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March 1, 2006
Vol. 63
No. 6

EL Study Guide / Improving Professional Practice

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To improve their practice, educators traditionally learn new teaching methods, update their subject knowledge, and scrutinize their students’ progress. But what most gets in the way of improving teaching? According to many articles in the March issue of Educational Leadership, it’s isolation—teaching behind closed doors. Articles throughout this issue—such as Roland S. Barth’s “Improving Relationships Within the Schoolhouse” (p. 8)—call for breaking through isolation by forging collaborative relationships and exchanging what Barth terms “craft knowledge.”

Owning Your Learning Principles

“In a true learning organization,” write Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (“Examining the Teaching Life,” p. 26), “staff members should work together to arrive at their own common principles” for how they believe learning happens. Discuss together the nine principles of learning that the authors present. Do these reflect your group’s core beliefs about learning? Which ones are easiest or hardest to agree on?
Choose one of the books or articles that McTighe and Wiggins list on page 28 to read together. Drawing on this resource, create your own list of principles to use as a touchstone for keeping teaching meaningful.

Coming Together to Solve Problems

Mary M. Kennedy (“From Teacher Quality to Quality Teaching,” p. 14) believes that educators must challenge conditions in schools that may unwittingly impede high-quality teaching. She discusses common conditions that sabotage many creative teaching moments, such as administrative interruptions, long hours spent making materials, and lesson prop breakdown. Unpredictability and multitasking will always be part of teaching, but these challenges are heightened when teachers work in isolation.
  • As a disciplinary or grade-level team, share simple lesson props. Pool your efforts in locating high-quality, specialized materials that each of you is likely to use in key lessons; ask the school or PTA to purchase them and store them centrally.
  • Choose an experienced colleague as “practice partner.” Before your first “show time” with a logistics-heavy lesson, go through a trial run with a partner, asking him or her to point out places where equipment shortages, breakdowns, or a miscalculation of what students can do are likely to spell trouble. And of course, do the same for your partner.

Renewing Purpose

Sam M. Intrator and Robert Kunzman (“Starting With the Soul,” p. 38) consider the foundation of professional improvement to be renewing one’s sense of purpose, becoming aware of what, for you, is at the heart of teaching.
As a group, set aside time to share personal stories and reflections on classroom practice, using questions from Fred Korthagen’s Multi-level Learning process mentioned in the article: Why did you become a teacher? What do you see as your calling in the world? How does your personality influence how you teach?
Invite each group member to bring in a piece of writing, a song, a saying, or another representation from his or her cultural or spiritual tradition. Together, reflect on how something that each person learned or still cherishes from home feeds the teaching life.

ASCD Resources for Book Study

Why not start an ASCD book club to study an education-related title that can help you improve your practice? You need only a group of people committed to meet and a book that spurs discussion. ASCD now has available a free kit to help organize a book club (contact Angela Demmons at ademmons@ascd.org). Free ASCD study guides are available for most of the 200+ ASCD-published titles, and members can browse free sample chapters of ASCD books at www.ascd.org/books.

Naomi Thiers is the managing editor of Educational Leadership.

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