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Critiquing Professional Development

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Professional development is a critical issue for educators. In this Education Week Commentary, middle school teacher Kim Chase looks back on a particularly ineffective workshop she attended.

After days of long, obscure, and sometimes ridiculous lectures, Chase and her fellow teachers left the session feeling it was a complete waste of their time. She encourages educators to resist participating in such innocuous training and urges the establishment of more meaningful professional development.

What is your experience with professional development workshops or activities? Were they helpful or ineffective? How would you improve them?

32 Comments

This is probably the worst article Ed. Weekly has every published. I have always respected this publication for representing objective commentary on educational issues. This is an attach on Grant Wiggins and defames the contributes made by the UbD model. If you wanted to promote balanced perspectives on professional development you should have selected another approach. Perhaps you should have had three commentaries on this workshop... yes the teachers, but also the administrators who felt the need for UbD and Grants. Of course there are different perspectives on workshops and approaches and mistakes are made in the selection or delivery. But, shouldn't the outstanding educators of this unmentionable Vermont middle school be open-minded enough to take this experience and affirm what they are doing well rather than to acting out with inapppropriate behaviors that they would never allow in their classrooms. Anyone who understands the work of UBD knows that the model and the presenter do not deserve this international flogging. This commentary is a disgrace and in my eyes has damaged the reputation of what I once considered to be an outstanding educational newspaper.

wow, that is one illiterate comment.

The best assessment of any professional development program is in the actual result that was generated. I firmly believe that everything about our education system should be focused on increasing student learning. Too many professional development programs have little or no effect on teacher behavior, let alone on student learning. One of the simplest assessments of the effectiveness of these programs is an assessment at a later date (one month, six months) of what has changed for the students as a result of any particular professional development sesson.

Really effective professional development sessions include specific mechanisms (follow-up reminders, small team formation, etc.) that increase the likelihood that participants don't come away without the motivation and support to effect change. If the session did not initiate change, it was a waste of time.

I read with embarassment Ms. Chase's critique of her Grant Wiggins experience. I too have sat through poor presenters both as a teacher and now as director of staff development and I believe that unless the presenter is totally incompetent something of a worthy professional nature can be learned at almost any session (perhaps it is just how "not to teach") I have heard Grant Wiggins present with Jay McTighe and Carol Tomlinson and believe he has many positive things to share with teachers- the very concepts of " Critical Questions " can be a real eye opener especially for high school teachers (myself included). Your administrators and/or staff development team should be complimented for investing in such an excellent resource.

I also picked up in Ms. Chase's commentary another disturbing trend I have seen elsewhere- "naughty behavior" on the part of teachers which they would not tolerate in their own classes. The need to "flick lights" so as not to embarass any one person and the reference to the "mutionous" audience is disheartening and a disgrace to our profession.

I hope that Ms. Chase and others take their negative experiences to their local staff development committee and work with the system to improve their own professional practice. We need honest dialogue, not cutting commentary, to help improve learning for all students and staff.

After sitting through many useless and wasteful staff development workshops in my time, I think Ms. Chase's piece truly expresses the frustration felt by all of us. So much is piled on our proverbial plates when it comes to curriculum, testing, NCLB requirements, district staff development mandates...sometimes we just need time to work together and share the knowledge, talent, and resources that are within our own faculties. I can applaud my own school district for letting us do just that (to a certain degree), along with providing us with some "one-size-fits-some" workshops along the way to satisfy the district goals.

In all honesty, in my decade of teaching thus far, the most valuable staff development activities have been those run by the staff, for the staff, sharing best practices. If districts keep these things in mind, and draw from the massive talent pools that they are already paying for, they could save themselves a boatload of money, and a whole lot of complaining from teachers who feel that their time is being wasted.

Although I have never attened a UbD workshop, I am very familiar with the model and teach it in two of my courses: Instructional Design and the Project-based Classroom. I would have been thrilled to attend these sessions, but only because they would have had real relevance for me. As with many professional development activities in our schools, the problem is not with the content so much as it is the lack of meaning and relevance for the participants. Let's go back to the first step, which should be asking teachers what they need and want; professional develoment planners should listen to those in the classroom first and not assume needs.

Professional development is not always an easy sell. Actually, depending on the circumstances (time, mood of the audience, lack of buy-in, etc.), it can be downright impossible. It’s incumbent upon the school, i.e. the victims and the provider to anticipate and prepare for any and all potential booby-traps. From ensconced naysayers (the murmuring veteran teacher in the back row) to inept presenters, from uncomfortable kid chairs to an over reliance on PowerPointless technology, from saboteur attendees (the coach reading USA Today in the front row) to self-promoting pontificators, from no coffee to pure drivel…Well, you get the idea – the PD halls are littered with landmines. Before crossing the dreaded DMZ, check out the National Staff Development Council’s latest standards. If nothing else, they’re a good place to start…

I have sat through many good to excellent PD. My problem is in the implementation. I found my plate overfull before I started to even think of adding something new or improving a system that was already working for me and my students. In an environment that asks if I had done anything different when my pass rate fell fron 92% to 88%, I find change risky. Even excellent ideas do not promise success the first couple of times around. When we have administrative and collegial support for the time and learning curve necessary in implementing a different or improved approach, I think that we will be at least part way toward trying something new.
(I would have loved to hear Grant Wiggins.)

My thanks to those who made positive comments about me and our work. As you might expect, this was a bit one-sided as a critique. What the teacher does not mention is that we were at the state fairgrounds with 300 teachers at the end of school year in June. And, yes, many of the teachers were acting out (not that I blamed them). So, while I found Ms. Chase' remarks needlessly insulting, the criticism is basically sound: professional development must be understood as ongoing action research and job-embedded. On that we all agree. So, why, then, go ad hominem, sometimes viciousloy, against me? Weird...

In fact, many Burlington people had a great experience - so much so, that a half dozen are working with us on a statewide project in Mississippi.

A few facts: I taught for 12 years, full time. I taught, coached, ran clubs and trips, and for some years, lived in a dorm with kids. I have coached all my life. So, where she is coming from about the lacking in kid interest - beats me. Our focus in the workshop was not on teaching, but planning. Nor did I say what she says I said about differentiation - otherwise why would we be working with Carol Tomlinson? As for the conversation with the snack bar lady - never happened. Finally, my so-called Vanna assistant was Elizabeth Rossini, an outstanding trainer and veteran educator from the Fairfax County Schools. Elizabeth and I shared the 3 days - how rude of the writer to speak of her so disrespectfully by not even bothering to mention her name. As for my band - all she saw were pictures in a recurring slide show when the computer goes to sleep as Elizabeth and I were walking around helping everyone in groups (almost half the time we spent was working in groups). There are 200 pictures in that slideshow; 4 are of the band. What gives?

I don't know how to say this kindly, but, you can't teach what you don't know. I have never met Mr. Wiggins, or heard him present, but I am familiar with his work, and find it to have value and represent a thoughtfulness of approach to actually teaching, as opposed to presenting content.

What I have sometimes had to tell my kids is, sometime you won't like your teacher. Sometimes you just gotta get over it and learn anyway.

Personally I tend towards being a hobby teacher, and I know the danger of letting the entertainment value get ahead of the teaching. I could pick up the challenge to come up with three lessons that could be taught using oobleck (I don't think Sarah, Plain and Tall would be one of them). But, what I get from Wiggins is reinforcement of the number one question--what am I trying to teach? Followed by how will I know if I have succeeded?

What the author of this article will not be able to teach her students--because she hasn't learned it yet herself--is the value of reserving judgement, of being open to the possibility that there is something more to know, that perhaps doing something different could be more effective, or that it is important to stand up to your peers when they are plainly being rude to an invited speaker.

I remember a friend once who recounted telling her teacher that she hated Shakespeare. The teacher's response was, "that doesn't say much about Shakespeare, it does say a lot about you."

OK, so you don’t care for Grant Wiggins as a presenter, I get that. When I attend professional development sessions I try not to let the medium obscure the message and my goal is to try to figure out what new professional learning I can acquire to help me with my work.

I’m familiar with the Understanding By Design materials and have worked with them with middle and high school teachers. These teachers didn’t love everything about Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s ideas either. Yet, what I was struck by in working with these materials with teachers is that the concepts behind these practices seem basic enough but are really hard and are hard to implement in practice. It’s hard to question yourself about the alignment of a lesson you are familiar with and love to teach, to the new standards that you want your students to reach. It’s hard to create a very powerful lesson that teaches students big ideas and provides a chance for them to apply what they’ve learned to authentic task. It’s even harder to critique your colleagues’ lessons when they seem interesting and clever but really don’t address the standards.

While making dioramas and oobleck may have helped us as students to master the content we needed to know to be judged as successful learners, our students are growing up in a different world and being held very accountable to different standards. So, we may have to challenge our thinking and change the way we teach to help our students be successful now. In my teaching experience, and shown by the research of John Guthrie, the chance to learn important and complex content that relates to the real world is a powerful motivator. I think Wiggins and his colleague McTighe are trying to help us to create frameworks for choosing and organizing this important content.

So, it’s fine not to like Grant Wiggins’s presentation style, but it might be worth considering his ideas more carefully before you are sure that you don’t like them. You have colleagues you can talk to who have found his ideas helpful to their teaching. You can find out from them what big ideas and highly reflective curriculum planning could do to help your students be even more successful. It’s true that your students value having a personalized connection to you, and that this connection can help them as learners. Your students will also value having a teacher who deeply understands the content they need to know and one who teaches this content in carefully designed lessons and units so that they can learn in ways that make them successful in school and throughout their lives.

I also am very upset with Education Week's decision to publish the commentary written by Ms. Chase on her experiences with Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe and a workshop on UBD. Education Week is included in my repertoire of professional reading and I look forward to its informative articles on global, national, state and local issues. The publication of Ms. Chase's commentary alters my perception of Ed Week's ability to present critical information in an unbiased manner. It is poor judgment to frame Ms. Chase's negative experience as typical of most professional development activities. Shame on Education Week!
For the record, I have served as an educator (high school teacher, assistant principal, curriculum director, assistant superintendent and superintendent for 33 years. I have also served as past president of Mass. ASCD and currently teach graduate course in curriculum design. I find that I always have something new to learn. As a teacher, I am surprised to hear that Ms. Chase has given up on learning.

Ms. Chase champions her use of “differentiated instruction” with her students and then calls for all human beings to be absolutely equal with her “standard access to standard health care (?) and higher education (?), standard taxation (?), and standard socioeconomic opportunity (?). If she truly wants this outcome, then why bother with “differentiated instruction?” Just stamp out standard students who will then turn into standard citizens.

I would like to be presented a list of "options" for my Professinal Development. One size fits all is not true for me and the types of students I teach.

Ms. Chase not only displays her ignorance but her blindness to what teaching for understanding is all about. She can only see the behavior-based, linear and work driven process now considered High School Teaching. However, it is not her fault completely. Those who are in the old paradigm, and dedicated to it, have no "understanding" of nature of the new paradigm.

I consider the work done by Grant Wiggins and his colleagues to be "breakthrough" concepts. Their only problem is trying to reconcile these ideas with objectives, direct teaching, and testing for recall. The two are completely uncompatible.

I also know that my reaction to the new ideas, some 10 years ago, was similar to Ms Chase's. I tried desparately to force fit "Understanding" into the old ideas of behavioral objectives and measureable outcomes. I know now that "Understanding" means "Understanding" and not "The student will be able to select the correct color from a choice of four different color selections."

I challenge Ms. Chase to go back into the UbD concepts and accept them as a completely new way of looking at learning and education, not the old assembly line process. Isn't she tired of being a Piece Worker?

Before I make my point, I'd like to say that I too was shocked that Education Week would publish such an article. I don't know anything about Mr. Wiggins' workshops, but I do know that he is a person who deserves better treatment from a professional publication. Whenever I read or hear of a teacher treating another adult with such disrespect and insensitivity, I always think, "Oh, my goodness, I hope she doesn't treat her students that way." Margo was right: The article told us little about Grant Wiggins, but a whole lot about Ms.Chase. Yes, it was embarrassing to read.

That said, the article and the blog got me thinking about how so many people are trying to find formulas for educating students when the whole process is so incredibly complicated. I had an experience several years ago that gave me some insight into the complexity of it all. I was attending a wedding that was populated by a large number of my extended family: first cousins, second cousins etc. I looked around and saw surgeons, attorneys, scientists, writers and many other highly educated people. I couldn't help but contrast this elite group with my family back in the 1940s (my parents and their siblings). In the World War II days almost everyone was "white collar, blue collar." There wasn't a single professional in the group; yet the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of that generation have achieved beyond anyone's wildest dreams (including my own). Anyway I decided to take an informal inventory on why these cousins did so well academically. I asked each one why they excelled in school. Their answers were as varied as they were, but all mentioned factors that we would place in the "affective domain." Here are some of their responses:

Surgeon: I felt success in school and that spurred me on.

Engineer: My third grade teacher made learning so much fun. I'll never forget our Lewis and Clark expedition. We pretended we were on it and each day embarked upon our journey.

Scientist: My mom bought me this incredible set of construction toys. After that, I was always making things.

Writer: I always loved everything about school, even the smell.

Professor: When I was in the fourth grade I went to a library for the first time. The librarian was a kindly lady who helped me find a book I really enjoyed. That began my love affair with books and learning.

Almost everyone had an answer similar to these. No one spoke of anything that can really be quantified or duplicated except perhaps to keep the joy of learning alive. And for me that means teaching is an art. There are no "science-based" materials or formulas that can be applied in every classroom. I always think of Frank Smith's words in his wonderful book entitled Understanding Reading: "Respond to what the child is trying to do."

In place of ineffective, boring, non-hands-on workshops that the District thinks we need, why don't the Districts allow teachers to choose from a list of approved vendors and/or workshops, workshops that are more relevant to what the teacher actually does, i.e., special ed teachers can attend a well presented workshop on inclusion by someone trained in it, instead of fellow teachers who have attended a workshop "turn-keying" to the rest of the staff! Why subject specialists in a school to attend a 2 hour workshop on the new report card system when we are told right at the beginning of the workshop we will be denied access to the system and not even given pass codes, so just sit an observe.

I thought it might be useful to clarify two more things here. First, my comment about differentiated instruction and 'train wreck'. What I said - ironically! - is that "We are heading toward a train wreck in education because two ideas are completely at odds - differentiated instruction, and standards-based education with one size fits all." So, I think she misheard it.

Secondly, she fails to note that over half the time was spent in small group table work designing units - that's why there was a gallery walk at the end: we were looking at all the work people did in the sessions! So, it wasn't a lecture at all. I would venture to say that teachers had about 12 hours of work time over the 3 days - not bad for a room filled with 300 people. Folks were also told to bring their materials on days 2 and 3 to work.

Finally, what the author fails to mention is that teachers were acting out because contract negotiations were stalled - I was forewarned that some teachers might act out. Some did.

Reading Ms. Chase's commentary brought to mind a joke that Bob Hope once made about his old partner, Bing Crosby. He said, "I see that Bing's son has written a book claiming that Bing tortured him. He used to sing to me too, but I'm not going to write a book about it."
I am sorry that Ms. Chase had a bad experience, but by her own admission, she appears to have been at least partialy to blame. She went reluctantly, wasn't ready to even listen, let alone attempt to gain anything from the experience, and she got exactly what she expected to get.
I have read "Understanding by Design". I found it to be a pretty good focusing tool. I doubt that I would purposely go to a seminar about it. I didn't find the idea particularly groundbreaking, but it wasn't a badly written book and the concepts are clear and useable.
I got the feeling that Mis. Chase was more upset that Wiggins and Company was making money conducting seminars. In this case, it was not her money and she could have cooperated a bit more with the program.
Professional developement has become a new tier in the world of education. Many teachers attend such group seminars to obtain required "continuing ed." credits. Some actually do attend seminars because they are interested in this or that approach to teaching and learning. Professional developement tends to lose its' appeal when it becomes mandatory. Some teachers really get the feeling that they are never allowed out of school, that no level of academic achievemnet seems to be high enough. The focus should be on interest, not some vague required hours need.
When teachers do attend seminars, they, like they want of their students, should be as receptive as possible to what is being presented, and try to find some use for it.

I am a 2/3rd grade teacher in a small, progressive, public elementary school I helped start 14 years ago in NYC. In the 19 years since I began teaching in the public school system, I have come to believe that effective teaching is that which helps the learner become most aware of their own strengths, interests and needs. I believe this to be true for teachers as well as students.

I also firmly believe in the importance of students and teachers seeing learning as a life-long venture.

In order to plan and provide effective professional development, therefore, it is necessary to pay close attention to the educational context. The setting the teachers work in, the experiences they themselves bring to their daily work, the resources they have available to them and those they can further develop and offer their colleagues as a professional contribution to their particular setting, their learning environment, matter a great deal. These are essential elements to consider in creating an atmosphere of growth for teachers.

This kind of professional work can be done by teachers themselves and I have found it to be most effective when it evolves that way, from teacher to teacher.

Through the years, I have participated in these kinds of experiences within the structure of teacher-lead study groups of various types; some within the school setting itself, as in "grade groups" or "cohorts" that met regularly to share their questions and practices in the same school; in groups of educators that met monthly and included teachers of students of all ages and stages of learning, from pre-school to the adult learning center and university; in groups of teachers that shared common interests such as a particular academic discipline or that focused on an area of teaching such as assessment, classroom management or increasing the level of parental involvement and participation.

Ready-made programs have often felt ineffective as tools of learning for me; I have always gravitated towards experiences I can help direct and influence, and that address the questions and needs I identified at a particular stage in my career. That usually happened best with support and guidance from colleagues and mentors.

An added benefit to these collaborations was that they required no large financial commitment. Instead, the commitment required was of time and a sense of connection with others similarly engaged with their work.

Over the years, these study groups have been the source of professional and personal associations with people all over the United States with whom I share an educational philosophy and whose priorities are alligned with mine. They have been a great source of encourgament and inspiration especially in the most difficult of times.

Another example of this kind of professional development is my current participation in a committee that plans a monthly series of workshops at my school. These workshops, which teachers themselves plan and offer to their colleagues, focus on topics that range from Chess to teaching science to young children by examining the daily practices involved in the care of class room pets.

In each case, teachers volunteer, plan and carry out the workshops and request feedback in order to better plan future sessions.

Many school systems require teachers to continually seek training in order to improve their skills and reenergize their commitment to teaching. Few recognize that teachers are an important resource for one another and have the capacity to really effect and influence one another's work, to promote one another's professional development. This is a radical idea, but, based on my experience, one worth considering.

It is indeed unfortunate that Education Week has sunk to the level of yellow journalism. I am a big fan of Understanding by Design and would love the opportunity to hear Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in person! That said, I do agree with the commentors who are calling for a revision of the way we "do" professional development. I'd like to see it be more individualized (differentiated) and ongoing, rather than one-size-fits-all "sit and git" workshops. One very cost-effective, highly meaningful venue for professional learning is teacher action research. Teachers investigate questions that are relevant for them and their practice, engage in systematic inquiry and analysis, consult experts in the area of inquiry (either in person or by reading their writing)and take action based on their findings. For example, a teacher who wants to explore differentiated instruction could "have a go" with it and study the forms of and impact of its implementation in his/her classroom.

To be honest, I find it fascinating that we as professional educators are not consistent with ourselves. I see nothing wrong with comments raised by Ms. Chase. First and foremost, I wish to declare my ignorance regarding UBD model, not yet laid my hands on it. I'm an aspiring instructional designer, pursuing my doctoral degree (Ph.D. candidate to be specific), and happens to be writing my dissertation on professional development.

My interest on this topic spun from reading articles on change and seeing comments like Ms. Chase's regarding change/innovations. To cut the long comment short...I think we can all tell why Ms. Chase is disgruntled and feels that her time was wasted, not a new comment regarding professional development though. I was wondering as I read other people's comments and none of the UBD model fanatics find it disturbing or rather withdrew their comments after the workshop pioneer gave more details and mentioned that there were 300 participants in the workshop. How do you have professional development for 300 teachers in the 21st century?? Was this a conference or symposium?? I'm really surprised and still can't believe it even though Mr. Wiggins explains working in small groups. How relevant was the PD to the participants? How much participation was granted? From my point of view this was an anomaly on the side of the organizers and even Mr. Wiggins himself, and to you and others you could have found a better way of doing it, for example, offering the PD in regions? A few questions come into mind though, were the teachers from the same subject and/or discipline? isn't this the `sit and get`, one size fits all model that every author/practitioner/researcher has been criticizing more than 20 yrs ago?? Are we saying this was a good approach? From the contention of contemporary approaches being advocated for regarding professional development, adult development and learning, I don't think this approach was efficient. I'm sorry to say this, but I think Ms. Chase's experience and the decision by education week to publish this comment is quite relevant and needs to be debated with all the attention it deserves. May be we need more details but from Mr. Wiggins’s comments, I’m not convinced this was an effective approach. To me this is a good argument why we are still behind in effective professional development approaches.

The most effective staff development includes follow-up and support in the classroom. As a consultant, I will not agree to workshops unless the district/school is committed to providing follow-up time to their staff. I visit classrooms, meet with teachers and other staff, coach them, model, and keep in touch. Only through repeated contact do we really see progress. When asked about the formal workshops, teachers rarely remember what was presented but when they put these skills and ideas into practice, they are effective. Sounds a lot like good strategies in the classroom, doesn't it?

Kim Chase's lengthy attack on Grant Wiggins and UbD seems unjustified and a great example of a blown adult learning opportunity. Sadly, too much of American schooling remains activity-based, with low level assessments that don’t motivate kids or demand rigor. Understanding by Design has been embraced in many school districts as one component to help overcome these serious problems.

There is little question that three days of professional development with one of America’s best educational thinkers could have been a powerful learning experience, with a different mindset and context. Given this lady's experience, it is a shame that the three days could not have been used with a group that would have put it to good use, because Mr. Wiggins has had a lasting and very positive impact with thousands of educators. Perhaps the time spent patting fellow teachers on the back for already knowing this stuff -- even if only at a superficial level -- could have been used better to design a meaningful UbD unit that would have benefitted students.

This response is not meant to completely negate all of Ms Chase’s perceptions. I have heard Grant Wiggins many times and he is one the brightest (and sometimes ornery) minds in the education profession. Grant works hard in creative ways to get people to think and reflect. His style intentionally pushes educators’ buttons, and can misconstrued participarly by those who may have sat on their brains too long. But what is wrong with that approach? With kids, we often call that.... effective teaching. Mr. Wiggins also uses sports analogies better than almost anyone I have ever heard because he “gets” and models good teaching.

Grant and his colleagues, who have produced the UbD volume of work, have done our profession a tremendous service by advancing our knowledge and skills and providing an unbelievable number of useful resources for teachers. My sincere thanks to their continuing efforts, understanding that not everyone will get or like it. As a profession, we obviously have a long ways to go.

It was also very disappointing that Education Week, which I generally consider to be an important and classy read, chose to print this personal attack.

In summary, while Grant Wiggins does play in a band, I consider him to be one of the rock stars in our profession.

While I can't comment on "Understanding by Design", I do share the author's frustration with professional development 'activities'. Most of the ones I've been subjected to assume the mentality of teachers is sub-normal. We're not treated as professionals but as difficult children. Our intelligence, education and years of experience are not valued. Our insights seldom solicited. We receive little respect from administrators or the education industry whose business it is is to tell us how ineffective and incompetent we are.

What we need is time. We need to time to work together in a loosely structured not overly controlled environment where we are able to share insights on curriculum and instruction.

Kim Chase's commentary (March 14, 2007, "Understanding by Accident") included many resonant points about the state of professional development in many (but not all) districts. Time is the most precious commodity for teachers, and there is nothing more infuriating that being forced to listen to someone (italics intentional) who neither respects nor understands your needs or teaching context.
I am a teacher and a member of the National Writing Project, and the NWP's network of teacher consultants facilitates professional development across the country, based on the principle of "teachers teaching teachers." Many of the teachers have felt the pain of pointless, wasteful professional development, and their work is informed by those experiences. Part of Chase's message is that good PD things can happen if the teachers are a part of it.
Unfortunately, Chase's arrogance and obnoxiousness clouded the message for me, and I was frankly surprised Education Week published what read like a slanderous diatribe. I almost felt compelled to research if Mr. Wiggins jilted Ms. Chase at some point, so personal was the attack. Chase's response was hardly an intelligent discussion of the PD dilemma and instead was a caustic blow-by-blow in which she insulted even her teaching colleagues.
I have always contended that the answers to my questions and my teaching needs are most likely right down the hall; teachers just need time to share, read, talk, and conduct action research. If the landscape of professional development for teachers is to change, teachers do need to speak up, as Ms. Chase implores.
However, we CANNOT let bitter, insulting harpies like Ms. Chase be our spokespeople. I cannot imagine anyone--even people who agree with her--allowing her to be the banshee of change. You get more flies with sugar than oobleck, Ms. Chase.

In Saint Paul we are working hard on developing teams of teachers who work together on instruction and assessment. The work is some of the hardest I have done in 41 years in public education. It is also the most satisfying.

We do need to change in high schools. We need to more thoughtfully meet the needs of the kids we face daily. We need to know what we want them to learn and what to do when they don't.

We need direction in this work. Yes, the primary work is done by the teachers in teams. But good professional development in the area of assessment and Ubd are extremely helpful.

I worry when too many teachers say that we don't need new ideas and that we don't need to change. Everything else in our kids' lives is changing. We had better, too.

PDs have to meet teachers' needs. It is much easier to create PDs centered around operational issues (i.e. celebrate someone's birthday, who brings what, picknic for students...) than to create meaningful PDs centered around instructional practices(i.e, let share what works in your class...). This is a typical problem that is available in "forming Small Learning Community" schools. Leadership ought to be aware of this issue or else intended purpose for PDs will not be valuable for students at the end.

Kim Chase is my hero! I have been an educator for over 20 years and her attitude and spirit are exactly what the educators of this country need. Ms. Chase should attend more staff development and come up with more material like she wrote in Understanding by Accident. She could do her own consulting. Teachers would be inspired by her spirit and passion for teaching. Motivated by her common sense approach, teachers would be on their feet applauding her and themselves. Great work Kim!

I had some essential questions about the article's topic and the reactions to it:

1. How exactly was decision made to have this professional development done in this way?

2. What model of professional development does the district use?

3. Is the model strictly hierarchical, where those at the "top" of the food chain "feed" those at the bottom?

4. If the district model is hierarchical, why is the teachers' reaction as described by Kim Chase surprising to some?

5. If the district model of professional development allows teachers and administrators to work collaboratively to develop exciting professional development opportunities, why did everyone choose this one in this way in the first place?

6. Based on the apparent lack of success with this expensive session, will Kim Chase's article encourage the educators in her district to re-think professional development policy?

7. Should Kim be embraced or shunned by those with real power in her district?

8. Will professional development planning in her district change?

9. Should it change?

10. How should administrators in a school district decide when purchasing canned programs and making teachers use them is a better idea than giving the teachers an opportunity to develop their own programs?

11. Why do state frameworks typically want teachers to teach students how to think critically, but not do it themselves?

12. Why is my favorite editorial cartoon one with four men marching in different directions holding signs that read "This way to the truth," and a caption that states, "The start of the Dogma Day parade"?


From time-to-time I am fortunate to be invited to participate in co-creating professional development activities for teacher inquiry - inquiry into developing new and better strategies for increasing personalization and improving instructional content and practice in secondary schools, by design. Next time I venture out, my first activity will be to share some of this exchange of views that has been catalyzed by Chase’s rant and Wiggins’ responses, as well as the more thoughtful responses of many readers.

Personally, I am grateful that Chase’s remarks were not directed at me. However, I do remember one particular post-workshop evaluation that was less harsh, but no less pointed in its criticism of my work. It was a good lesson. To me, this dust-up is a sharp reminder that what we bring to the table as teachers, consultants and coaches may be important, but no less important is what the group at the table needs from us. Perfection may be the enemy of the good, but feedback is the breakfast of champions.

The recent Commentary by Kim Chase (Education Week, Vol. 26, Issue 27, Pages 34-35) deserves a response. As one of the authors cited in her opening paragraphs, one might assume that I would take this opportunity to respond to her critique of our work. I will not do so. I believe that her “know it all attitude,” combined with her sarcastic and mean spirited personal attack on Grant Wiggins, reveals all one needs to know about Ms. Chase’s character and professionalism (of lack thereof). No, my response is directed to the editorial decision makers at Education Week.

As a long-standing, admiring reader of Education Week, I cannot fathom why this piece was selected for publication, especially in the Commentary section. I consider the Commentary as the “prime real estate” of E.W., a forum where leading thinkers voice significant educational ideas and issues. What are the educational merits of Ms. Chase’s venomous rant?

I could understand its inclusion if it were framed around larger issues, such as: What constitutes high-quality professional development? What makes an effective presenter for adult audiences? What are the responsibilities of a sponsoring organization to establish conditions conducive to adult learning? What are the responsibilities of professional educators for professional growth? Is her piece meant to be representative of teachers’ reaction to professional development? Is there no place in education for sports’ analogies? Regretfully, no such questions or related issues were presented. This, personal attack was allowed to stand alone. Should Education Week readers conclude that the inclusion of Ms. Chase’s Commentary now opens the door for any disgruntled teacher to personally castigate their principal on a very open stage? How about principals publicly berating an irritating parent on the back cover of E.W.?

If Education Week chooses to air such an acerbic and one-sided opinion piece, then basic journalistic responsibility demands, at the very least, an invited opportunity for a printed response by Grant Wiggins, by other teachers in attendance at the in-service, or by representatives of the sponsoring school district Indeed, other prominent educational publications, including Educational Leadership and Kappan regularly invite responses to critiques. Such is the norm in the popular media as well – USA Today provides “point” and “counter point” editorials on the same page; Fox News claims to be “fair and balanced;” and even Paul Harvey tells “the rest of the story.” Is it too much to expect that a prestigious news source like Education Week should do the same?

Jay McTighe
Co-author of Understanding by Design

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  • Jay McTighe, Co-author of Understanding by Design: The recent Commentary by Kim Chase (Education Week, Vol. 26, read more
  • Gregory Sinner, Secondary School Redesign Consultant: From time-to-time I am fortunate to be invited to participate read more
  • Dan Sharkovitz: I had some essential questions about the article's topic and read more
  • David Pace: Kim Chase is my hero! I have been an educator read more
  • Sonny: PDs have to meet teachers' needs. It is much easier read more

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