Teacher Collaboration Drops by Half?
A report from the National Staff Development Council and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education has just been published that reports that while the number of teachers who participated in professional development has risen to 88%, the percentage of teachers engaged in "cooperative effort" declined from 34% in the year 2000 to just 16% in 2008.
The report also indicates some serious weaknesses in the strength of the professional development that teachers are engaged in. From the report:
...there was a decrease in the intensity of professional development in other areas, including uses of computers for instruction, reading instruction, and student discipline/classroom management. In these areas, there was a dramatic shift away from professional development of a modest duration (i.e., 9 to 16 hours to professional development) toward shorter workshops of 8 hours or shorter in length.
In a review of nine research studies, Yoon and colleagues (2007) found that professional development that includes a substantial number of contact hours (ranging from 30 to 100 hours in total and averaging 49 hours) spread out over 6 to 12 months showed a positive and significant effect on student achievement gains. Meanwhile, professional development that offered 5 to 14 hours of contact had no statistically significant effect on student achievement. This suggests that the participation of our nation's teachers in professional development in most areas is likely to have little impact on the quality of their instructional practice and on student achievement.
So while there is a great deal of rhetoric and chest thumping about how important teacher quality is, the activities that are so important to improving that quality have been diminished.
When I began teaching in 1987, I was very lucky to land at an Oakland middle school with an active culture of collaboration. Our faculty was involved in a multi-year inter-disciplinary collaborative effort called the Mid-City Writing Project. Every month we gathered to hear from teachers of various subjects on how they were getting students to develop their and express their understanding through writing. I came to understand that although I was teaching science, I was also a teacher of reading, writing and even art. But even more important than the techniques I learned was the chance I had to collaborate with and learn from my fellow teachers.
Our students benefit a great deal when we collaborate. First of all, the sharing of knowledge that can occur is tremendous. Our colleagues at a school have a history with the community and the parents of our students. When we collaborate that awareness becomes shared knowledge, which informs the way we operate as a staff. We can set common expectations across the school, and figure out ways to effectively communicate them to our students and their parents. Our colleagues often have pedagogical and content expertise that is invaluable as well. The chance to share and reflect on our student work can also yield great results.
As teachers we can initiate this sort of collaboration informally, but it is much more likely to take hold when time is set aside for this purpose.
What has been your experience with professional development? Do you have time to collaborate with other teachers?