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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Action Research: Classroom Management & School Culture:
Smoothing the Transition to a New Paradigm of Professional Development

by Ken Barker
Los Angeles, California

AUGUST, 1997

Recognizing, Rewarding, Assessing, Supporting
Integration of Effort and Reform
Bibliography

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 to 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 elementaries 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.

These teachers are caught in a the transition away from staff development conceived as a transferable package of knowledge distributed to teachers in bite-size pieces (Lieberman, 1995) to a process model of professional development in which teacher and classroom are the loci for integrating university-level research findings, national and state policy and reform agendas, and teacher-constructed knowledge. State policy and district guidelines have lagged behind the growing research base supporting this new understanding of professional development, leaving these teachers on their own to seek and realize their own professional growth.

Understanding professional development not as top-down "teacher training" policy issue but rather as a process marked by "...lifelong, inquiry-based, and collegial activity" (Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin, 1995) requires deep cultural and systemic reorganization in bureaucratic and political structures intolerant of disorder. If we are to smooth the transition to "messier" (Little 1995) yet more powerful professional development processes, we must provide these institutions with the solutions and tools necessary to keeping professional development systems "...bureaucratically manageable, measurable, and...equitable" (Lord 1994).

Recognizing, Rewarding, Assessing, Supporting

"In the traditional view of staff development workshops and conferences conducted outside the school count, but authentic opportunities inside the the school do not" (Lieberman, 1995.). This view is reflected in state credentialing policy practice of allowing professional development credit for credential renewal to "seat time" activities that occur largely outside the instructional day: college education courses, school committees, conferences, workshops, etc. While this policy allows for "clean" accountability of professional activities, it does not recognize activities that occur during the school day and within the classroom that also constitute teacher growth. Accountability guidelines must move away from the focus on accumulating professional development hours and toward an outcome-based system that seeks indicators of engagement with systems and methods of professional inquiry, learning and collegiality centered around classroom and instructional change. Examples of such indicators might be involvement in teacher networks and study groups, co-publishing classroom-based research projects, peercoaching and team teaching relationships, cross-school curriculum articulations, and the like. At the same time that these kinds of contextualized activities are recognized as accountable professional growth possibilities, districts and unions must also work to alter salary-point credit guidelines so that they better reflect and reward teacher outcomes that demonstrate increasing professionalism.

State requirements for logging seat time for credential renewal, the school administrative practice of taking attendance at a faculty meeting, pupil-free day or school workshop are artifacts of an accountability system tailored to top-down policy implementation. Such a system is designed for efficiency, but results in superficial measurement of true professional growth, and is totally lacking in professional recognition or reward. That a teacher completed a college course in education or was present at a workshop does not guarantee that he or she will effect instructional or policy reform in his or her classroom. Shifting to an outcome-based system of monitoring professional development moves responsibility for monitoring teacher growth and learning from state and district bureaucratic institutions to individual schools and teachers themselves. In an outcomes-based system, it is the actual demonstration of reform that counts, not just the learning of it. But for such an outcomes-based system of accountability to prove efficacious, local school-site administrators themselves must also be brought back into the loop of professional growth. Where presently local school administrators function in a regulatory role over teacher development activity at their school sites, local responsibility for professional development will demand that principals and other administrative personnel become a part of the professionalizing process itself if they are to fully understand and effectively manage the complexities of outcome-based accountability: "Like teachers, principals need to engage in activities that examine teaching, shared decisionmaking, and student achievement and learning" ("Improving America's Schools", 1996). While this does not necessarily imply that administrators must "return to the classroom," it does mean that administrators and teachers must increasingly work together in collegial teams and partnerships that break down the walls of hierarchy and segregation. In so doing, teachers and administrators may return to a notion of professionalism in which reward comes from from the work itself: from improved classroom instruction, enhanced school operation, the advancement of student achievement, and the excitement and synergy that comes with true professional collaboration.

Transferring professional accountability through an outcome-based system of assessment to local school sites means that national, state and district standards must be developed so that schools, teachers and policy makers may have a common gauge by which they may judge professional development efforts. It is important, however, that the professional standards are not understood as minimum or absolute requirements to which every educator must reach and conform to. There will always be variation of output in any process (Arcaro 1995), including professional development. Rather, standards must be thought of as ideal goals of professional quality toward which school educators are forever moving. For these goals to remain ideal, they must forever be revisited, revised and restated. Standards of professionalism also need to be accompanied by a manageable system of measuring teacher professional activity relative to the standards. In this way, districts and state will be able to determine which programs and systems most effectively move teachers closer to those snandards, and so allocate support resources appropriately. Currently existing assessment tools might be put to wide-spread use to achieve this purpose: teacher portfolios and professional journals; documentation of peer coaching, mentoring and teacher practitioner relationships. Rubrics and guidelines tha t benchmark professional activity against the standards must also be organized. At the same time, it is essential that the assessment system not be fear-driven or create a power hierarchy within the teaching ranks; recognize that every school educator must be engaged in the pursuit of increased professionalism; recognize that every system will have natural variation in quality. Professional outcomes should be used as a system-wide assessment tool---where individual schools, districts or states are all systems---that is used to establish and maintain a continuous quality improvement cycle within that system. Where quality in the professional development of districts, schools or individual teachers fall out of the improvement cycle, local and state interventions must be positive and supportive and aimed at reestablishing improvement, rather than meting out punishment.

Perhaps the most important support resource that can be afforded teachers and local school-sites in effecting outcome-based accountability is time. "When analyzing the failure of educational research and best practice to improve classroom instruction and student achievement, educators often overlook an obvious reason" (Fine and Raack 1994). The reason they overlook is time (Pettus 1996). Most teachers don't engage other teachers in collaborative and lasting professional development activities of the sort promoted in this paper unless they have the time to do so, and the vast majority of schools and school districts lack the monetary and physical resources to provide it to them. Time must be created and/or found so as to make professional development an essential part of the school day, everyday. While pupil-free days are useful for addressing learning community issues and off-campus knowledge-based workshops and conferences will remain necessary as a conduit for transmitting "outside" knowledge to teachers and school, it is the day-to-day contextualized immediacy with the classroom that makes outcome-based professional development so powerful. A number of school-day scheduling strategies exist that make creative use of the school day and week so as to allow teachers to meet regularly (Pettus 1996), and schools and districts should promote these alternative schedules while state policy makers work to realign education code to accommodate them; however, local schools, districts and state educational leaders must also make the case to the general public and business communities that schools and teachers cannot and will not transform their practice unless time resources are provided to schools so that they can implement and maintain dynamic, continual and contextualized professional development activity.

Integration of Effort and Reform

Recognition and reward of effective professional and professionalizing activity, assessment and improvement of outcomes based on idealized standards, time that supports sustained continuous improvement: each of these elements of policy overlaps and supports the other. Thus, adopting one or several of these strategies and leaving out the others would be like cutting one of four legs off of the dinner table. It might still stand there, but it wouldn't be usable or used. To date, reform efforts of the past have time and again eluded actual change at the classroom level in part because of the failure of educational reform leaders to understand that policy must effected in a complete and comprehensive way that considers the whole system (see Elmore and McLaughlin, 1988 for a thorough exposition on this topic). If a new paradigm of professional development that places actual reform into the classroom is to succeed, all of its component parts---recognition, reward, assessment and support---must be employed together and unabridged of one another.

Bibliography
Arcaro, Jerome S. Quality in Education: An Implementation Handbook. Delray Beach: St. Lucie Press. 1995

Darling-Hamond, Linda and McLaughlin, Milbrey W. "Policies That Support Professional Development In an Era of Reform." PHI DELTA KAPPAN. April 1995: pp. 597-604.

Elmore, Michard F., Mclaughlin, Milbrey Wallin. Steady Work: Policy, Practice, and the Reform of American Education. Santa Monica: The RAND Corporation. 1988

---, Improving America's Schools: Newsletter on Issues in School Reform. May 1996

Lieberman, Ann. "Practices That Support Teacher Development." PHI DELTA KAPPAN. April 1995: pp. 591-596.

Little, Judith W. "Teachers' Professional Development in a Climate of Educational Reform." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 15. 1993.

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.

Pettus, Pamely Kent. Time Matters: How Schools Can Change Schedules to Improve Teaching, Learning, and Student Achievement. 1996.

 

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