by Ken Barker, Deborah Kagan, Ron Klemp, Sally Roderick, Diana Takenaga-Taga
Teacher Professionalism, Teacher Growth
Professional Relationships: Growth Connections
Teacher Networks, Growth and Society
Examining Teacher Networks in Los Angeles
As part of our work here in LA and in an effort to better understand the relationship of teacher networks and teacher professionalism, the MetLife Fellows circulated a survey to teacher representatives of networks supported by LAEP and to the Teamin' and Theme-in network which Ron Klemp oversees through the Northridge Practitioner's Center in conjunction with California State University Northridge. In formulating this survey, our operating hypothesis was that teacher networks fit into our model of teacher professionalism in which networks represent both a classroom-based career opportunity and an effective vehicle for true professional growth. One-hundred respondents representing six teacher networks (Early Literacy Cadre, Humanitas, Math Plus, Multi-age Learning, Target Science, Teamin' & Theme-in) were used in the study.
The network teachers in this study can be characterized as mid-career veterans (average = 16.31 years teaching experience) with roughly two-thirds of the respondents falling between six and one-half and twenty-six years experience. Our analysis revealed that teachers with fewer than about thirteen years experience tend to join networks more readily and tend to stay in networks longer than do teachers with greater and increasing years of teaching experience. That teachers with advanced experience tend to join networks at a reduced rate may be due to increasing "competition" from common later-career choices such as Department Chair, coordinatorships, administrative positions, etc. There is also the intractableness that often accompanies advanced experience in the teaching profession. However these explanations are not definitive and are worthy of further investigation.
Teacher response to questions designed to measure the influence of teacher networks on indicators of teacher professionalism do tend to support our hypotheses. Teachers were asked: 1) "How would you rate the network's impact on your teaching?" ; 2) "How would you rate the effect of your participation in the network on your own personal learning?"; 3) "How would you rate the following statement: 'Networks should be a part of every teachers' professional experience.'" When responses are controlled and examined by years of network experience, teachers with more network experience tend to answer these questions more favorably than do teachers with less network experience (see chart). Such a trend in response to these variables tend to support the hypotheses that networks offer career-path professional opportunities focused on growth, and that networks offer tangible personal and social reward for professional growth activities.
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At Los Angeles High School, a Science, Art and English teacher meet daily during their conference period to develop and plan the implementation of thematic, interdisciplinary teaching units into their shared tenth grade class. At Northridge Middle School, five teachers are engaged in Collaborative Action Research in which they each investigate a "burning educational question" within the context of their classroom by introducing an instructional change and collecting data from the student response to that change. They meet regularly throughout the school year during their lunch breaks to discuss their results and to plan refinements to their pedagogical approach. At Elizabeth Street Elementary, a small group of elementary teachers from other elementary schools in the District crowd into the back of a classroom to watch two Elizabeth Street teacher practitioners team teach a multi-age, first-second grade class. Following the lesson, the practitioners and observers sit to reflect on what was tried, what was seen, what is possible.
The above examples share a number of qualities. They all represent teachers working with other teachers within a climate of collegiality and learning. The teachers are all working to build deep and personal knowledge of how educational reforms are best understood within the context and immediacy of the classroom. They are all engaged in powerful professional development processes that are largely unrecognized, unrewarded, not assessed and unsupported under models of professionalism based on hierarchical systems.
We believe that a true teacher professional can be defined as a teacher who is engaged with a career path that encourages, fosters and rewards constant professional growth that reflects directly and positively back on classroom practice. When applied within a supportive infrastructure, this definition of professionalism demands that the teacher professional break free from the stagnating isolation of the classroom and develop his or her practice in a way that mirrors the growth and development of our society as it transitions to a communication age.
It assumes a professional growth process that is developmental and multi-leveled where teachers are involved in a real and direct way with other professionals and members of society about what is happening in their classrooms. Professional growth of this sort is necessarily contextualized to the day-to-day dynamics of teaching and sustained throughout the teaching career. Professional growth affects more than the individual teacher and creates a synergy of reform and growth within the learning and professional communities that the teacher is a part of. Finally, this definition is personally and professionally affirming to the teacher and offers true career paths, goals and choices.
Professional Relationships: Growth Connections
Continual professional growth of this sort requires the development and implementation of an enabling infrastructure and resource base. In addition to providing opportunity for each teacher to improve his or her classroom instruction, such a base must also allow for the needed career choice and diversification that will shape individual growth.
Figure 1 represents a model of professional growth opportunity. Each of the ovals in the drawing represents a field of growth relationships that the teacher develops, expands and maintains over the course of his/her career. Importantly, these relationships all revolve around and support classroom instruction, with the exception of the non-classroom career paths (E). All of the fields represent avenues of professional choice and growth available to the teacher and imply ever widening circles of professional growth opportunity from the classroom out to whole school, district, state and nation.
Field E, representing the non-classroom component of this model, has been considered the traditional career path for teachers, yet it does not adequately address career growth for teachers who choose to remain in the classroom. Individual who have chosen (for whatever reason) to pursue this career path still engage in the non-classroom fields (B,C,D) in order to be effective, yet they remain somewhat removed from the classroom focus of most teachers. A formal recognition of all the growth fields would open career choice and direction to all teachers.
It is possible to use this model to represent classroom teachers and to get a sense of professional growth. While there are some teachers who never venture beyond their own classroom (A), most do engage in personal growth experiences and many actively involve themselves in within-school leadership roles (B). Probably fewer are connected to networks beyond their own schools (C).
These fields have emerged within the current hierarchical structure because there is a true need for them if teachers are to grow and improve; the hierarchical model cannot supply the kinds of complicated growth and information base required in a modern educated work force in an era of almost limitless communication. Clearly, there is a need to develop and support such structures.
Teacher Networks, Growth and Society
Much of the professional growth opportunity described in the model above takes the form of teacher networking. A growing body of educational research literature is beginning to recognize and support the value of teacher networks as a vehicle for true professional growth. "Teachers value opportunities to learn from other teachers more than from any other source." (Smylie, 1994.) Such movement away from the controlled hierarchical development structures of the factory model toward broad-based networking processes are not unique to education and reflect societal changes of our communication age.
First published in 1982, John Naisbitt's Megatrends attempted to determine major social trends of his day and project their impact on the near future of a decade or two later. In retrospect, Naisbitt's observations about the growing social importance and impact of networks seem remarkably precognizant of the significance of teacher networks today as process-oriented communicative structures:
Simply stated, networks are people talking to each other, sharing ideas, information, and resources. The point is often made that networking is a verb, not a noun. The important part is not the network, the finished product, but the process of getting there--the communication that creates the linkages between people and clusters of people...
Naisbitt sees networking structures replacing hierarchical structures because they are more efficient toward transmitting and generating knowledge:
Networks exist to foster self-help, to exchange information, to change society, to improve productivity and work life, and to share resources. They are structured to transmit information in a way that is quicker, more high touch, and more energy-efficient than any other process we know...
Although sharing information and contacts is their main purpose, networks can go beyond the mere transfer of data to the creation and exchange of knowledge. As each person in a network takes in new information, he or she synthesizes it and comes up with other, new ideas. Networks share these newly forged thoughts and ideas.
As with these societal trends, teacher networks have emerged because they represent a more effective model of human interaction and growth within the framework of our modern age of communication and education, in which any individual has ready access to a vast information base. Human and electronic networks now allow any one teacher to be as informed and expert as are the "resource specialists" in the hierarchical structures that networks are replacing.
Examining Teacher Networks in Los Angeles
We in Los Angeles have examined the role that teacher networks play in building teacher professionalism. The group began by surveying teachers networking in the LAUSD schools. Results from this survey demonstrate the positive impact of networks on indicators of career growth and fulfillment. We found that the more time a teacher spent in a teacher network, the more highly they rated the influence on their classroom practice and on their own personal learning, and strongly believed that networks should be part of every teacher's professional experience.
In the case study, Factors and Processes Necessary to Sustain Networks (Takenaga-Taga, 1997), Los Angeles teacher Diana Takenaga-Taga discusses what a site-based network needs to continue as a successful professional development mechanisms. She identified nine key elements that were necessary to sustain networks, and when some were missing or removed, the network became ineffective in fostering teacher growth.
In From Theory To Practice: Making Networks Happen in Schools, (Roderick, 1997), Los Angeles teacher Sally Roderick discusses the knowledge levels and important components to consider in initiating networks at a school site. Her case study follows a school's climate change as it evolved into inquiry-based examination of student work around stakeholder-agreed upon outcomes for students.
In The Teamin' and Theme-in Network and Collaborative Action Research (Klemp, 1997), Los Angeles teacher and CSUN instructor Ron Klemp details one robust and lasting network . The network aims specifically at enhancing and improving practice and now employs collaborative action research to document its focus on issues of classroom practice dealing with instruction, curriculum and behavior management
Building a capacity for professional growth that directly impacts the classroom is " the ideal of any staff development program. Doing so in an environment that creates a true professional enthusiasm for the process is an even more compelling model. Ironically, even while we as teachers recognize teacher networks as a powerful professional development vehicle, the educational system in which we work and grow does not acknowledge network activities as an avenue for increased professionalism. Though acknowledged as effective instructional programs, the network activities of teachers generally occur during the instructional school day and thus are largely considered as ordinary curriculum development or lesson planning.
Unfortunately, there exists no formal process for recognizing teacher networks as an avenue for professional growth. Just like their non-networking counterparts, these teachers must log "seat time" after school and on weekends in college classes and at educational conferences and workshops if their "professional growth" is to be recognized or translated into salary advancement. Without such recognition, teacher networks as a professional model may remain the exception rather than the rule.
The following represent policy decisions that will enable and support a developmental process for teachers who are expanding their growth opportunities in the District and at local sites:
Continue the ongoing working collaborative of teachers and policymakers to refine professional standards and outcomes for teachers, using The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards as a model as suggested by The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future in What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future.
- Establish a meaningful career path that emphasizes remaining in the classroom and provides appropriate incentives for continuing professional growth.
- Investigate, encourage, and sustain with incentives and resources (i.e. time, space, and training/support) mechanisms of professional growth at local sites, District, and state levels, that engage in a continuous improvement cycle of assessing, planning, and implementing, and lead to contextualized and sustained professional efforts. Examples are networks, teacher practitioner collaboratives, and collaborative action research.
- Recognize network participation as a valid professional development outcome.
- Establish collaboratively with teachers procedures for documenting professional growth as described above. The National Board for Professional
- Teaching Standards provides an exemplary model.
- Allow local sites accountability for assessment of professional growth by moving accountability to stakeholder level , using recognized standards of professional excellence such as The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, with the state/District maintaining an enabling role and resource base.
Teacher professionalism has traditionally been omitted as a necessary policy component to instructional change in the classroom (Elmore and McLaughlin 1988). As we have demonstrated in this study, these two educational factors are closely, and perhaps inseparably, related. If we as a nation wish to have teachers capable of developing the sorts of multifaceted instructional practices and curriculum that are necessary to preparing students for an increasingly complex world, we need to develop and advocate a robust model of teacher professionalism that invigorates true professional development and classroom change.
Bibliography and Other Sources
Elmore, Richard F., and McLaughlin, Milbrey W. (1988). "Steady Work: Policy, Practice, and the Reform of American Education." Santa Monica: The Rand Corp.
Little, Judith W. 1993. "Teachers' Professional Development in a Climate of Educational Reform." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 15.
Lord, Brian. 1994. "Teacher's Professional Development: Critical Colleagueship and the Role of Professional Communities." in Cobb, Nina. ed. 1994. The Future of Education: Perspectives on National Standards in America. New York: College Entrance Examination Board. 175-204.
McLaughlin, Milbrey W. and Talbert, Joan E. 1993. Contexts That Matter For Teaching: Strategic Opportunities of Meeting the Nations's Educational Goals. Stanford University: Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching.
Naisbitt, John. 1984. Megatrends. New York: Warner Books.
The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. Summary report. Columbia University: Teachers College Press, 1996.