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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Wyoming Teacher Policy Institute
Joan Gaston, Fremont County School District #25, Riverton, 

WYCHANGES IN CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION: WHO’S LEADING THE CHARGE?

Problem There are many disconnects within the education community, but few run as deep as the perceptions of teachers and administrators regarding the role they each play in staff development. Traditionally, administrators feel they are supporting teachers by arranging for a teacher’s absence in the building while that teacher is away “learning” what is important to his/her job. Administrative inservice is often separate and given as an overview of what the teachers are experiencing or administrators “walk through” a teacher inservice trying to “pick up” enough information to be able to form an opinion and comment on it when asked. This may not be enough support in a time when the education community is being asked to make dramatic shifts in how we approach teaching and student learning and the accompanying accountability for those educational decisions we make at an ever increasing and ever accelerating rate. Four years ago Fremont County School District #25 determined that WyTriad training could help teachers with instructional strategies to increase student learning and achievement and provide teachers with a method to experience classroom research to validate their teaching decisions. WyTriad training opportunities have been available to our staff on a volunteer basis and provides four successive sequential levels. With such an investment in time, energy and money, it is important to evaluate its implementation progress.
Research Questions   What do teachers and administrators perceive as necessary for instructional change to occur and flourish and who is responsible for that change?· What are perceived barriers to full implementation of WyTriad?
Methods  Fall 2001 and spring 2002 surveys were collected from teachers and their administrators who participated in each of four levels of WyTriad. Survey 1 was taken near the beginning of WyTraid training and before a building level teacher/administrator discussion which centered on implementation issues for WyTriad components and classroom research conducted by teachers. Survey 2 was collected after a similar building discussion and completion of WyTriad training this year. An analysis of teacher and administrator surveys was made from questions 3-9 on Survey 1 and 3-12 on Survey 2 according to the frequency of comments. Six broad themes emerged which were coded according to: teaching level (elementary, middle school, high school), changes in perception within the cohort groups from Survey 1 to Survey 2, and number of years in WyTriad (Level I, II, III, or IV).
Findings  The five themes that arose throughout are illustrated below: 

1. General Powerlessness (negative in tone) – A middle school Level I teacher responded: “I’m held responsible for what someone else does or doesn’t do, yet powerless to bring about action. A high school teacher in Level II said, “Teachers are not valued”.

The greatest number of comments denoting negative or powerlessness comments about education in general came from teachers that had administrators who did not recognize the work their teachers were doing in WyTriad nor did they proactively help to alleviate their concerns/barriers during their attempts to implement the WyTriad components. It will be interesting to see if teacher support will be enough to keep them energized in the WyTriad process in the coming school years.

2. General Empowerment – A high school Level II teacher commented that she is expected “To be the best I can be – and to share my best with all around me – to give 200% and to expect the best from all”. 

The greatest number of teachers within a single building who had at least one year of WyTriad as well as the greatest number of teachers who had moved through all four years of WyTriad training were from the same building that has both the principal and assistant principal participating in WyTriad training along with their teachers. They were able to listen to the reflective comments made by teachers about their educational concerns, as well as their growth and accomplishments. The administrators were able to proactively respond to system issues such as finding enough substitutes for training days, and finding time during the day for teachers to conduct student interviews, observe each other in the classroom, as well as time for mentoring, peer coaching, and reflection with their teachers.

At each level, teachers consistently made frequent comments that their greatest gains in insight and implementation of WyTriad components came from time set aside during the inservice to listen to reflections from other teachers. A professional development program should allow time to “collaborate” and “share ideas”. Reflective conversations about WyTriad “generated my best ideas”, “validated my educational decisions, “opens my eyes to ways I can improve as a teacher”, “clarifies perceptions of concepts”, “encourages me to try new things”, “helps me think outside the box”, “able to apply strategies in new ways”.

3. Benchmarks, Standards, and Assessments – An elementary Level II teacher wrote, “There are too many demands that take my focus away from my students and my classroom. Writing district curriculum and assessments, writing benchmarks over and over…….PAPERWORK”.

The major barriers to implementation in order of frequency of comments are: lack of time for classroom/teaching, paperwork associated with accountability, standards, benchmarks, assessments, and outside influences on students and education. Lack of time due to paperwork and accountability issues were an issue at all levels of Triad including administrators.

4. Outside Influences on Education – An elementary Level II teacher said her biggest educational challenge is “helping students learn when their other basic needs are not being met…their physical and emotional well-being”.

Teachers more frequently suggested outside influences as barriers to implementation during the first 2 years of WyTriad. Administrators proportionately had as many issues with outside influences as did Years 1 and 2.

5. Support – A middle school Level II teacher commented that a professional development program to help accomplish her goals allows her to “go to other WyTriad participants to get help”.During the first two years of WyTriad administrative support was desired by participants frequently requesting that administrators “visit classrooms to see ‘what is really going on’, see kids in class, take part in the training with them”. By the third year, administrators can be of help by “understanding the process, peer coaching, help with scheduling for peer coaching, mentoring, and student interviewing, and allowing for greater flexibility and experimentation in the classroom” By the third and fourth year, the teachers view of administrative support more closely mirrors what administrators see as their role in providing teacher growth such as “providing more opportunities for teachers to have the effective techniques they need”, “encourage risk taking”, “encourage them to sharpen their skills”, “provide resources”, “be a cheerleader and sounding board”. Only one administrator mentioned that they should be involved as part of a team with the teachers during the inservice itself. It may be that the first and second year teachers need validation from their administrator that the third and fourth year teachers do not, perhaps by the third year they have found effective ways of supporting each other. 

Policy Recommendations Recommendation #1: 
To make the greatest sustained gains in staff development, a team of teachers and their administrator should enter into staff development activities together.

Recommendation #2: 
In order to allow time for shifts in teacher perceptions of what is necessary support for implementation, staff development opportunities should be ongoing with a component of self-reflection and “team” discussion.

 

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