

I guess it all comes down to this: Are teachers supposed to be preparing students for a test, or for life?

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Teach, Lead, and Transform- Be a Teacherpreneur!

Here’s a short excerpt from an article I read today- What the Heck is a ‘Teacherpreneur’?:

the concept of “teacherpreneur” involves giving classroom teachers more of a voice in educational leadership, while allowing current educational leaders and policymakers opportunities to spend a part of each year working in a classroom with students.

In this ideal world, teachers spend part of their time in the class as co-teachers, part of their time researching and writing curriculum and assessments for schools, part of the time mentoring new teachers (who have a reduced work load while they’re being trained), part of their time innovating ideas for teacher development, and part of their time drafting educational policy.”

This is what I want to be when I grow up- a teacherpreneur!

Not that I don’t like my current job.  I am currently serving as an instructional coach and I truly enjoy it.  It’s definitely a close second to being a teacherpreneur.  I have the privilege of providing professional development to teachers, I can offer my two cents (for what it’s worth) on the educational policy of my school, and I get to observe and learn from other fantastic teachers. Sometimes I even get lucky enough to be asked to model a lesson in a  classroom, or provide interventions for a student or two, which helps satisfy my need for student interaction.

The Limitations of Being an Instructional Coach

As much as I love my job, at times it can be frustrating when I have an idea that I would love to try.  For those of you who don’t know me personally, you should know that I am known for being readily open to trying new things in my classroom. (Some may attribute this to possible ADD, but I like to think of it as educational enthusiasm!) Most of the time, the ideas turn out to be pretty good ones that help the students learn.  As for those occasional bad ideas- while the students may not learn much from them, I learn PLENTY!!

I spend a lot of time reading professional literature (yes, I really do this for fun) and like any true nerd- when I read about ideas, I want to try them out.  Think of it like being a student in a science class reading how to calculate speed, but not able to actually measure the time and distance of a toy car rolling down a ramp.  Instructional coaches (like myself) would be the first to ask “How much learning can really take place without hands-on experiences?”  The same rings true for anyone in the education field who is not working directly with students day-in and day-out.

As an instructional coach, I can read up on the latest research and best practices, I can attend the most inspiring professional development, and can observe the most fabulous teachers, but if I never have an opportunity to implement firsthand what I have learned, a complete understanding will never be realized.  I may have surface knowledge of the concept, but it won’t run deep.  I liken this to the shift to in-depth standards which require the students to delve deeply into concepts and explore them on multiple levels to understand these concepts more thoroughly.  It’s just as important for educators to have a deep understanding of teaching practices and how they affect student learning, and this isn’t possible without hands-on experiences.

The Benefits of Being an Instructional Coach

On the other hand, I feel that by being involved in more “global” issues outside of my immediate classroom, I have grown tremendously as a member of the educational community.  Sometimes teachers get tunnel vision and all they have time to care about are the students in their own classrooms and the students’ performance in their class.  They aren’t able to see the big picture.  And often, it isn’t their fault.  At some schools (thankfully not at mine) the administrators make all the decisions and tell the teachers exactly what they will be doing.  So the teachers don’t even bother trying to see the big picture.  What’s the point?

But when teachers’ eyes are opened to the big picture, that’s when things get exciting!  When teachers within a school or district come to view themselves as part of a larger network, and are invited to provide educational insight and advice, they become more invested in the system.  Since becoming a coach 5 months ago, I have learned to question seemingly outdated policies and procedures, consider ways to better meet the needs of students and teachers, and make suggestions for improvements.  Many of my ideas have been accepted and implemented, and some have been politely acknowledged and then quickly forgotten, but either way, the fact that someone values my opinion encourages me to continue seeking ways to improve as an educator.

Being a Teacherpreneur- The Best of Both Worlds

My fear is that as time passes, I may forget what it was like to be in a classroom and start inadvertently providing input that is irrelevant or even worse- counterproductive.  And this is more pertinent now than ever before. Because of the rapid changes in society, it is extremely likely that the classroom will be a completely different place than it is now in just 5 short years.  If I am not engaged in the experience of teaching students, I will not be as effective in making sound educational decisions.

In a school of teacherpreneurs, this fear doesn’t have to exist.  All members of the teaching community will stay connected and informed through classroom teaching, while also serving as a valued leader in a capacity that best suits them: administrator, author, curriculum developer, college professor, policy maker, etc.  Say good-bye to disgruntled teachers who complain about irrelevant policies that don’t make sense, and say hello to motivated professionals working towards a common goal of improving student achievement through continual learning and collaboration.

Do you believe this educational structure is attainable?  What are some obstacles that will need to be overcome in implementing this idea of teacherpreneurs? What are the benefits of this type of system?

If you are interested in learning more about this idea of “teacherpreneur”- check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LXFVpp3wQ0

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