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ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

2016 ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show

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Taking Charge of Professional Development

by Joseph H. Semadeni

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Way Schools Can Be

Imagine a school that allows you to choose how to develop professionally, and then rewards you for improving your skills. Does this sound too good to be true? Here's how it works. A lead teacher, referred to as a teacher facilitator, hands out a list of best practices ranging from establishing classroom rules and procedures to initiating the latest writing program the district has adopted. You look over the list and choose four or five practices that interest you. Because you have always wanted to learn how to use reciprocal teaching, this strategy tops your list. You also choose nonlinguistic representations, metaphors, and historical investigation. For the remainder of the year, these strategies become the focus of your professional development. The facilitator gathers these papers and later organizes teachers into study groups of common interest. Four other teachers also selected reciprocal teaching, so you will meet with them in a discussion group three weeks from today. You receive a short reading assignment and a study guide to complete prior to the study group session.

Three weeks later, students are released from school two hours early. The faculty meets in the media center, where refreshments are served and room assignments are made. You pile some snacks onto a plate and follow your cohorts into Room 12, where you discuss what you have read about reciprocal teaching.

The meeting begins with a discussion leader handing out an agenda. Then teachers spend a few minutes sharing good news, appropriate jokes, and positive experiences they have had with teaching. Right away, you sense that your colleagues enjoy their jobs. Exchanging ideas about what is and what is not working in your classrooms, you discover that every teacher has good days and bad days just like you. The ideas they share, no matter how simple, are useful. Several minutes later, the group leader instigates a discussion about reciprocal teaching. Teachers refer back to the information they have read, talk about what they have learned, and ask questions about information that is unclear to them. Near the end of the discussion, the group leader hands out a short article about whales, and together you practice the steps for reciprocal teaching. After practicing the strategy, the group leader gives you a paper called "Observation/Demonstration Criteria." Basically a list of the key features of reciprocal teaching, it is designed to help teachers know what to look for when they conduct classroom observations. Reading assignments are made for the next study group session, and the meeting concludes.

The next step is for you to observe a peer using reciprocal teaching in a classroom setting. The school has gone out of its way to make peer observation as convenient as possible. A substitute has been hired to cover classes every Tuesday and Wednesday. She will cover the classes of teachers who signed up to observe their peers. Therefore, the number of classes to be covered each week will vary. To schedule an observation, all you have to do is log on to a computer network, see what time a mentor teacher is planning to model a strategy, sign up, and log off. You see that Ms. Martinez will be using reciprocal teaching from 9:20 until 10:00 next Tuesday, so you sign up to observe her (see Figure 2.2 for an example).

The following Tuesday at 9:15, the substitute comes to your classroom. You briefly review your lesson plan and then slip quietly into Ms. Martinez's classroom. The observation criteria discussed in study groups are helpful. As Ms. Martinez models different aspects of reciprocal teaching, you check these items on the observation sheet. You find that not only does this experience give you ideas about how to use reciprocal teaching, but you also learn how to get students' attention in five seconds or less using a quiet signal—something you did not anticipate learning. At the end of the lesson, you quietly exit the room and resume teaching your own students.

A week later, after experimenting with reciprocal teaching, you sign up to have a mentor come to your classroom to watch you demonstrate that you understand how to use this strategy. At first, you feel apprehensive. The thought of having a master teacher observe you seems nerve-racking. However, the mentor uses the same criteria you used when you conducted your observation. It doesn't take long to realize that reciprocal teaching is the focus of the observation, not your teaching performance. When the lesson ends, the mentor sets the observation/ demonstration worksheet on the back table and leaves while you move on to a new concept. As you look over the worksheet later, you notice that it doesn't have comments or suggestions for improvement. Instead, a checkmark has been placed next to each criterion the mentor observed during the lesson. Even though your lesson wasn't perfect, you feel satisfied knowing that the purpose of peer observation is to encourage teachers to learn best practices together, not to conduct evaluations.

After demonstrating that you can use reciprocal teaching as outlined by the observation/demonstration criteria, you give the teacher facilitator a copy of the observation forms and a copy of the questions you answered while completing the reading assignment. The next day, the facilitator returns your work as well as a voucher for $50. Whenever you use reciprocal teaching to teach reading, writing, math, science, or history, you collect lesson plans and samples of student work. Within three months you gather nine samples of proficient use of reciprocal teaching across the curriculum. This documentation is worth two points, much like university credits, that can be accumulated for a permanent increase in pay.

It feels great to be part of a faculty that not only values teachers but also does everything possible to encourage them to improve.

A Question Answered

Research has clearly shown that effective teachers make a significant difference in the lives of students. In a study involving the analysis of achievement scores of more than 100,000 students across hundreds of schools, William Sanders and his colleagues (see Sanders & Horn, 1994; Wright, Horn, & Sanders, 1997) concluded, "More can be done to improve education by improving the effectiveness of teachers than by any other single factor" (Wright et al., 1997, p. 63).

If increasing teacher effectiveness is the key to improving education, why is school improvement so difficult? As a nation, we spend over $536 billion annually at all levels of government on elementary and secondary education (U.S. Department of Education [USDE], 2005). Yet these resources do not seem to impact student achievement as they should. In addition to financial resources, researchers have taken great strides in making available a variety of techniques that could greatly improve instruction. However, there seems to be a breakdown between research and the application of best practices. How can schools close the gap between knowing what's best for students and actually doing it?

An Overview of Fusion

Fusion is a systematic approach to professional development that motivates individuals to continuously learn and apply best practices. This is accomplished by making professional development as convenient as possible. Instead of expecting educators to spend thousands of dollars to further their education on their own time and at their own expense, Fusion provides time for professional development during the school day and then rewards teachers financially for the mastery of best practices. Training is a daily, ongoing process where a fellow colleague acting as a teacher facilitator ensures that someone with expertise within the school or district is always available to provide additional training and support.

The model is named Fusion for two reasons. First, fusion is the combining of atoms. In education, three key elements must be combined to promote lasting change: time, a motivational system, and teacher leadership. Second, when fusion occurs, a tremendous amount of energy is released. The combination of time, a motivational system, and teacher leadership generates the energy necessary to revolutionize education. Figure I.1 illustrates the basic philosophical ideas of Fusion.

Figure I.1. Fusion Professional Development

The Philosophy of Fusion

Successful teachers equal successful students. Fusion is based on the belief that teacher achievement and student achievement are reciprocally related: successful, enthusiastic teachers are more likely to influence students to become successful, enthusiastic learners. The key to increasing student achievement is to provide positive, motivating ways to get teachers enthusiastic about education and for them to incorporate best practices into daily teaching routines.

Choice. Choice plays an essential role in adult motivation (Glickman, Gordon, & Ross-Gordon, 2004) and thus is a significant component of Fusion. Teachers are allowed to decide whether to participate and which professional development programs best meet their personal needs. Teachers also may learn new practices either individually or in study groups. Finally, teachers choose how quickly they will progress through the learning process.

Opportunity. Fusion is based on principles of adult learning (Knowles, 1980). Rather than requiring all teachers to attend every workshop offered by a school or district, Fusion's approach to professional development is individualized. Fusion encourages teachers to choose from a wide variety of research-based instructional practices that meet their individual needs and then provides the support necessary as educators work toward mastery. As a result, groups of teachers within a school may be working on a number of different professional development activities at any given time.

Achievement. Achievement is fundamental to human motivation (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959). Individuals must feel a sense of achievement; otherwise, they eventually lose motivation to improve. Fusion gives teachers a sense of achievement by completing a rigorous yet rewarding mastery process that involves collaboration and peer observation.

The Elements of Fusion

Time. Educators receive time during regular contract hours to read professional literature, participate in study groups, and engage in peer observation.

Motivational system. The motivational system focuses on developing collaborative cultures within schools where teachers take personal responsibility for professional growth. Teachers choose professional development topics from a list that includes instructional strategies, classroom management techniques, technology, assessment, district programs, and guidelines for developing engaging curriculum. Teachers study research pertaining to these practices on their own, respond to writing prompts, and then meet with colleagues to discuss what they have learned.

Once teachers have gained an understanding of a research-based practice, they complete a mastery process where first they observe a colleague demonstrate its proficient use in a classroom, and then they demonstrate their own ability to use it effectively while being observed by a mentor. When they finish the mastery process, teachers are awarded a small stipend. If educators provide evidence, through documentation, that they have effectively used these practices across the curriculum, they earn points (much like university credits) that qualify for a permanent increase in pay. This process stimulates intellectual growth and enthusiasm among educators.

Teacher leadership. Fusion provides shared leadership opportunities by allowing teachers to assist principals with instructional leadership responsibilities. Teacher facilitators are chosen by their peers to take responsibility for the implementation of Fusion, while continuing to teach full-time. This element not only eases a principal's workload but also creates an environment that encourages teachers to experiment with new instructional practices.

The Improvement Process and Fusion

School reform must influence instruction, assessment, curriculum, and culture if it is to promote lasting student achievement. Many schools approach improvement efforts by focusing on curriculum or assessment without first developing teachers' willingness and capacity to work together. Beginning the improvement process with a focus on instruction (something that can be immediately changed and can influence school culture), progressing to assessment (something that is more difficult to change), and then emphasizing curriculum (something that can be very difficult to change) provides teachers with the scaffolding necessary to succeed with school improvement.

Professional development is the key to school improvement. For this reason, it must become an enjoyable, meaningful, ongoing process that motivates teachers to continually learn from one another and to consistently apply best practices. Rather than relying on a single program to meet the needs of all students, teachers must master hundreds of research-based teaching methodologies that can be applied to a wide variety of learners in various situations. To facilitate such learning across their careers, teachers participate in hundreds of peer observations and hundreds of hours of collaboration centered on improving instruction and enhancing student learning. This mastery process should commence the moment teachers begin their undergraduate studies and continue until the day they retire.

Once schools have established professional learning communities, the next step is to provide timely feedback to teachers and students through formative and summative assessment. State and district standards should be used to identify essential knowledge and skills students are expected to master. Administrators and teachers should work together to align the curriculum by developing common, rigorous formative assessments and taking an approach to goal setting that promotes student and teacher growth. This information provides schools with a body of evidence that can be used to make timely interventions.

Finally, curriculum is the heart of education. As educators master best practices and learn to use assessment more effectively, they must systematically employ these practices by integrating them into the daily classroom curriculum. They should develop engaging instructional units aligned with state standards, incorporate best practices, and provide students with in-depth, relevant learning experiences involving higher-order thinking skills.

The Fusion model is presented in the form of eight design questions. They are listed in Figure I.2.

Figure I.2. School Improvement Design Questions

  1. How do you increase the morale of teachers so that they embrace new initiatives, without overwhelming the teachers and administrators with new responsibilities?
  2. How do you encourage teachers to help one another develop professionally without jeopardizing interpersonal relationships?
  3. How do you involve teachers in meaningful leadership opportunities without removing them from the classroom?
  4. How do you provide more time and financial incentives for professional development with limited resources?
  5. How can you increase teachers' expectations for themselves and for their students without allowing state tests to dominate the curriculum?
  6. How do you encourage classroom teachers to provide timely interventions without neglecting a subgroup of students?
  7. How do you encourage teachers to incorporate higher-order thinking activities into differentiated units of instruction without fragmenting the curriculum?
  8. Are you ready to apply the principles of Fusion?

This book is structured around three phases of school improvement. Each chapter contains scenarios designed to help the reader better comprehend important principles of Fusion. The names of individuals and schools in these scenarios are pseudonyms. Chapters 1 through 4 address ways to foster positive interpersonal relationships by establishing professional learning communities. These chapters describe the fundamental principles of Fusion. Chapters 5 and 6 emphasize ways to increase academic rigor through the use of formative assessment, a unique approach to goal setting, and ways to increase schoolwide consistency of student interventions. Chapter 7 describes the third phase of school improvement, which is to make learning relevant by improving classroom curriculum. Chapter 8 suggests leadership characteristics that facilitate the implementation of Fusion.


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