Repeat after me, “I will watch this video…”
Painful, eh? According to the description of the above video, it was taken during a PD session for the Chicago Public Schools’ “Office of Strategic School Support Services’ special network.” The description goes on to say, “This presenter was one of several consultants flown in from California and the United Kingdom…This is a professional development for teachers of Saturday ISAT preparation classes.” Despite what some claim in the comments, that this is merely the instructor demonstrating BAD teaching, the original poster points out that this is, indeed, a part of the instructional process for these teachers. I came across this video while doing some of the reading for our module this week on ISTE coaching standard 4 – dealing with program development and program evaluation. It was referenced in Valerie Strauss’s 2014 piece for the Washington Post called “Why most professional development for teachers is useless” – a worthwhile examination that concludes most PD fails to connect with teachers where it is most meaningful: the point of implementation. Strauss makes her case for the futility of the current system by citing a 2013 report on PD by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education which essentially calls the most common form of PD today, “Abysmal.” The fact that most PD is ineffective would be bad enough in just wasting teachers’ time, but the fact that we are spending around $2.5 billion annually on the federal level (not including the $2-3 billion in state and local money) on a practice almost everyone agrees doesn’t work, is truly perplexing and frustrating (Strauss, March 2014).
I must admit, I’ve never had it quite as bad as what was shown in the video, but I, like most teachers, have sat through long stretches of sit-and-get PD which had little, if any, application to what I did in my classroom. In her article on EdSurge, Valerie Lewis describes how state and local directives can often exasperate the problem. “The downside to achieving these [state and locally mandated] goals is that the ensuing sessions often resemble someone standing in front of the group and talking “at” the audience, while we all we just “sit and get”. This torture is usually coupled with endless scrolling PowerPoint slides and a manila folder, which might as well have the stamped words “You’ve Been Trained” handed to you.” (Lewis)
I’ve often sat in PD and wondered about the value being consumed during the session – not just the cost to hire the speaker or expert or whatever, but the cost of all of the man-hours invested by every member of the faculty just by their being there. The potential upside is huge. At a PD session there are so many people with expertise in various elements of the school program, so many minds potentially working together to address common problems, so much potential for growth across the board…why does it so frequently get squandered?
The Reason for the Problem
So why does PD often look something like this video? Why does it often fall so devastatingly short of its potential? The people leading PD are ostensibly education experts, if anything, they should be better at teaching than the people they’re teaching!
Part of the problem lies in the approach to teaching adult learners. The initial article where Strauss first links the video above was written one month earlier than the one included for this week’s reading. In it, Strauss introduces the video by explaining, “It shows Chicago Public School teachers in a professional development session that will make you understand why teachers are going out of their minds and to what extent administrators have infantilized teachers” (Strauss, February 2014). I believe this “infantilization” is a symptom of a larger problem: a lack of respect for teachers. One of Malcolm Knowles six “Characteristics of Adult Learners” is respect, which means instructors should, “Acknowledge the wealth of experiences that learners bring to the classroom. Learners should be treated as equals in experience and knowledge” (Knowles). This principle is pretty obviously lacking in Chicago Schools PD video and in the typical sit-an-get PD so many of us a familiar with. When teachers are not respected as professionals, the result is usually someone talking “at” a group of teachers. There is no sense of equality in experience or knowledge. There is no attempt to tap into a preexisting pool of resources that the teachers may possess. It’s like they have nothing to offer. Furthermore, since the teachers have nothing to offer, they are not an active part of the PD process – in it’s design, execution, or focus.
My artifact for this week’s question on respect and PD focuses not only on respect, but also trust. I’ve discussed trust with regard to coaching before in a previous blog post and it was interesting to see it reappear here. John Ewing addressed this connection in his post “Respect, Trust, And Master Teachers” for the Huffington Post. He discusses how efforts to empower teachers have ultimately failed due to an underlying attitudinal issue: “All these efforts to show how much we value teachers fall flat for the same reason: They claim to respect teachers without trusting them” (Ewing). This trust goes hand-in-hand with respect. As an interesting aside, when looking up teachers and trust, most of the sources I came across all related to teachers trusting students. The predominant idea was that if teachers would only trust their students they could engage them more actively and in a more meaningful way – like in the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning (see last week’s post). But the video we started this post with shows a disturbing lack of trust. Ewing further explains where this lack of trust comes from. “But learning to trust teachers will be hard. For decades, reformers have promoted the notion that teachers cannot be trusted. Ferret out weak teachers so we can fire them. Administer doses of professional development only to fix broken teachers. Create higher standards to hold teachers accountable. Evaluate teachers continually, obsessively, and often bizarrely, so they do their jobs. Is it any wonder the public distrusts teachers?” (Ewing). There is no small amount of irony in the idea that the lack of trust in teachers stems from efforts to fix what’s wrong with bad teachers. As a result of this focus, they’ve created an entire system which really only caters to the bottom segment. It’s like keeping the whole class in for recess because one student didn’t do his homework! Or reteaching an entire unit to the whole class because one student failed a test or didn’t pass a summative assessment. If you teach to the bottom, all you’ll ever get is the bottom. You’ll create a climate of failure and minimal achievement where no one is ever truly challenged or inspired to do better. THAT’S what a lot of PD has become.
I would like to conclude my post by identifying quick and easy ways for teachers and administrators to work together to build respect and trust. I’d like to, but this is about relationships and labor relations and professionalism and so nothing will be quick or easy. As Ewing points out, “Rebuilding trust requires action, not words, and the process may take years” (Ewing). His approach involves finding teachers who don’t need fixing (“Master Teachers”) and let them start to drive the process. An interesting approach that would let the initial steps towards trust be taken by the most trusted, but it’s a but unclear what that would mean for everyone else in the meantime. Other suggestions to build trust and respect tend to be a bit more broad, but often include some elements of PD. For example Stephanie Hirsh proposes,”five actions that systems can take to demonstrate their respect and support for educators, support them on their journeys to achieve excellence, and encourage them to see the learning profession as one worthy of a lifetime commitment.” (Hirsh)
- Give teachers the feedback and support they need to increase their effectiveness.
- Give teachers access to colleagues who share the responsibility for the success of a select group of students.
- Give teachers time during the work day to collaborate, problem solve, and learn with colleagues.
- Give teachers time to implement new initiatives with accuracy and fidelity.
- Make the teaching and learning profession attractive to those willing to make a lifetime commitment. (Hirsh)
All of these suggestions (except maybe the first) involve empowering teachers to make more decisions and allow for teachers to be contributors to the educational improvement process. A similar sentiment is expressed by Valerie Lewis in one of our assigned readings for this week. Her piece on “Why Most Professional Development Stinks – And How You Can Make it Better” for EdSurge echos some of the same ideas.
- Offer teachers some choice throughout the year in things they want to learn about.
- Observe, in order to differentiate, then decide what the group needs.
- Be clear and transparent about why something can’t be done. (Lewis)
Offering teachers choice in what they learn and providing differentiation will help avoid some of the pitfalls already discussed and will help foster a climate of trust and respect. In addition, it should allow teachers to be more effective and thus produce better results in the classroom – and it would even mean the $4-5 billion dollars spent annually would be well-spent instead of dumped in a bottomless pit of ineffectiveness (see video above).
So, to recap, Educational PD that is based on respect and trust for teachers is a win for the students, a win for the teachers, a win for the admin, and a win for the taxpayers! What’s not to like?
I’ll close with another quote from Lewis on the potential of PD. “Professional development sessions” she writes, “should not be met with frowned eyebrows and a scrunched up face, but instead with a growth mindset and opportunity to improve teaching and learning–yet or even better, as my colleague Dorian stated, PD should make you ‘fall in love all over again.'” (Lewis). “Falling in love again” may be a bit over-optimistic. For many, it will be an improvement to have PD which merely makes them “somewhat like” learning again. It’s a small step, but how can you truly be in love if you don’t feel respected? Ewing was right, it will take time.
Ewing, John (July 6, 2016). “Respect, Trust, And Master Teachers.” Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-ewing2/respect-trust-and-master-_b_10775176.html
Hirsh, Stephanie (May 5, 2014). “Five Ways to Respect and Support Teachers.” EdWeek Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_forwards_pd_watch/2014/05/teacher_appreciation_week.html
ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches
Knowles, Malcolm. “Characteristics of Adult Learners.” Retrieved from: http://www.txprofdev.org/apps/onlineteaching/time/Adult_Learners.pdf
Lewis, Valerie (Oct 25, 2015). “Why Most Professional Development Stinks – And How You Can Make it Better.” EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-10-25-why-most-professional-development-stinks-and-how-you-can-make-it-better
Strauss, Valerie (February 28, 2014). “A video that shows why teachers are going out of their minds.” Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/28/a-video-that-shows-why-teachers-are-going-out-of-their-minds/?utm_term=.119cd8023082
Strauss, Valerie (March 1, 2014). “Why most professional development for teachers is useless.” Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/01/why-most-professional-development-for-teachers-is-useless/?utm_term=.dd58e14ed69c