Tuesday, January 13, 2015

One educator at a time

Nearly everyone who does professional development talks about the importance of an experience that empowers and enables teachers, that transforms educators, and more. One of the major challenges in professional development is building a common vocabulary, but also recognizing that far too often the PD is organized and delivered as a "one and done." For a variety of mostly legitimate reasons, schools and districts do not allow enough time and/or do not allow the PD providers to be true partners.

In a review of teacher development research, over and over and over again we see the importance of collaboration and the focus on student learning. But we also see the importance of teacher empowerment.

Let's talk first about time. We've been talking about "finding time" for decades. We also know the importance of job-embedded professional development, though we don't always agree what that means.

When teachers receive well-designed professional development, an average of 49 hours spread over six to 12 months, they can increase student achievement by as much as 21 percentile points (Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, and Shapley, 2007). On the other hand, one-shot, "drive-by," or fragmented, "spray-and-pray" workshops lasting 14 hours or less show no statistically significant effect on student learning (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, and Orphanos, 2009). Above all, it is most important to remember that effective professional-development programs are job-embedded and provide teachers with five critical elements (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009). . . .
We all know "one and done" is not going to be transformational and it is not going to empower or enable anyone. And yet in many schools and districts, that is precisely the teachers' experience. Even if an outside "expert" is brought in, that individual is given no or little opportunity to invest in the teachers' work and practice. Rarely is that outside expert given the opportunity to invest in educator development over time. It's entirely possible, then, that multiple experts will bring multiple and even conflicting messages.

A really good consultant wants to invest in the overall development and growth of a school or district and its educators. That's a rare and marvelous opportunity though.

But sometimes, just sometimes, we are able to connect with one or two educators in a way that is nearly magical. We know the experience is transformative, at least for us, because of the questions asked, because of the coaching requested, because of the shared enthusiasm for the new things tried in the classroom and the new experiences learned.

Even if we can't affect change in an entire classroom never mind a whole school or district, perhaps we are fortunate enough to affect change in the perceptions and practice of one educator. Maybe our changes aren't grandiose, but partnering with a teacher to influence sustainable change is no small thing. Sometimes the most we can hope for is to invest in and implement change just one educator at a time.