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by Gabriel Diaz-Maggioli
Table of Contents
“Let's face it: Professional development, as we have known it for years now, has yielded little or no positive effects on student learning.” Thus complain the many weary professionals who flinch at the mere mention of the word “workshop.” In the collective imagination, the term “professional development day” conjures only images of coffee breaks, consultants in elegant outfits, and schools barren of kids.
Of course, professional development was never intended to trigger such pessimistic reactions. Even critics of the professional development movement admit that all forms of teacher development, whether effective or not, have at their core the noble intention of improving student learning. We might disagree with the implementation processes available, but not with their purpose. Indeed, when correctly implemented, they actually yield the results intended. In this era of high-stakes testing and increased accountability, it is necessary to reposition professional development so that the collective efforts of teachers, students, and administrators result in enhanced learning for all members of the teaching community.
Current professional development practices are generally constricted by the following stumbling blocks:
My vision of professional development is grounded in faith in teachers, the institutions they work for, and the power of the broader community of educators around the country and the globe. Effective professional development should be understood as a job-embedded commitment that teachers make in order to further the purposes of the profession while addressing their own particular needs. It should follow the principles that guide the learning practices of experienced adults, in teaching communities that foster cooperation and shared expertise. Teacher success stories are living theories of educational quality and should be shared with the wider educational community for the benefit of all involved.
Figure 1.1 summarizes my vision of professional development in contrast to more traditional practices.
Characteristics of Traditional Professional Development
Characteristics of Visionary Professional Development
Professional development can be defined as a career-long process in which educators fine-tune their teaching to meet student needs. As such, it directly tackles teachers' teaching styles—the patterns of decisions teachers make when mediating their students' learning. Butler (1984) defines learning styles as “a set of attitudes and actions that open a formal and informal world of learning to students. It is a subtle force that influences a student's access to learning and teaching by establishing perimeters around acceptable learning procedures, processes, and products” (pp. 51–52). But just as learners learn according to a particular style, so do teachers exhibit particular teaching styles. Most researchers agree that teaching styles operate along a continuum that ranges from teacher-centered to student-centered. In characterizing these styles, researchers tend to focus on such criteria as control over time and procedures, student involvement, and materials used in class.
The issue of teaching styles is far more complex than it appears at first. First of all, it is necessary to acknowledge that the term itself refers to the way teachers perform in the classroom—that is, to teacher behavior. These behaviors are contingent on a multitude of factors that affect how teachers go about their daily chores. As Figure 1.2 shows, teaching styles are the result of interacting personal, professional, knowledge, career, institutional, and curriculum factors.
According to Huberman (1989), teachers progress through the following five phases in their careers, each of which includes a crisis they must overcome:
Another factor affecting teaching styles is the school curriculum, which can be defined as the totality of experiences that result in student learning. There are different kinds of curriculum, some intended and some, such as the “hidden curriculum,” unintended. Curriculum is built upon the following foundations:
Sergiovanni and Starratt (2002) define school climate as “the enduring characteristics that describe the psychological character of a particular school, distinguish it from other schools, and influence the behavior of teachers and students, and as the psychological ‘feel’ that teachers and students have for that school” (p. 82). These “enduring characteristics” include goal focus, communication adequacy, optimal power equalization, resource utilization, cohesiveness, morale, innovativeness, autonomy, adaptation, and problem-solving adequacy. How these characteristics operate within a school determines whether its climate is open (supports learning) or closed (hinders learning).
According to Peterson (2002), school culture is “the set of norms, values, and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols, and stories that make up the ‘persona’ of the school. These unwritten expectations build up over time as teachers, administrators, parents, and students work together, solve problems, deal with challenges and, at times, cope with failures.” School culture is responsible for the way members of a school regard themselves, their relationships with one another, and the institution and its goals.
Hargreaves (1994) proposes the existence of four distinct cultures in educational institutions: isolationist, balkanized, contrived collegial, and collegial. He suggests that educational institutions have a long tradition of isolationism, with teachers operating alone inside their own classrooms. I believe that this isolation accounts for many of the failures we see in schools, and that the ideal school would have a collaborative or collegial culture. According to Petersen (2002), in such a milieu, “teachers, students, and administrators value learning, work to enhance curriculum and instruction, and focus on students. In schools with professional learning communities, the culture possesses:
The influence of school cultures on teaching styles cannot be overstated; as with curriculum, they can either hinder or improve teaching.
Closely linked to the influences of school culture and climate on teaching style is the issue of professionalism. Barker, Kagen, Klemp, Roderick, and Takenaga-Taga (1997) define a true teaching professional as “a teacher who is engaged with a career path that encourages, fosters, and rewards constant professional growth that reflects directly and positively back on classroom practice.” This engagement depends upon the teacher's professional identity: the way he or she relates to the norms and values of the profession.
Sachs (1999) claims that such a view treats professionalism as “an exclusive rather than an inclusive ideal, and is conservative rather than radical”—thus reducing professional development to the mere acquisition of traits that allow teachers to claim membership in the profession. Because teacher learning stems from reflective involvement with other learners, be they students or fellow teachers, it seems to make more sense for a concept of professionalism to reflect “cooperative action between teachers and other stakeholders” (Sachs, 1999).
Sachs suggests an even more powerful view of teacher professionalism—one that sees it as “negotiated, open, shifting, ambiguous, the result of culturally available meanings and the open-ended powerladen enactment of those meanings in everyday situations”—and identifies “five dimensions of identity:
Teaching styles are greatly influenced by the teachers' own idealization of themselves as teaching professionals. Those who equate professionalism with adherence to external norms will tend toward relatively directive and ethnocentric teaching styles; on the other hand, those who perceive themselves as existing in a dialectical relationship with other professionals, working collectively to build their professional identities, will necessarily have more constructivist styles.
Three learning factors greatly influence teaching styles: the teachers' learning styles, their experience as learners, and the theories about teaching and learning to which they adhere (Díaz-Maggioli, 1996).
When making decisions, teachers should ideally have the students as their main focus. Too often, however, they teach according to their own preferred learning methods, rather than according to what is best for the students. Similarly, teachers tend to emulate the teachers who helped them to learn best when they were in school—though in most cases they don't know why the model teachers taught the way they did. Teachers need to be aware of these personal influences and refocus their actions to benefit the students. To do this, they need space to develop their own theories about teaching and learning through professional development with col
Planners of professional development programs should bear in mind the following facts:
In order to ensure that professional development is congruent with these facts, educators need an organizational framework based on the unique characteristics and contributions of teachers. The Teacher's Choice Framework (see Figure 1.3) helps teachers make individual and collaborative decisions by having them reflect on practice. For the framework to function effectively, learning communities should promote collaborative reflection on student learning data, which should be gathered and shared across grades and disciplines. Once the data are shared, educators should involve as many stakeholders as possible in planning a professional development program that addresses the needs of all participants.
As soon as everyone's needs are clear, it is time to select activities that are suited to each teacher's needs and level of awareness. There are four distinct types of awareness needs that teachers can address through professional development:
In addition, most teachers fall into one of the following four awareness-level categories:
Level 1. Teachers are aware that they possess up-to-date knowledge and can help other teachers through initiatives such as mentoring, providing on-site teacher training workshops, and expert coaching with colleagues in other levels. They can also develop field notes—narratives of classroom success stories that they share with other teachers for feedback and development.
Level 2. Teachers possess updated knowledge, but are not aware that they do. Those in this category can be involved in mirroring and collaborative coaching by having colleagues come into their classrooms and observe them in order to pinpoint areas of strength. Field notes can serve as a powerful reflection tool for these teachers as well.
Level 3: Teachers are aware of their development needs in specific knowledge areas. Pertinent techniques for this level include engaging in action research, establishing critical development teams, and maintaining dialogue journals.
Level 4: Teachers are unaware of their need to expand their knowledge in certain areas. Appropriate professional development programs for such teachers could include mandated in-house training workshops, mentoring, and expert coaching.
In its 1985 report to the Ford Foundation, the Academy for Educational Development stated the following:
It is reasonable, if not essential, to expect that anyone who intends to teach be: first, educated broadly and well; second, fundamentally knowledgeable about the fields to be taught; third, familiar with how children or adolescents develop, behave, and learn; and fourth, knowledgeable about and skilled in the profession of education to assure quality standards, ethics, responsible conduct, and responsiveness to the educational needs of the greater society. Prospective teachers should also be made aware that continued professional growth depends upon prolonged interaction with peers and others. (p. 25)
Authors such as Shulman (1987), Grossman (1990), and Putnam and Borko (2000) have elaborated on the idea that there are different kinds of teacher knowledge. In a nutshell, teachers are motivated to enter the profession by one or more of the following:
The Teacher's Choice Framework allows teachers with expertise in a certain domain to provide mediation and scaffolding to colleagues whose weaknesses lie in that same area. Teachers enter a cycle of constant development, since teachers can have different awareness levels for different types of knowledge. A teacher well versed in developing a classroom climate conducive to learning, for example, may pair up with one who has classroom management problems—and who in turn might share his or her differentiated instruction expertise with the other teacher. By capitalizing on the internal strengths of its members, the learning community is enriched.
The Teacher's Choice Framework allows teachers to feel reassured about their dual roles as both experts and novices, and “to move along a continuum ranging from inductee to master teacher where increased responsibilities, qualifications, professional development, and performance-based accountability requirements are commensurate with compensation” (Wenglinsky, 2000).
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