Academic journal article Childhood Education

What Do We Think We Know?

Academic journal article Childhood Education

What Do We Think We Know?

Article excerpt

Lisa graduated from college feeling she had received a "superb education" but had chosen the most "complex job in the world" - teaching. "How will I possibly remember everything I have learned?," she wondered. "There were all the curriculum areas to know. Then, there was knowing the children I would teach - their learning styles, environments, personalities, disabilities, gifts, intelligences. The list was endless!"

Fortunately for Lisa, her first teaching position was in a district where the education philosophy was similar to the one she had developed during her undergraduate training. In addition, a team of curriculum specialists worked with Lisa to ensure her smooth entry into the teaching profession. Even so, that first year she says she "probably cried enough to fill an oversized Jacuzzi tub" and had "put in a tremendous number of hours." By the end of the year, however, Lisa was convinced that her students, the school, the district, her principal, and the curriculum specialists were all "wonderful."

She would have liked to teach there forever - but she didn't. When she married she moved to a new state to teach in a new school, at a new grade level, in a Team Assisted Mastery program (in which special education children are included in the "regular" classroom with two teachers, at least one certified in special education), in a district with no supportive curriculum specialists. Lisa quickly learned about change - and about the need to discover the means to support her continued professional development - what Regie Routman (1996, p. 171) describes as taking "charge of [her] own professional development and learning."

This article recounts one of Lisa's professional development experiences in her newly adopted state one of her efforts to engage in lifelong learning and become the best possible teacher she could. Our purpose is to answer two questions: 1) What are the tenets of quality professional development? and 2) How were these elements exhibited in Lisa's experience? We offer these tenets as useful suggestions to those planning and implementing teacher professional development activities, and to teachers attempting to select quality professional development experiences. We know that much remains to be learned about what constitutes quality professional development. "Our understanding of professional development is a mix of fairly solid ideas, beliefs, myths, and conjecture" (Ball, 1996, p. 507). "To call these tenets 'knowledge' seems problematic, for they are unevenly inspected and warranted" (Ball 1996, p. 501). Hence, we offer these ideas with the qualification that they are our current best conjecture about quality professional development.

Tenets of quality Professional Development

* Exhibits a Clear Focus on a Subject. We believe that professional development should have a clear focus on a single subject area, teaching method, or approach to reform (Firestone & Pennell, 1997). This gives participants a common purpose and a single identity. Each professional development opportunity may be an adjunct to a state's or district's implementation of a new policy, or it could be a stand-alone effort with the sole aim of enhancing teacher learning, motivation, and empowerment (Clune, 1993). Over the long haul, there should be a balance between the institution's and the teachers' (participants') professional development initiatives (LeMahieu, Roy, & Foss, n.d.).

Lisa enrolled in a literacy-focused professional development seminar offered by her local school district, in cooperation with the local university. The Delaware State Board of Education's (1995) English language arts curriculum frameworks document calls on teachers to use a constructivist approach to literacy instruction. The document was written by the Commission, a group of teachers, administrators, parents, teacher educators, and parents; it encourages all districts, schools, and teachers to plan opportunities for students to learn [that] exemplify the following characteristics and permit students to: engage in authentic and purposeful communication activities; explore varied literacy and technical genres of reading and purposes of writing; use materials appropriate to their individual and developmental needs; be active participants in gathering information from a variety of sources; engage in integrated and meaningful communication; be assessed through ongoing instructional activities [that] require them to solve problems, gather and use resources, work collaboratively, and assume responsibility for their literacy learning; be involved in language arts activities throughout the curriculum; and be constructive and critical members of a community of lifelong learners (Delaware State Board of Education, 1995, p. …

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