By Jon Saphier - September 3, 2015
The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development, a new report from The New Teacher Project (TNTP), should be much discussed. It is a study of teacher professional development that surfaces stark data about the failure of an $18 billion dollar investment to have much influence, according to school administrators, on improving most teachers’ practice.
Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) responds by accepting TNTP’s recommendations and adds that they are “not surprised that someone would call effective professional learning a mirage at this point…while we have thought for years that we know what it takes to help people improve, the evidence doesn’t support it”. While it is true that there isn’t much empirical evidence to support our effectiveness in helping people improve, it doesn’t mean we don’t know how! The Mirage report reinforces that we do know what it takes:
- All staff share a “vividly clear vision of instructional excellence that can be observed and measured” (p.35).
- The bar set by this vision of excellent instruction is high, “an ambitious standard”…higher than what is tolerated in most schools in the United States (p. 35).
- Teachers get weekly feedback about where they stand in relation to that high bar from trusted leaders, and debriefing from his or her coach for 30-45 minutes (p. 32).
- The feedback is honest, rigorous and viewed as credible by the teachers (implications for training and certification of coaches and evaluators!). There are clear assessments without blame about their strengths and weakness for all teachers, as opposed to being “told in innumerable ways that their level of performance is good enough” which is what happens in most American districts (p. 36).
- A culture of continuous learning about a complex knowledge and skill base where everyone is expected to improve no matter how experienced or high performing they already are. 80% of the teachers acknowledged they still had room to improve (p. 32).
- Teachers spend two to three hours a week with other teachers reflecting on instructional practices (p. 32).
- “Everyone in their school community is constantly working toward better instruction and pushing each other to do their best work…there is always going to be somebody to push you. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stagnate here” (p. 31).
- There is “a culture and organizational structure centered on teacher development and its impact on student learning” (p. 33).
These are school settings that “make a more fundamental shift in mindset and define ‘helping teachers improve’…[as] providing them with information, conditions, and a culture [ital. not in original] that facilitate growth and normalize continuous improvement” (p. 35). Strong Adult Professional Culture (see my blog post of June 22, 2015) is the surround-sound that empowers professional learning. It’s not a mystery; and not something we haven’t known for a long time. It appears that we have to keep reminding ourselves what we know works. An important question is: what prevents us from doing it? How do we close the “Knowing-Doing Gap”?