Rebeckah Winans is the Principal of Fuller Elementary School in Tempe, Arizona. She is an active member of the NIUSI-LeadScape community of inclusive school principals, as well as a founding member of the Urban Professional Learning Schools Initiative to develop effective, dually-certified teachers to work in culturally responsive, urban school communities.
Ever walk into a classroom during a walkthrough or walk-by and immediately felt compelled to sit down? A masterful teacher has just engaged you! You already know the content; you can even guess what sub-objectives are about to be laid out in front of you – but because of the strategies being demonstrated– you must participate. This is rigorous learning; urgency at its best – and this is what professional developers must use to change teaching.
A grade level meeting is in progress and you walk in to see how it is transpiring. The team barely notices you because they are in heated discussion about a student who is not responding to lessons provided by a core program or its intervention packet. The teachers begin to brainstorm and pick apart the tenets of the program to figure out what is missing, and then the art of teaching unfolds in front of you – reflection and application – and you are compelled to watch the reality of the profession. Masterful teachers use the capacity of their own experiences and learning to provide a successful learning program for an individual child. Not a program – people. You are transfixed. This is the application that must be demanded by teacher preparation programs and professional development providers.
Transition begins while a teacher writes the objective on the board. The children follow the routine of clearing their desks, placing completed assignments into the work tray or writing the task onto their homework calendar. You notice three students tossing a note to each other, making additions and holding back giggles. With a quiet turn and ‘look’ Mrs. With-it states, “put the note on my desk” while she continues to begin the lesson. All students covertly confirm in their own minds that Mrs. With-it really does have eyes in the back of her head. This “with-it-ness” maintains the order of the class and even makes you sit up in the chair to attend to the next task being presented. Modeling, experience and attentiveness to all facets of strategies must be expressed during professional development and teacher prep programs to capture the wholeness of techniques and strategies.
Today’s diverse students require the rigor and urgency of lesson presentation that is prescriptively designed to meet the diverse needs filling the seats. Our children in this era of stimulation overload must be engaged with a variety of overt strategies and interactive practices to internalize the content. Classroom management must be one of with-it-ness and emotional objectivity to be effective. Effective professional development programs or teacher preparation programs must model and employ all of the above to support the assimilation of these behaviors in our teachers.
Rigor in PD should be foregrounded in order to respond to the need and challenges that today’s students present to the teacher working in the room — it cannot just be taking coursework to receive a degree. In reality, teachers are required to meet the needs of many different types of learners all within the same classroom:
· Learners who are successfully progressing in the core curriculum.
· Learners who need alternative paths for accessing, participating, and performing in the curriculum.
· Learners whose engagement and learning outcomes would benefit from a menu of expanded curriculum opportunities.
In fact, to be labeled as an ‘excelling’ school under NCLB, progress is required in reading, math and writing for all the students identified above. Effective teaching bridges what each student comes to class knowing and being able to do and the outcomes of the lesson. Continuous improvement in teaching requires assessing and responding to formative data. PD opportunities must occur in real time alongside the action of the classroom. Lecture and reading — a passive passing of knowledge — will not serve the present teacher, consequently failing today’s students. Instead, PD must be modeling, engaging and demanding immediate application. To do otherwise fails students and teachers alike since it does not account for the way in which practice changes are made.
Perhaps what I am suggesting is a change in the format of workshops and coursework. Consider if both venues used structures of good instruction. In other words using research based strategies, a high knowledge base, pre-post assessment, objective driven lessons, modeling, student engagement during lesson presentation and product, guided practice, teamwork, higher order questions, learner reflection through writing, application (new Bloom’s) and distributive practice to deliver professional development instruction to teachers and teacher candidates.
When did you receive a pre-test prior to a workshop or course work that needed to be submitted to the professor before the first day? I know what I receive is a course or workshop outline that requires that I, the learner, read and determine how much of the content will be opportunity for my learning. What would it be like if you completed a pre-test prior to the first day, showed up and were directed into a small group that had been differentiated to maximize and meet your skill set? Would this excite you? Would your curiosity for the learning be invigorated?
Professional development and teacher preparation programs need to use strategies and processes that are expected of master teachers. Not only to model expectations, but to also remind and invigorate current teachers. Our teachers should also be recipients of best practices along with our students. To do less is to produce less.