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I recently attended the annual conference held by , the New York State ISTE affiliate organization. It is a favorite conference of mine, since I served as a board member of that organization for about six years. It is also both comprehensive and progressive in the way of education conferences. As with all education conferences it is easy to identify what trends in education have been most popular over the last year by the number of sessions being offered on any given subject. I was delighted to see that there were several sessions on Professional Development, which is what I believe to be a key in improving our education system.

I was pleased to hear that in the summary of these sessions that they would address the problems with professional development. In my mind I envisioned a list of the problems I hoped that would be addressed from a teacher’s perspective. I was sorely disappointed to see the focus on those problems in some of the sessions was from an administrator’s point of view. It was based more on delivery and less on quality or effectiveness. The list included: How to get teachers to sign up for PD, how to get teachers to fulfill seat-time requirements, how to assure that teachers taking online components were really who they said they were. I immediately thought about a doctor who placed all of the effort to addressing and fixing the symptoms of an illness and missing the obvious task of addressing the illness itself.

What was clear to me in most of the sessions was that there was little focus on the failures of the PD that was to be delivered. There was only one session that addressed an understanding of Andragogy, also referred to as adult learning, and how components of their program addressed it. This session presented a larger more flexible Internet delivery system. Delivering information electronically without considering adult learners as your students doesn’t work. This was the equivalent of delivering paper-printed worksheets digitally. The problems that come with printed worksheets travel well electronically. Just because a computer delivered it, it doesn’t make it better. Research tells us that lecture is not the most effective way to teach, so why would we think computer-delivered webinars would work any better? There was a limited amount of follow-up support, and that support had to be initiated by the teacher’s request. There was no mention of follow-up research to determine how effective the PD was in improving or even affecting student learning in the classroom. Of course I do not see this as a shortcoming of the educators who were charged with evolving this PD in their district. It was a short sighted direction to meet the immediate needs of their administrators to check off that box indicating that they offered PD to their teachers in terms they have come to understand after decades (maybe centuries) of the same old PD. Why do we question that teachers in overwhelming numbers list dissatisfaction with professional development as their number one concern?

The hard cold fact of the matter is that if we are to improve our education system, we must improve how we understand, deliver, and assess our professional development. That will not be comfortable for anyone in education. It will require commitment to time and money and that will affect teachers and administrators not to mention taxpayers. It is also why we haven’t made great strides in this area over the centuries that we have had a public education system.

We cannot assume that a four-year degree that addresses both mastering teaching, as well as additionally mastering a specific subject area, is enough to carry a teacher through an entire career in education. Many states require a Master’s degree, but many don’t. Of course that is only an additional two-year degree and careers are 35 to 40 years long.

I carried my concerns to another conference in NYC, The Software and Information Industry Association’s Education Business Forum (SIIA EBF). It is a great business education conference, rather than educators, it is made up of people representing the companies within the education technology publishers’ community. They provide the technology, systems, applications, programs, and consulting that schools purchase throughout the year.

I had dinner with an old friend whose career has been focused as a leader in professional development for educators. My question to him was based on my own concerns with PD in education. I asked, what should we do about the PD we are getting? His answer was simple, truthful, and I fear it to also be correct: Blow it up! We then spent our dinner conversation on WHY.

The bulk of “continuing PD” for teachers is a day or two during the course of the year, or during the summer, often to fill the gaps of the use of technology supported by the district. Additionally, teachers can take approved college courses or workshops that meet district requirements. Seat time is key to many of these courses in order to be approved. Seat time varies from place to place, but it all relies on a teacher being seated in a class for a specific number of hours and being able to certify it. With assessment being such a big part of what educators do, one would expect some assessment on what the teacher learned, or some assessment of the PD’s impact on that teacher’s students’ learning. For the most part that is not often done.

My friend at dinner pointed out that research shows successful methods of PD have common factors. Unfortunately, the first factor may make it a deal breaker for teachers and administrators. For PD to succeed, it must be at least fifty to eighty hours of continuous and continual instruction, practice, and coaching in order to attain mastery. This would require time from the teacher and money and support from the district. The obvious solution to this is to incorporate all PD into the job description of the teacher making it part of the workweek and supporting it with additional money for additional time and a professional coaching staff.

Further insight can be derived from The Learning Policy Institute: Effective Teacher Professional Development by Linda Darling-Hammond, Maria E. Hyler, and Madelyn Gardner, with assistance from Danny Espinoza

https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Effective_Teacher_Professional_Development_BRIEF.pdf

Elements of Effective Professional Development Using this methodology, we found seven widely shared features of effective professional development. Such professional development:

  1. Is content focused
  2. Incorporates active learning utilizing adult learning theory
  3. Supports collaboration, typically in job-embedded contexts
  4. Uses models and modeling of effective practice
  5. Provides coaching and expert support
  6. Offers opportunities for feedback and reflection
  7. Is of sustained duration

And here is another support from an older article that is still very relevant is: Teaching the Teachers: Effective professional development

http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/research/teaching-teachers-effective-professional-development

Paying attention to any part of these lists of recommendations could make a small difference from the status quo of the past centuries of practice for PD. The idea of blowing up the entire thing and starting over, with all of the considerations that we have come to understand work, would be the best thing we could do to improve on what we have.

As educators, we are a community of learners first, and teachers second. As educators, we collaborate, reflect, and improve. As educators, if we fail, we assess, correct, and move forward. Knowing who we are, and what we do, why do we as educators continue to put up with a failing Professional Development approach that handicaps our profession and limits our students? Let us consider, reflect, collaborate, and improve what we know and how we learn it to affect the greatest and best change for our students.

If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

In a recent #Edchat discussion we discussed whether or not schools should encourage teachers to use technology to reach out in communication with parents. I really did not think this would still be a relevant discussion in light of how we have all grown dependent on technology for communication, but evidently there are places where it is not yet fully endorsed.

Communication with parents is an important key to student success. Without it often times an “Us vs. Them” mentality can develop between teachers and parents which should by all accounts be a team like effort and not an adversarial relationship. There is no need for any parent to be surprised with a failing grade on a report card because there was no prior notification so the parent might have the opportunity to intervene.

Way back in the 20th century it was sometimes difficult to reach parents with communications limited to the US Mail or a landline telephone. People struggled with reachable hours because of work schedules of both parents and teachers. It often seemed to teachers that the parents of struggling, or failing students were always the most difficult parents to contact. The unfortunate result was that many teachers had to concentrate on trying to contact parents whose children had difficulties, while leaving little time to commend achievement of more successful students. Kids would dread a call from their teacher to their parents knowing that there was no such thing as a good call. Many kids also became proficient at hijacking the mail in a timely fashion.

Technology in the 21st century has given educators several benefits in their ability to effectively communicate with parents for good stuff, as well as possible deficiencies that may need a parent’s attention or intervention.

Letting parents into their world at school is not something most kids freely volunteer. Teachers using class websites featuring glimpses of what their class does is a great way to keep parents in the loop and highlight the wonderful thing kids accomplish during the year. It’s also a great place to post assignment deadlines for all to see.

Many teachers have had great success using Twitter to highlight student accomplishments to “following” parents. Many principals have had great success on a larger scale tweeting out accomplishments of their schools.

Of course a great source for parent communication would be the student information system used by the school. Many of them have a parent-messaging component to them, allowing any teacher to email parents directly through the system. No muss, no fuss. Many schools are unaware of the benefits that these systems have to offer. Schools also need to train teachers on these systems on a regular basis to cover changes in the system, and new personnel joining the staff.

Of course every teacher should have an email account through his or her school to use for parent communications rather than using a private personal account. Teachers must be informed that contact with parents about kids should always be done on a school account for legal protection.

The problem on a large scale is that many, if not a majority teachers, are not trained to understand the communication possibilities or responsibilities of using technology. At some schools they find it easier to deal with telling teachers to stay away from technological communications. Of course that will eventually come back to bite.

Professional development in this area is essential in today’s computer-driven society. Even the President of the United States uses Twitter for communication. Using technology is not an intuitive endeavor. It requires training. Thoughtful and responsible communicating is also not an intuitive skill. It requires training and understanding. There are also legal considerations that teachers must be aware of. It is best to have a trail of all communications for the protection of all concerned. All of these considerations bring a whole bunch of obstacles to overcome, but it is better to deal with them up front, than to try to clean up a mess created by uninformed users. A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Back to the #Edchat discussion: something developed from a comment indicating that teachers have an obligation to notify parents that their child will be receiving a failing grade before it becomes a written fact on a report card. The statement that bothered me the most was one made by a teacher in the chat and agreed to by some others. Admittedly, many years ago I repeated the same words. “Students earn their failing grades.” That statement assumes that the teacher did everything right and the student deliberately chose to fail. I guess that might be true in some cases, but I don’t believe it holds true for a majority of failures.

There are some teachers who fail to assess their students’ understanding through formative assessment as lessons progress. This is a fatal flaw in teaching. If we do not determine student understanding of the lesson from the beginning and into the middle, how can we expect understanding at the conclusion? Does the teacher’s failure to assess his or her own effectiveness in a lesson become the responsibility of the student? Yes, this is not always the case, but it happens more often than it should. Students placed in that situation are not earning their failing grades, but they will get them anyway.

Maybe by communicating with parents more fully, a teacher could gain insights into his or her students that kids don’t share in school. One thing I have come to understand about kids: they show one personality to their teacher and they show another to their parents. We need to see and understand the whole child and that can only happen by sharing information with parents. This too should be a subject of Professional Development. How do teachers communicate with parents to get unsuccessful kids to succeed?

If communication is the key to success, we need to make sure our teachers can successfully communicate. That requires that we provide and support relevant professional development to do that. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

Book:kindleI recently read a blog post about how teachers will never be replaced by technology. The author stated that technology was just a “tool for learning”. This had to be among literally hundreds, if not thousands, of similar posts and comments that I have read over the years. Since I was teaching from the early 70’s, I tended to agree with that way back then. Today, however, I am not so sure that technology in education hasn’t grown into something beyond a “tool for learning”. I often thought that the support garnered for this idea about a “tool for learning”, from educators was based in their fear from an unfounded belief by Sci-Fi authors who often suggested the replacement of teachers by technology in the future. Sci-Fi doesn’t always get it right. Where are the flying cars?

Tech has always been a factor if not the driving force in the advancement of culture. One of the greatest tech influences in education was Gutenberg’s printing press, followed by the chalkboard, audio tape, film, television and the personal calculator which all preceded personal computers in their various portable forms today. The implementation of the most recent devices however is where I believe many educators have tunnel vision on the influence of tech in education.

All tech has a limited shelf life. It is constantly evolving. Both its users and its developers influence this evolution. Society itself is the loudest voice demanding speed and efficiency in the way it communicates, collaborates, and creates. The tools for each of these components are constantly evolving at a pace we have never before experienced in history. This technological paradigm shift has created its own literacy. Literacy has always been a goal of education. It was necessary in order to communicate, collaborate, and create in order to further educate. The literacy required in any century was limited to the technology that enabled it, but that technology was often separate from the literacy. You didn’t need to know about how to print on a printing press in order to read a printed book. Writing implements were readily available in various forms in order to record thoughts, as well as communicate with them. The use was simple requiring nothing more than penmanship.

The rapid advancement of technology has changed this. Tech has evolved so quickly and so universally in our culture that there is now literacy required in order for people to effectively and efficiently use it. That rapid tech evolution however leaves many people whose age was not synched with that tech advancement in a learning gap. Kids growing up with the tech are immersed in it from birth and evolve their tech literacy with age. We have all seen the video of the baby trying to page swipe a printed magazine 

Unfortunately, lifelong learning is a goal that is often discarded because life itself gets in the way of continual learning. Consequently, most adults will always be playing catch-up with kids in order to stay relevant in a modern society. The gap is the problem for our education system since our educators are adults and our students are kids.

If we buy into the idea that technology requires tech literacy, then we must also accept that evolving tech requires an evolving literacy. This requires adjusting that which we have already learned, and change is difficult. It requires an ongoing development for professionals to maintain the smallest gap between what they know to what they need to know in order to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing environment.

  • Professional development can no longer be a haphazard choice by folks who don’t like making uncomfortable choices. Comfort levels are the greatest obstacles to change.
  • Professional development can no longer be just a check box on a list of things educators should do. It must be prioritized, supported and, most importantly, implemented.
  • Professional development can no longer be a “one and done” concept delivered once at the beginning of the school year. It must be an ongoing part of an educator’s job description.
  • Professional development must be supported with follow-through and follow-up. Supporting educators with both time and coaching to apply their professional development is essential for success.

Our society today does not collaborate, communicate, or create the way it did as far back as the 20th Century, so why would we teach using concepts and methodologies of the 20th and in some cases the 19th century? To succeed in our education system in the past, our students needed to be literate in reading and writing. Today, in order to use the tools needed to accomplish almost any task a society demands, the users must be technology literate. It is no longer a choice made by any educators whether to teach students to be technology literate or not. Educators have a moral obligation to educate kids in order for them to survive and thrive in a technology-driven society. School districts have a moral obligation to give their educators effective and efficient professional development to enable them to accomplish this.

Yes, technology provides “tools for learning” and teaching, which cannot replace a relevant teacher. The teacher/student relationship is credited for great strides in learning. That however may not always hold true for an educator who is no longer relevant because his or her district did not support its educators with ongoing and effective PD. Students properly motivated may circumvent teachers and self teach with the “tools of learning”. Irrelevant educators and a thirst for authentic learning may be that very motivation needed for some students.

We have the tools for all the professional development we need to provide. We can provide worldwide collaboration. We can provide individualized support. We can provide the ability to time shift things to accommodate personal scheduling.

We can’t provide progressive innovative thinking on the part of school districts. We can’t provide the supportive culture to promote educators seeking life long professional learning. We can’t provide educators with an open mindset opening them to the possibility of change. We can’t provide a promise that a commitment to change will be comfortable.

Professional development will not just happen on its own. The concept of personalized learning through collaboration in social media is wonderful, but it may never take off with a majority of educators. I haven’t seen great involvement in the last 12 years or so. The whole idea of learning is not a passive exercise. It requires work on the part of those providing the teaching as well as those benefitting from the learning. Reading and writing as a literacy was hard enough for many of us, and now we are seeing that there is a whole new literacy that needs to be not only learned, but taught by us as well. It is overwhelming. It is however an important and often unsupported part of the profession that we chose to enter. In order to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

PD CLASS 1950sIf a doctor, who is faced with a patient exhibiting multiple symptoms of an unknown disease, were to address each of the symptoms rather than addressing the disease itself, he/she might find the outcome for that patient to be disastrous in the long run. The patient might have had the symptoms lessened, but the disease would eventually win out with a poor outcome for the patient.

Our education system is extremely complicated. There are many parts to that system, many of which have undergone change based on cultural and scientific influences. Many problems of today’s education system did not exist in past generations or even the most recent past decade. With so many facets, many in a state of flux, it is impossible to point to one solution that will fix all that is wrong with the education system and also expect it to work forever. The best strategy might be to identify those problems that can have the greatest impact on change. Of course many educators might find it difficult to reach agreement as to which problems should be first addressed, depending on their own biases and experiences with teaching and learning. The opinions of other stakeholders in the system further complicate this including: administrators, students, parents, and taxpayers. The question we first need to address, if change can happen in a positive way to improve education in our country, in my opinion should be about educating educators.

Teachers in the system come from varied backgrounds with varied levels of education. They are from varied races and have varied life experiences as well as varied professional experiences. With these vast differences in those who are responsible for educating our kids, can we say that all of these educators are using the best practices, and methodologies to get the most out of those students they are responsible for?

Using the term of “standardization” is a slippery slope. Too often, when we talk about standardization, we also imply a rigidity that prevents us from revisiting any component of that standardization to test its relevance. This requires work to re-evaluate and change and re-educate large numbers of educators if any component of the system loses its relevance. Some changes are obvious when we consider technology. Consider the demise of: typewriters, mimeograph machines, record players, VCRs, cameras, projectors, telephones, and filmstrips. All of these, as well as many others, were recognized as ineffective tools for education and were replaced by more efficient and effective tech tools. Upgraded and improved tools are also continually replacing these new tools.

Now let’s consider our educators with their varied experiences spread out over their generations of experience. Do their current practices include: problem based learning, project based learning, student voice and choice, student centered learning, voluntary homework, formative assessment, flipped learning, design based learning, the use of rubrics, authentic learning, school culture, new education technology, and many more methodologies?

Do we have a responsibility to make sure our educators are as relevant as the technology they are required to use? Do we have a responsibility to make sure any school we walk into in our country has educators who are versed in the most recent and effective methodology in their field of education?

A common complaint among most educators is their dissatisfaction with the professional development provided to them. The requirements for PD differ from state to state and town to town. Some schools support PD within the culture of the school. Other schools rarely address PD beyond what the state may require.

“A Level Playing Field” is a really overused expression, but it seems to fit in what is needed to improve deficiencies in our education system. If we truly want to improve the education of our students, we need to first improve and support the education of their educators. The practices of PD over the last decades have failed to do so. The speed at which change takes place is faster than ever before in history. We need to account for change and adjust accordingly to maintain relevance in our community of educators. If we want “The Best Bang for the Buck” PD is the key. If we fail to prioritize professional development, we are not prioritizing education. All that political rhetoric about improving education is a hollow promise of something that politicians have little understanding, but that is nothing new for politicians. They too should consider some improved form of professional development for their own profession.

Prioritizing PD will be costly to implement and maintain but it is an investment in our system. It is not just throwing money at a problem without a plan. We need not standardize curriculum if continually educate educators in best practices. Yes there will be fads in educational approaches that we will need to root out, but will have a better ability to judge such things as more educators are engaged in the leading ideas of their profession.

For the best and most effective changes in our education system we need a bottom up movement to improve Professional Development. We need to teach educators as adults who learn as adults learn. We need to respect them for who they are and what life experiences they bring to the table. We need to teach them things today that they can use in class tomorrow. We need to recognize their goals and help achieve them. We need to provide practical and relevant solutions to help their teaching as well as their learning. We need to provide coaches on the school staff to monitor guide and reflect along with our educators to reinforce and support their efforts.

Without a new and supportive approach to professional development for our educators, we will continue to struggle. After two centuries of a scattered approach to PD without consideration to adult learning, we are not far from where we were back in the 18th century with the exception maybe of improved bells and whistles. Educating educators in better ways and supporting that learning is the best and most effective way to improve the education of our children. Rather than standardize curriculum and testing, let us consider standardizing a thoughtful, supportive, national approach to professional development for educators. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

 

Philosopher 2Often in teacher preparation classes students are asked to develop an education philosophy based on their course studies and observations, or student teaching experiences. For many of these students who go on the pursue careers in education, that might be the only time anyone asked for that philosophy. Of course the best time to develop any philosophy on one’s overall impact of a career may not be to do it before one enters and experiences the full force of that career over a period of time. This is a discussion I often had with my student teachers. They should develop an education philosophy, but it should never be etched in granite, especially with their limited teaching experiences. By the nature of the job, changes are to be inevitable, so self-reflection and flexibility are important elements that must be requirements of the profession at any level.

The reality however, is that aside from possibly in a job interview; few educators are ever asked about their personal education philosophy. This might be because it must require more than just a “Feel Good” one-sentence cliché. Education, which involves teaching and learning, is far more complicated than one sentence can explain.

I always felt that there were at least three factors affecting my education philosophy: my personal experiences, the culture of the school in which I taught, and prevailing education thought leadership. My ability to affect any of these three factors was limited but possible with some effort and more often work. The biggest deterrent is the time need to do this.

However, if I viewed my career as a passive experience, my education philosophy would be “catch as catch can”. I could go along with the status quo, making few waves and little innovation. I could simply follow directives, “go along to get along”, and limit my professional development to whatever my school prescribed.

The alternative however would take more effort and consequently it would be more work and time. I could reflect on my students’ summative assessments to adjust my methodology and seek to improve it, or abandon parts of it altogether. This would establish my choices for effective methodology.

I could examine and reflect on my school’s culture to determine if it is advancing, or stifling my efforts as an educator. To change a system, we need to first change the culture. My philosophy may include taking an active role in affecting change in my school’s culture in order for me to be a better educator.

As for following the lead of educators and sharing the latest education initiatives, I would need to work at connecting and collaborating with education thought leaders. In years gone by this was done through universities and journals, but real connections were limited. Today, technology provides, for those willing to work for it and use it, the ability to communicate, connect and collaborate with thought leaders for the purpose of creating a means to better educate our students.

As educators we have to decide on dozens of ways to effectively interact with kids including but not limited to:

  • Teaching methodology
  • Lesson plans
  • Homework policy
  • Attendance
  • Appropriate lessons
  • Interpersonal student relationships
  • Extra credit
  • Grading
  • Formative assessments
  • Summative assessments
  • Test preparation
  • Teachable moments
  • Classroom behavior
  • Bathroom breaks
  • Parent communication
  • Technology

How does one handle any of these without some thoughtful reflection on what each is and how does it fit in with what needs to be accomplished for kids to learn effectively and efficiently. Every educator should give thought to each and all of the elements that he/she is responsible for in order to do the best that they can. It is also NOT a “do it once and done” project. It is an ever-changing dynamic that will need to be revisited and reflected upon on an ongoing basis. Principals should know the education philosophies of their teachers. Principals need to support the school culture that challenges and supports their educators. They need to promote reflection and provide time in support of that endeavor. Maybe try having a faculty meeting with personal education philosophies as the main topic of discussion. There may be surprises both good and not so good as an outcome, but it will give a clearer picture of where the staff is as educators. At the very least it will enable people to better understand their own school culture. All of this should be included in a Principal’s leadership philosophy, but that’s for another post.

 

Knife sharpeningAs an educator and speaker I have often used pictures and images to underscore comparisons of education to other professions as a very effective tool to demonstrate the great need education has as a system to change. The most effective comparison was to show pictures of an operating room in the 19th century followed by a picture of a 21st century operating room. Step two is simple: Make the same visual comparison using pictures of a classroom. The difference in evolution of each set of pictures is a dramatic comparison. The early operating room was sparse, dark, and obviously not so sterile. The modern OR is packed with medical technology, brightly lighted, and an obvious sterile environment. The classroom pictures from early on had a teacher standing at the front of the room with a chalkboard behind and facing rows of students. The modern pic had a teacher standing at the front of the room with a whiteboard behind and facing rows of students.

Of course not every classroom in America is that stark, but I would venture to guess that description is probably closer to an accurate portrayal of a majority of classrooms. What should concern us even more than the environment of the classroom is the preparation, the mindset and the relevance of that educator standing in the room.

Of course we must assume that hospitals would not invest in medical technology if it were not being successfully applied to what doctors are supposed to be doing with it. Doctors are constantly being trained on the latest tech, and the newest drugs, and the latest methodology in their areas of expertise in their profession. Relevant knowledge to apply the proper methods and strategies for healthcare is essential. As a society we would not expect less of our medical profession. After all we depend on those doctors to do their jobs to the best of their ability to provide us with the best care possible and we won’t settle for less.

As an observer of student teachers, I visited many classrooms in many different schools giving me a unique perspective. In addition to observing my student teachers, I also made observations on the system of education. I was always astounded to see four computers collecting dust in the back or on the side of the room. It was however, a great opportunity to discuss education with many practicing educators. I found most of these educators wanting to be effective influencers on their students. They wanted to make a difference in the lives of their kids. They showed willingness and an openness to learn in order to evolve as educators. How are the motivations and concerns of these teachers different from those of our doctors? What are the differences in how doctors and teachers hone their craft?

The two greatest concerns we have in life are our kids and our health. We put our health in the hands of doctors and expect and pay for them to be not only educated enough to obtain a license in order to practice, but to pursue a continual path to maintain relevance in order to provide the best and latest procedures and methodologies to protect us. We show respect and teach them as adult professionals. They are provided assistants, technicians, mentors and mentees to feed into and perpetuate their support system. They develop as professionals on a continual basis.

We put our kids in the hands of educators and expect that they are educated enough to meet state standards while paying the most local taxes will afford. We support their relevance by providing sporadic training days once or twice a year. We have few standards to guide the education of educators and they vary state-by-state and district-by-district. We depend on pedagogy, the methods in teaching children, to teach adult learners about their profession. We require seat time in classes as the quality check on PD. The list goes on. There are many aspects of professional development that create a culture that does not support best practices for professional development.

Our kids are our most important asset and most valuable treasure. Why would we settle to place them in the hands of educators who could be better educated and more relevant on a continual basis if we were to prioritize the education of our educators. Most teachers are ready and willing to work on their craft, but they lack the thoughtful sources to do so.

There is no single solution that will fix our education system, because there is no single problem that is holding it back. It is a complex problem. There is however one thing that will most effectively and efficiently address most of the necessary changes we need. If we prioritize and rethink the way we allow and provide professional development for educators, we can enable them to continually hone their practice in their profession.

If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

 

Several decades ago I read an article that I believe was in Time Magazine on the most difficult jobs in America. The article defined a difficult job based on the number of impactful decisions a person had to make in a day. Listed, as one of the most difficult jobs, was that of an eighth grade English teacher. I was surprised to read that, but I was in full agreement, since I was at the time an eighth grade English teacher. A decision is made by considering the information available and making a choice, or taking a course of action. The best decisions can be made when the best and most complete information is available.

A glaring obstacle to change and hopefully improvement in our education system, which needs to be addressed, is that educators don’t always know what they don’t know, but make decisions with the information they have. Making decisions with limited information often limits the potential of progress.

If there is one fact that can be established as a result of the use of technology it is that technology promotes and accelerates innovation and change. The rate of change in our computer-driven society is happening at a pace never seen before in history. These changes affect almost every aspect of our lives. Keeping up with these changes has become a challenge for everyone. We can argue whether this change is good or bad, but the fact is that this change is real and ongoing, like it or not. Making decisions becomes more difficult because the information used to make the decision might be different within a year. This has been underscored time and time again when we consider industries like: typewriters, telephones, Kodachrome film, cassettes, record albums and the list goes on.

Teaching deals with information in all of its forms. Teaching kids how to curate, analyze, critically think, collaborate, communicate and ultimately create information is the goal of education. We are also trying to instill a love of learning and flexibility to change in order to promote life long learning in every student. In order to do that effectively and efficiently is difficult enough, but in today’s world we need to do that with as much relevance as possible. We need to be relevant today because our kids will be living in a world that will be more advanced than we are now as a result the effect of technological influences for change.

As a teacher of the 70’s I can say that it was certainly easier back then. Things were more rigid and more reliable. Change was slow. Teachers could teach the same curriculum year after year and be considered to be a dependable educator. This is not what we want for our kids today, but for the most part, this has changed, or at least we would like to think so.

If we want our educators to make the best decisions for our kids, we need to insist that they consider the best and most complete information available. We need to make decisions that are based on relevant information. Relevance has become a component of education in a system that is so affected by rapid change, a difficult task indeed.

Teachers may no longer earn a degree and expect that degree to carry them through a 30-40 year career without some additional form of training or education to retain their relevance. Does our present system promote or even allow for this? Do districts provide relevant professional development for their educators? Are the decision-makers, who are deciding on relevant PD, relevant themselves? If teachers are to make their own choices on PD, are they making the right choices? Do they select PD choices that are needed, but might be uncomfortable to do? Are they up to date on what areas in education are leading edge ideas? Are they aware of all of the choices available to them?

If we all agree that Professional Development should be prioritized, ongoing, and supported with time and money, than let us consider what PD we actually have. Relevance is a key factor in making PD decisions. A big problem with our current system may be that decision makers who need to make relevant decisions are themselves irrelevant. How can educators make decisions on the best PD to enrich them, when they are unaware of the PD strands that are current or even available?

It is a problem when we reach a point where educators don’t know what they don’t know.

Adult learning, collaboration, and social media should all be components of our Professional Development. Time for collaboration, common planning periods, and reflection time should be included in our Professional Development. Having staff members in some form supporting or coaching teachers developing and adopting new methodology should be included in our Professional Development. Moving from the 20th century teacher-centered methodology and mindset to a more student-centered 21st century approach should be included in our Professional Development. Supporting educators to believe they can expand and change with a supportive school culture should be included in our Professional Development. The idea that we are all life long learners becoming a belief and not just an alliterate phrase should be included in our Professional Development.

If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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