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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
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On Meaningful Professional Development

This month we are discussing Creating a Knowledge Base for Teaching: A Conversation with James Stigler. I will be facilitating this month and hope we have a lively discussion. Professional development is a subject near and dear to my heart.

Stigler says that professional development has changed a lot in the past 5 - 10 years -- do you agree? I have been teaching six years and in Los Angeles, I have seen a change from no professional development at my school site to district-mandated training for Open Court and math training that is strongly recommended. Where there was no money before, now teachers are paid for attending. Has anyone else seen changes like this and if so, do you think the training is meeting your needs?


Jill Manning
Los Angeles
December 2, 2002
Happy Holidays Everyone!

Stigler states that professional development has changed a lot over the past 5-10 years. I have been teaching for over 15 years and although I have seen positive changes overtime, I have to say most of the professional development that I attend remains to be too disconnected.

In this I mean that the majority of professional development that is often offered by my district is still off site and delivered in workshop style. Don't get me wrong, there are benefits to this one-shot type of PD; I should know, I use to lead workshops all the time and still do from time to time. Last year I offered several two-hour workshops in my classroom centered on literacy and English Language Development. I had over 20 teachers come to my classroom on Friday evenings looking for "stuff." I shared what I knew and presented strategies and work samples, but I also allotted time for teachers to converse and talk about their students and concerns. Most of the teachers that came to the workshop needed hours or wanted things they could implement, but some of them shared that they wanted to examine the topic deeper and would be interested in continuing the conversations started at these workshops.

So what's the problem? Well, to make a long story short, my local district still does not, or won't recognize networks as professional developments. When I asked "them" if I could offer salary points for starting an ongoing network centered on literacy, I was told that I could not use the word network in my proposal, but I could write up a planned course of study and call it teacher coaching. I was told that as long as it followed the format of a planned agenda, I could stray from it if needed to address teacher needs. What does this tell me? It tells me that teacher talk is not valued and that some people outside the loop may not trust teachers to talk about instruction.

Not all is bad in the district. Professional development is slowly beginning to change. Several years ago when the district purchased the Open Court Reading series, they mandated that teachers also be trained in using the program. Not that I am a fan of the program, I am not, but I do think the way they organized the training is a start in the right direction. They offered teachers salary points and/or pay for 40 hours of professional development (the kind that Stigler refers to as divorced from practice, taking place in hotels, generic, and lecture type), but in conjunction to that training they also required extra hours in which teachers were to meet on site with a facilitator to discuss implementation and reflect on their practice. Reading scores have "gone up" and the program is credited, but if you look deeper, could it be the ongoing professional development?

At my school we just started the kind of PD that Stigler describes as what teachers need from PD. My principal has gently guided the staff in the direction of lesson study. Teachers are given opportunity to observe other colleagues and different kinds of teaching; and then provided time to come together to analyze, discuss, and reflect on what they saw. The focus is on the lesson and students, not the teacher. The observed teachers benefit greatly from all the extra eyes and experience. Lesson focus come from the needs of the students and teachers, and lessons are observed and analyzed by the teachers. It is site and curriculum based. What a powerful way to develop your practice.

Okay, as you can tell, professional development is some near and dear to my heart. In the end, effective PD will lead to effective teaching, and effective teaching will lead to student achievement.

Anyone experiencing good or bad PD in their district?

Take Care,

Jane Fung
Los Angeles
December 9, 2002
Hi, all!

Jane's anecdotes reinforce something else Stigler mentions: the importance of support for meaningful professional development from the principals. Because Jane's principal is guiding the teachers towards lesson study, more teachers are probably participating.

At my school, I am really fortunate to have a principal who is a strong supporter of networks and teacher collaboration around instruction. Each Wednesday, our students don't start school until 10 am, and the teachers collaborate for 2 hours. We have been doing lesson studies, creating exit portfolios together, and sharing concerns and strategies. We have had powerful discussions about diversity, racism, and ways to motivate our students. Many new teachers have said that Wednesdays have kept them from quitting-- that talking to other teachers has given them new hope week after week. My principal provides coverage for teachers to leave their classrooms and go observe their lesson study lessons being taught by their colleagues and for teachers to examine student work together when there isn't enough time on Wednesdays.

Though two hours a week is not nearly enough, we also work in teams and share a common planning hour each day. I do think a more professional calendar would allow far more than the one pupil-free day a semester for staff development; sometimes we do need 8 hours to go deeply into a topic.

What kind of calendar would you all be willing to work? If your pay were increased significantly, would you be willing to have two weeks for teacher networks during off-track? Would your less-intense colleagues? (I know this is not your average group on line here!)

Lara Goldstone
Los Angeles
December 9, 2002
In reply to Jane:

I totally agree with Stigler and Jane. The only way we will see meaningful change in teaching and learning is to rethink how professional development takes place and build in a customized system of on-going work built around collegial conversation, reflection, and study of what we are doing and what the research is saying. Along with lesson study, of course, is the essential need to reflect on student work.

My feeling is that any effort we can make in this direction is to be celebrated.
Has anyone had problems with fellow teachers wanting to get off track in such settings and how did you handle that?

Thanks,

Carol Gregor
Santa Barbara County, CA
December 10, 2002
Carol,
Yes, I have had people get off track at those collegial meetings where we are addressing student work/assessments/instruction, whatever. If I'm not there, I use a form to guide them or one person is appointed to pull them back on task/ask the tough questions. What works the best is when the issue they are discussing/solving is pressing and they need the solution to implement immediately. They data they track each week can also add urgency to their efforts.

I am convinced that our teachers have massive amounts of knowledge and these collegial work sessions finally provide them the opportunity to share and gain new teaching strategies and new knowledge.

Marilyn Vercimak
Wyoming
December 11, 2002
Carol,

Our school sent a team of four to be trained as Critical Friends Coaches and one of the things we learned was how to set up group norms. The first thing we did when we came back from training was make some group norms for our staff meetings and professional development days and it has made a big difference. Since everyone agreed to the norms everyone sticks to them, for the most part. It makes it so much easier to stay on track because the moment people start to stray they are reminded on the norms. People have actually said in our meetings, "No sidebars" or "Save that thought for the question and answer period." Some staff members have taken longer to convince than others, but it was well worth the initial time investment.

Jill Manning
Los Angeles
December 16, 2002
Lara brings up an interesting point, when she asks us what kind of calendar are we willing to work. In The Teaching Gap, Stigler points out that collaborative activities are already built into the teachers' professional day. Are teachers willing to work longer hours or more days in order to collaborate? Would the teachers you work with be willing to do this?

Jill Manning
Los Angeles
December 16, 2002
Great idea! Makes so much sense.

Thanks,

Carol Gregor
Santa Barbara County, CA
December 16, 2002
Jane,

My job as an Academic Facilitator in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina is similar to the staff developer in New York. It is the best teaching job in the world! I work with my faculty and administrators to promote best practices and school improvement. I have been the chairman of our school's Leadership Team and I am working closely with an Assistant Principal to improve our middle school.

A large part of my job is the professional development of our faculty, and I have learned during my three and one half years in this position that the key word is "professional" rather than "staff" development. Professional teachers want to be respected and want to feel empowered to make or assist in making decisions about what they need to know in order to do their jobs well. Too often the system requires them to attend useless training sessions; however, I have also noticed that some teachers in the new teaching force too often show a lack of commitment to professional development and school leadership.

Also, if teachers are disgruntled about staff development, they need to take a stand against poor practices. If they don't fix the problem, no one else will. I wonder why they haven't done anything so far. I know I have most of the time. I usually find a way not to waste my time in useless training.

Sheryn Northey
Charlotte, NC
December 17, 2002
Reading Jill and Lara's messages about a calendar for professional development brings to mind some issues in my district. Currently, the only time built in for professional development revolves around school accreditation and tasks we are required to accomplish. While accreditation is important, there are too many repetitive tasks that eat up valuable time. Other, more meaningful professional development usually takes place in the form of meetings before or after school when teachers are "donating" their time. This causes some very hard feelings with some people and leads many to completely discount very useful teaching practices. Once our accreditation visit is over, the professional development days will be absorbed back into the school calendar and we will continue to have to "give" our personal time to the district. I think teachers would be more open if they were fairly compensated for their time. I am not even opposed to extending teacher contracts as long as appropriate compensation is attached. Unfortunately, our community is not very progressive and sticks closely to the agrarian "start near Labor Day and end by Memorial Day" calendar.

Does anyone have suggestions for how to help a school district move in the right direction? Also, does anyone have experience with a very seasoned, traditional staff that balks at any form of change to research-based best practices of classroom instruction?

Debra Meredith
Wyoming
December 17, 2002
Debra,

I have had an experience with teachers balking at lesson study. I tried it in Charlotte and was met with resistance. I was teaching a differentiation class for our gifted program and asked the teachers to present a lesson study as part of the course requirement. Feedback was that I didn't model enough or lecture enough. The negative feedback may have been because the course was required and teachers were there to meet the requirement rather than to learn. I was disappointed that the teachers were not more enthusiastic about research lessons and leading from the classroom. They wanted lecture.

Sheryn North
Charlotte, NC
December 18, 2002
I know what Sheryn is talking about! The past few years I've been working to help schools support new teachers in NYC. I've found that often, teachers (actually, it's usually the more experienced ones) don’t know how to respond to professional development that requires them to be active and thinking and central to its success. They are so used to sitting and being bored and lectured at that they are just not sure about being the actors, rather than the passive recipients.

Simply asking them what they want and feel they need in terms of their own P.D., either informally in conversation or with a written needs assessment, has proven to be remarkably illuminating and powerful. I can then suggest ways in which their needs can be met--always ways that require participation, discussion and sharing of practice. We do peer coaching, Critical Friends Groups, support groups, modeling lessons and debriefing, study groups, lesson study, among other things. (I am lucky to be able to have a small budget to back up what I suggest with materials, books and small teacher stipends for outside of school time).

I am currently working with a school which has provided very traditional, expert-to-teacher P.D. They are struggling to plan across the school writing tasks through a district initiative. We are incorporating a lot of sharing of student work and teacher practice in order to reduce teacher stress levels and to make it real for them. Some teachers are loving it and some are resistant, but everyone is learning so much and gaining so much insight into the teaching and learning of writing. I know that I am.

Judi Fenton
New York City
December 18, 2002
Two comments I have are: 1) differentiation can be a very difficult concept to grasp and many teachers do not see how they could apply it in their classroom ("transference" of philosophy to application can be tricky for many participants in any PD setting), or 2) they see the implications of the large amount of work involved in generating a differentiated lesson. Differentiation, in particular, is a tricky PD to do and get cooperation and good comments with a large group. Another topic may have garnered increased cooperation. However, my school has dedicated itself to differentiated instruction for all students and, as the staff struggles to learn how to differentiate all six ways, their attitude is slowly changing about it. Redirecting teaching from a didactic to differentiated approach takes major commitment and perseverance.

Anne Buchanan
Fayette County, KY
December 18, 2002
Debra,

I agree a large part of the problem is accreditation requirements--both real and perceived--by federal, state, and local districts. I know in our district we frequently get into repetitive activities that no longer serve their originally intended purpose. Part of our answer to this was to add 5 professional days (yes, paid, and prorated according to each teacher's salary). This decision was not arbitrary. Our district planning team surveyed teachers prior to the decision and a large majority agreed to the days with pay.

The other positive change this year is that our PD days are planned by a committee which is mostly run by teachers. PD has not so far become a one size fits all approach. Among activities are optional collaborative reading groups, and lesson study. Action Research/Reflective Inquiry projects are required (Not necessarily a popular decision district wide). Teachers are learning about the responsibilities, advantages, and pitfalls of making administrative decisions for the entire staff. There is still bound to be a lot of grumbling: some by teachers who routinely resist change, but also by master teachers who are genuinely fed up with arbitrary top-down PD requirements, esp. from NCLB and our own State Dept. Most teachers I talk to feel they are now and have been "accountable" with or without external requirements. Our staff is very "seasoned", as yours is. A positive for us is that the superintendent and at least a couple of principals are generally open to sharing power and ideas. Without that, it can be very difficult. The key, as you know, is ownership by the staff. Sometimes a core of teachers can get some control over the planning--it takes a lot of extra time and work. This could be a good inquiry/research project. Maybe get at least a few seasoned teachers involved in a group project. All in your spare time, right?

Good luck with your efforts.

Gary Miller
Wyoming
December 18, 2002
Two issues seem to have come up here; Compensation for Professional Development and Control of/over Professional Development.

In terms of compensation, how much money is enough? For some teachers there is no amount of money that they can be paid to stay after school or work on Saturdays and others would do it for free just to have the opportunity to learn. Currently, LAUSD teachers get paid about $16/hour to attend Open Court training during their off-track time and $25/hour for 'training' pay from the district. Some of these training opportunities allow the participant to get university or district credit so that they can advance on the salary scale. Stigler never mentions compensation, so wonder how some of the practices he talks about were successful. Maybe this is a situation where you get what you pay for, pay nothing, get nothing.

In terms of control of professional development, it seems to me that some schools are making progress in that direction. At my school, the teachers decided to look at writing and that is where our energy is focused as a whole staff. A splinter group has taken up the call of lesson study and will convene in January start the ball rolling. Stilger notes that once teachers find professional development to be valuable, "suddenly it's not so hard to find the time to do them." Do you think this is true? If the professional development offered at your schools were really in tune with the needs of the teachers, would they find the time?

Jill Manning
Los Angeles
December 18, 2002
That is disappointing Sheryn, but I am not surprised. Some teachers will need more time to ease into more "progressive" kinds of PD. Change is not always a comfortable thing is it? But once teachers experience the power of examining their own practice on a deeper level, and how to improve student achievement, they will buy into it more. It has to come from them and they have to see how PD can benefit them in some way. I think some teachers have just given up on good PD. Lesson study can sound a bit overwhelming at first, but once teachers experience it, they realize that the focus of lesson study is to look at a lesson and how to make it more effective, not the teacher. Sheryn, were you going to be the demonstrating teacher for the lesson study, or did you ask for a volunteer?

I still can't believe that the teachers requested more lecture! Eeek!

Jane Fung
Los Angeles
December 19, 2002
Judi,

I agree with you. Asking teachers what they want is the answer. With our Gifted Certification, however, we do have course requirements, so, within limits, we can ask teachers what they want. Unfortunately, too often what I am seeing they want is lecture, which according to research results in 5% in learning. When I taught my course, I asked teachers to teach (which nets 90% in learning) a model of differentiation. I was amazed that many of the participants felt I had asked for too much.

One of the best models for professional development I have experienced is the National Board process. Teachers volunteer to go through the process. They choose to "jump through the hoops" to document master teaching and to grow professionally. Even those who do not immediately certify learn a great deal about analysis, reflection and professional decision making, which moves them far beyond the typical teacher. I wish professional development programs would promote some of the processes demanded by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Sheryn Northey
Charlotte, NC
December 19, 2002
Debra,

Shirley and I (from FCPS) experienced a staff's resistance to change last year when we tried to implement Lesson Study at our school. We ended up reading Michael Fullan's body of work on change, which I highly recommend to anyone who is considering implementing change of any kind. The bottom line is, before you can even address "the content" (i.e., the change you want to make), you have to create a climate for change. Which, as one might suspect, is not easy. In fact, Fullan says, "Change is a frustrating, discouraging business." But worth the effort!

Anne,

I am currently researching math differentiation. I would really appreciate clarification of your statement "differentiation in all six ways."

Thanks!

Jill asks, "Stilger notes that once teachers find professional development to be valuable, "suddenly it's not so hard to find the time to do them." Do you think this is true? If the professional development offered at your schools were really in tune with the needs of the teachers, would they find the time?" To this, I say YES, YES, YES! As I mentioned before, Shirley and I attempted to implement Lesson Study at our school last year. For the teachers who "bought into" lesson study, it became a valuable means of professional development, and they were more than willing to invest the time in it. Again this year, I am finding a core of teachers who are willing to invest the time, once they find out it IS worth their time. One of the problems we have to overcome is that much of PD is still "one size fits all" and teachers are tired of having their time wasted by sitting through presentations about stuff they already know.

If we differentiate for children, we should differentiate for adults, as well. I think that's one of the (many!) reasons we like lesson study--we plan and develop it ourselves, based on our own needs as professionals.

Gail V. Ritchie, MEd, NBCT
Fairfax County, VA
December 19, 2002
I absolutely agree with Gail in her answer of Jill's question about teachers finding the time to do P.D. that is valuable to them. I have found that that the key is that there has to be clear connection for them to what is going on in their classrooms. For example, I think if we present doing lesson study as something that will support teachers in doing something they already are doing, but doing it better, it is much more palatable than doing a math lesson study when teachers are struggling to implement a new writing curriculum. This sounds so elementary, however, it is what schools and districts so often expect teachers to do. I think that often I am successful in presenting new forms of P.D. merely because I am able to explain to the teachers how it can support them in what they are attempting to do, not what someone else want them to do!

Judi Fenton
New York City
December 19, 2002
One way to set up PD so that teachers are more willing to participate in activities is to tell them to bear with you, but that you are going to place them in the role of the student in your classroom so that they feel the power of the lesson that the students will feel when they present it to their respective classes. For teachers that still refuse, I compliment them on their astuteness for being able to see the implications ahead of time for how much work this will be—that usually gets them started.

Sure, lessons can be differentiated by content, process, product, readiness, interest, and learning profile. (One can rarely differentiate just one way at a time; often it is a combination like interest and process, etc) One way to differentiate for math by content and readiness is to use the "ASK" (Assessing Student Knowledge) Process, developed by Toyota Corporation. This is where strands of content (computation, concepts, relationships, algebraic ideas, etc) from state or national standards are organized into long range plans and students are given weekly assessments -using review and preview questions- to determine their mastery of content. Depending on how they score, they are placed into groups for enrichment/curriculum compacting or remediation. Then, they are tested again to monitor mastery and efficacy of the lesson. They graph and track their own progress, which helps a lot towards their motivation to succeed. I have lots more info on Toyota's strategies, again for anyone who is privately interested.

Anne Buchanan
Fayette County, KY
December 19, 2002
I agree with Sheryn that if staff development opportunities could model those of National Board Certification lessons and procedures, much more enrichment can be derived. I wish there was actually some sort of National Board Certification that could be completed at the local level (in a kind of cohort setting). As far as local development/staff enrichment opportunities are concerned, the ones that seem to work best is ones in which the instructor models a lesson quickly, then gives the participants a chance to “get their hands dirty”, followed by a question/answer/feedback session. Lectures aren’t very effective, usually … just time-consuming.

Thom Jones
Fairfax County, VA
December 19, 2002
 

 

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