Skip to content

The Future of School Reform-#4

May 1, 2011

The fourth article in The Future of School Reform, A System of Learners, by Suzanne Loeb, Dona Goldhaber, and Michael Goldstein addresses the question, what is the impact quality teaching and leadership on improved student learning?

There are striking examples that show the power that exceptional teachers and school leaders have to make a difference for students.

Read the story that Mike Rose brings to life in his article, Reform to What End, about Stephanie Terry a classroom teachers who is working with her students on A House for Hermit Crab.  He shares insights into what makes Ms. Terry such a wonderful teacher.  From his perspective, we need to focus on these areas of teacher development: (1) we have to grow good teachers; (2) we have to invest capital into improving practice; and (3) we have to help teachers see the value of learner-friendly classroom environments.   He mentions Ms. Terry’s spontaneity, her ability to latch onto the teachable moment and engage students in meaningful work.  Ms. Terry is learning alongside her students as she crafts a learner-friendly classroom.  While Loeb et.al, would agree with Rose that good teaching, as exemplified by Ms. Terry, makes a difference, they have a slightly different way of writing what our goal should be as we try to retool our profession.

We envision a system that taps the potential of all school professionals to learn, formally and informally, and that creates an engine driving toward the goal of  improved learing outcomes for all students, especially those on the wrong side of our achievement gaps. (italics are mine)

They then aptly point out that:

 Teaching is a complex and difficult task, which can’t be reduced to a set of scripts.

So how do we raise the bar on designing professional development that will prepare teachers to meet the demands of 21st Century learners and create in each teacher a continuous desire to improve his or her practice.   One place to begin is to be sure we share a common professional language that describes what good teaching looks like in the 21st Century.  This common language could serve as a beacon for improvement.  While there might be some debate over the details of what constitutes a good education in the 21st Century, we should come to agreement on a common set of principles and language that govern how we see good teaching.

Robert Arnove wrote in his article, Extraordinary Teachers Exceptional Students, that

No matter how innately talented or practiced the student may be, the master teacher refines and polishes initial capabilities.

He suggests that the relationship and interplay between a good teacher and a student is instrumental to successful learning.  His qualities of a master teacher are

  • personalizing instruction
  • providing shortcuts
  • caring and loving
  • generosity of spirit
  • not creating clones
  • being self-critical
  • valuing a community of practice.

What I like about these qualities are that they focus attention on what the teacher needs to do.  If the teacher emboides these qualities, then the student will find success in learning.  I also like that these qualities imply a willingness to learn, to be open to possibilities, to share, and to be reflective in one’s work as a teacher.

Why is it that in the United States the teaching profession is unique in that the job that a novice teacher does is almost exactly the same job that a master teacher does?  Each teacher, no matter what his or her experience, teachers four or five classes and has similar non-classroom duties.  Maybe slight adjustments are made for example in an elementary school where a master teacher might be a lead and a novice teacher might be an assistant.

Loeb, et.al. point out that

In fact, the job of novice teachers is often more difficult, as they tend to be assigned to more challenging classrooms.

Their central point is that we do not make adequate use of the skills and knowledge of master teachers, who possess a treasured resource that could help the novice teacher or struggling teachers grow into the profession.  The authors advocate for giving novice teachers a reduced role in the school, allowing them to apprentice with master teachers, and then increasing their responsibilities as they demonstrate greater comfort and skill.  In this article they are promoting an instructional coach model or a model that differentiates the roles for teachers with different skill sets.

In their model for promoting a system of learners, Loeb et.al. also suggest that how schools deliver or support professional development needs to change.  They advance the idea of linking professional and career development:

Incentives for improvement, such as promotion that is linked to effectiveness, will both encourage teachers to make better use of development resources and demand training opportunities that are likely to lead to improved practice.

From my experience, teachers do want to improve; however, each teacher has a somewhat unique path towards improvement.  Therefore, the professional development that supports their path towards improvement should be tailored to their specific needs.   Research indicates that professional development that is sustained, collaborative, and focused on content knowledge and instructional practice has the most significant impact on student achievement (Saxe, Gearheart & Nasir, 2001).  See an article I wrote for the Center for Teaching’s online newsletter, Professional Development A Path to Change.  The Center for Teaching was created to develop this type of programming.  By providing teachers with programs and resources that support their own learning, CFT is attempting to facilitate student learning by improving classroom practice through differentiating faculty professional development.  The primary goal of the Center for Teaching is to inspire teachers to increase their effectiveness and assume a leadership role in their schools so they can help transform students’ learning culture.  To that end, we are involved in a wide array of professional development programs at both Westminster and Drew Charter School.

The core program at the CFT is the Faculty Cohort, a year-long program that focuses on methods to alter and enhance teacher performance as a way of improving student learning.  The cohorts bring teachers together to address educational and classroom issues, share resources, and engage in collaborative, collegial relationships based on common experiences and goals.  Cohort members explore, research, and discuss topics aimed at improving teaching practice, content mastery, and skill development for educating students in the 21st Century.  Participants share teaching experiences, review educational research, consider new approaches, and engage in teacher action research projects that help them assess and adapt their methods.  By the end of the 2010-11 academic year, 42 teachers from Westminster and Drew Charter School, or 13% of the combined faculty, have participated in the CFT’s faculty cohort program.  Typically, 90-100% of the cohort members report that the experience had a positive effect on their classroom performance.  This is compared to a 2002 report showing that, on average, less than 25% of teachers asked about their professional development experiences indicate that their participation had affected their instruction.  As a result, academic performance measures at Drew Charter School have improved in many critical areas.  The Faculty Cohort program is having significant impact on teaching and learning at Drew Charter School and Westminster Schools.

Loeb et.al. close their article by pointing out that all these changes need to occur to improve the quality of teachers we will hire, retain, and support in our schools.  However, these changes will not happen without effective school leadership to shepherd them.  School leaders need to have the wisdom to nurture the development of leadership capacity in their teachers.  In this way, shared leadership and professional collaboration can strengthen the opportunities for improving teaching and thereby improving student achievement.

References:

Arnove, Robert, (2010), Extraordinary Teachers Exceptional Students, Phi Delta Kappan, 92 (2): 46-50.

Hill, Heather, (2009), Fixing Teacher Professional Development, Phi Delta Kappan, 90 (7): 470-476.

Odden, Allan, (2011), Manage Human Capital Strategically, Phi Delta Kappan, 92 (7): 8.

Rose, Mike, (2010), Reform To What End, Educational Leadership, April 2010, page 6.

Saxe, G., Gearhart, M., & Nasir, N. S. (2001). Enhancing students’ understanding of mathematics: A study of three contrasting approaches to professional support. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 4, 55–79.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: