The significant role of teacher learning for any kind educational improvement effort is unquestionable. But, there are so many competing demands in educational reforms (e.g., curriculum changes, technological solutions, diverse literacy strategies, use of manipulatives, and program redesign) that teachers are feeling overwhelmed. For every bright idea, teachers are being asked to respond and make changes in their classrooms that will improve student learning outcomes. But where should a teacher focus given their own school and classroom context?
A teacher’s time and effort are finite resources. So making the most of time and effort is important to retain teachers and improve the system for the long term. Classroom and school data to be can be a valuable source of information to help teachers decide where to focus their efforts and how effective certain approaches are over others. This is the real goal of evaluation! I have yet to meet a teacher who has teacher training who disagrees with this approach. But… many teachers report feeling overwhelmed by the process and require support from their colleagues and school leaders.
This is not a call for a workshop on data-use so that we can check it off on our “capacity building list.” There needs to be real programs of learning and support for teachers to foster data use for classroom learning. Traditional Professional Development (PD) activities are simply not effective. Teacher need structured professional learning programs that help them internalize new processes within the context of their own classroom and school. This means that the school learning culture is about cultivating collective school capacity to use data to make good educational decisions.
So what does it look like? NOT like a one-stop workshop where teachers sit and listen to an expert. It calls for a program where teachers listen, read, think, do, review, rethink, discuss, reflect, and act in a never ending cycle that puts what they care about most at the forefront of their learning: their classroom teaching practice and student learning.
Programs of learning practice will look different compared to traditional PD models. There is no one model that can be prescribed. But here are some key characteristics that are common across these kinds of programs:
- No artificial time lines
- Discussions that actual talk about teaching beliefs and practices
- Teachers trying new strategies in their classrooms
- Teachers in control of the implementation of their plan
- Teachers collecting data/information on their classroom practices
- Teachers collectively reviewing the data/information
- Teachers engaging in a structured dialogue about classroom work and student learning/achievement
We already know how adults learn best. So why wouldn’t we use that knowledge to move education to a new level and support teachers in real learning and real change for real results?