Over the last year, two interesting studies were published around teacher perspective on professional development. Of keen interest to us here at ImproveClass, these results should be studied carefully by those who decide on professional development opportunities. It is ironic that in the world of “user-centered” design so espoused in STEM classes and fab labs across the United States (in addition to tech firms everywhere), that we continue to not listen to teachers.
The perspective of teachers is revealing.
In a recent survey of close to 3,000 teachers by the Network for Public Education (NPE), six recommendations emerge, some of which include:
- Teacher collaboration on improvement should not be mandated from above but instead be managed by teachers for teachers
- Unlink improvement from evaluation scores
- Dialogue between observer and observed should be narrative rather than numerical.
What do teachers want?
Teachers want to experience feedback and growth through a positive, collaborative, and teacher driven process rather than a top-down, numerical process that is added to a large component based on test scores summing to a metric for teacher performance. Supporting this, the Gates funded Teachers Know Best found that when asked, teachers are more satisfied with professional development when they have a choice in the type of professional development. Teachers want collaborative opportunities that have a direct impact on their day to day work rather than collaboration for collaboration’s sake. Daniel Pink’s work on motivation is also worthy of mention given that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are cited as critical elements. The lack of these three components of existing evaluation and professional development programs is obvious from both of these reports.
Professional development is always a low priority
Teachers are consistently strapped for time due to the paperwork, meetings, and the myriad of other items on the never-ending checklist. When we ask teachers in our network to list their priorities, teaching, instruction, assessment, and the business of schools (anything not directly connected to teaching) are always at the top. It is no wonder this is the case when it is frequently a one-size-fits-all model, not unlike our approach to school in general.
We need to focus individualized professional development on what matters the most – helping teachers do a great job in the classroom by addressing immediate needs and providing quick feedback in a collaborative and growth-oriented way.
The NPE survey concludes:
“Building strong learning communities of teachers will do much more for our students than expensive, time consuming, endless framework driven administrator observations and evaluation systems tied to standardized student test scores.”
Technology innovation has found a solution to increasing efficiency on class planning in the millions of resources now available to teachers via the internet. However, we have not capitalized on the same source to impact actual instruction (or assessment for that matter). When you calculate the time a teacher gets actual feedback on their instruction, it is a fraction of a percent of the total time teaching. We can do better than this. In our vision, teachers across the country (and the world) provide quick, collaborative, and goal-connected feedback to their peers through a crowd-sourced and cloud-based tool. For the few schools that have an excellent system already in place, this is an added benefit. For those who have never had helpful feedback, this is a game-changer for students around the country. Our research indicates that there are a lot less of the former compared to the latter.