A couple of weeks ago, Megan Allen, a fifth-grade teacher in Tampa who blogs at transformED, wrote a post entitled "I've got my teacher evaluation. Now what?" In her post, Allen shared six suggestions that would help link teacher evaluations to effective professional development. The following post is our response to Megan.
Megan, I think lots of teachers across America are with you. We at Learning Forward are with you. And we offer these recommendations in response to your observations and requests.
1. The definition of professional development must broaden. We must say "adios" to the one-size-fits-all workshops.
Learning Forward's definition of professional learning puts the primary focus on professional learning that takes place in schools among teams of teachers who share collective responsibility for the success of their students. It is informed and focused on the student and educator performance data that guide identification of professional learning needs and the selection of professional learning strategies that specifically address those needs. It's not a one-size-fits-all solution but is focused on selecting strategies tied to specific needs. It has been introduced for federal adoption in the last three sessions of Congress. Perhaps you will help us see it adopted.
2. Professional development must be differentiated.
How you acquire a new skill or develop a deeper understanding may differ from how your colleagues do so. Having access to options and quality information that informs your decisions is key to ensuring you access the support that will help you get the results you seek. In addition to asking your team members for support, seek out other forms of professional support that are available through your school system professional development department; online communities in your subject area; as well as peer evaluators, coaches, and your supervisor.
3. Hybrid roles can be the connectors and "invisi-brokers" of this differentiated learning.
If a "hybrid" teacher or other resource teacher visits your classroom I expect he or she to have the skills and knowledge to assist you with the precise instructional challenges you face. It is not enough to provide you with a book or video. He or she must be prepared to model, co-teach, or observe and provide feedback. When we invest resources in these positions we must be able to document their impact.
4. The National Board Certification process needs to be embraced.
I agree that teachers who step up and demonstrate commitments to professional learning need to be supported and leveraged. School systems must invest in the knowledge and skills that NBCTs and others need to support the growth of peers and others. Many schools have embraced the PLC strategy and yet a very small percentage have ensured that the facilitators have developed knowledge and skills to promote deep thinking, learning and transformation among the team. Collaboration alone does not produce the kinds of changes and support we need in classrooms.
5. Teacher leaders must lead the charge.
Learning Forward holds the belief that the expertise to solve most of our most complex problems related to student learning reside among the educators in schools right now. Teacher leaders are key to finding these solutions and collaborative team-based professional learning will ensure the spread of solutions from teacher to teacher. More teachers need to develop expertise in the research base that undergirds effective professional learning and advocate for it. To begin with, review the standards for professional learning at www.learningforward.org/standards.
6. School schedules should be rethought so teachers have time to be learners.
At Learning Forward we say, "At school, everyone's job is to learn." There are many examples of schools that have made collaborative learning time a priority (search on the word "time" at www.learningforward.org for examples). This issue can be resolved.
Finally, Megan, remember that addressing your individual evaluation is but one purpose of a comprehensive system of professional learning. You have every right to expect that you will have the support, time, and leadership for you and your colleagues to address your team and schoolwide priorities as well as time to implement new programs meant to produce better outcomes for your students.
Executive Director, Learning Forward