Designing Professional Development Opportunities for Teachers That Foster Collaboration, Capacity Building and Reflective Practice

Article excerpt

A case is made that professional development activities in science, when designed as generic programs, can limit pathways individual teachers may take or even select to meet their specific professional development needs.

The standards movement across the United States has created a real need for teacher learning. This need has created a critical examination of the practices employed by school districts across the country to provide sustained professional development opportunities for teachers. There is a growing belief that professional development should be targeted and directly related to teachers' practice. This belief also focuses on the notion that professional development should be site-based and sustained over time. It should be integrated into the regular practices of teachers. The focus of the professional development should be curriculum-based so that it helps teachers help their students attain higher levels of content understanding and improved performance.

This approach to professional development design is contrary to the current practice of a generic professional development program focusing on curriculum implementation, content, pedagogical strategies or student assessment strategies designed for all teachers within a system or region. The "one-size fits all" approach to professional development limits pathways individual teachers may take or even select to meet their own professional development needs.

An alternative approach to the design of professional development programs for teachers must be considered by policy makers and school districts to meet the growing needs of teachers to move along three distinct professional growth continua described by Berliner (1994), content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and student learning knowledge. In fact, in a standards based environment, some even suggest that there is a fourth continuum or pathway that must also be considered, pedagogical content knowledge (Marks, 1990).

Professional development programs for teachers that view the personal professional development needs of teachers as important also recognize that through these efforts a knowledge base for teaching can be created.

There is a growing consensus that professional development can be optimized when it is long-term, schoolbased, collaborative, focused on student learning, and linked to curricula (Darling-Hammond and Sykes, 1999; Loucks-Horsley, Hewson, Love and Stiles, 1998). Such programs focus teacher activity around the examination of student work, student performance, joint planning, teaching and revising lessons, and individual and group reflection. This paradigm shift from working in isolation to working in a collaborative group is favorably received by teachers (Caret, Porter, Desimone, Birman and Yoon, 2001).

James Stigler in a conversation with Scott Willis (2002) recommends three teacher outcomes from such an approach to teacher professional development:

* they need to learn to analyze practice-both other teachers' practice and their own. In this context analyze means to think about the relationship between teaching and learning;

* they need to be exposed to alternatives; and

* they need situational judgment to know when to employ which method.

These three recommendations are based upon a belief that teaching is a cultural activity rather than as something one learns to do by studying it at school (Gallimore, 1996). Most teachers learn to teach by growing up in a culture watching their own teachers teach, then adapting these methods for their own practice. Changing teaching means changing the culture of teaching to a knowledge-based practice.

In considering the operational characteristics associated with disciplinary expertise as a foundational framework, the notion of knowledge-based practice provides a methodological perspective for approaching curriculum and instruction for teachers. The distinguishing characteristic of knowledge-based instruction models is that all aspects of instruction (e. …