Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Learning: The Key to Educational Reform

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Learning: The Key to Educational Reform

Article excerpt

Dear New President:

We want to write to you about the importance of teacher learning, showing you what we have now, which hasn't been working too well, and giving you some important examples that we believe can show the wave of the future. This is an area of critical concern that needs your attention and support.

Teachers are on the front lines of a changing society. Teaching as telling is no longer appropriate for a knowledge society that needs students who are prepared in problem solving, adaptability, critical thinking, and digital literacies, just to name a few. These changing stakes are accompanied by changing demographics. Public schools now serve increasingly diverse student populations and schools and their teachers are being challenged to respond. Teachers work in isolation and only rarely have a chance to observe their colleagues or talk about their teaching work. Although many agreed on the purposes of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), its implementation has fallen short of expectations by reducing accomplished teachers' opportunities to draw on the wisdom of their experiences to serve their students. Student learning needs improvement; teacher knowledge seems to be one answer. But how to get there is the crux of the problem.

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

One natural solution is to teach teachers how to improve their practice. But professional development, though well intentioned, is often perceived by teachers as fragmented, disconnected, and irrelevant to the real problems of classroom practice. Less than half of National Board--certified teachers are satisfied with the quality and quantity of professional learning opportunities available at their school (Leadership Survey; National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2001). This finding is echoed by the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher (Metropolitan Life/Harris Interactive, 2003): Only 42% of teachers surveyed in their study of school leadership felt that their principals provided adequate professional development opportunities. Most professional development simply misses the mark.

WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR TEACHERS?

NCLB now dominates professional development in many schools. In a typical school, all teachers go to professional development workshops where they most often learn how to follow a script that presumably they will use in hopes of raising their students test scores. This approach ignores the different needs of the students, the experience of the teacher, and the myriad possibilities for engaging students in learning. In most schools, teachers are asked to use a curriculum package regardless of the context that has caused demoralization in many schools, shrinking the curriculum and taking away all the necessary judgments of the teacher as to the appropriateness of the content for their particular students.

Instead of building a culture of professional learning, teachers are faced with a "culture of compliance." Instead of learning from and with their fellow teachers as well as learning from research, teachers are being given a script that tightly binds them to a narrow curriculum that may or may not fit the needs of the teachers or their particular classrooms. Instead of creating the conditions for teachers to teach each other, support their peers, and deepen their knowledge about their students, teachers are being given a "one size fits all" set of professional development workshops that deny the variability of how teachers teach, and how they and their students learn. But there is much that we are learning that can help us frame this problem differently and much that you can do as president to enable and support a different way of thinking about professional development.

CREATING A SOCIAL CONTEXT FOR LEARNING

There has been a burgeoning of both research and experience teaching us to move in a different direction with more long-lasting results and a deeper understanding of the kinds of conditions needed to improve teachers' practice (see, e. …

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