Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Will Teacher Learning Advance School Goals?

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Will Teacher Learning Advance School Goals?

Article excerpt

The authors contend that, to be effective, professional development should address three dimensions of school capacity ' teachers' knowledge, skills, and dispositions; the strength of the schoolwide professional community; and the coherence of the school program.

REFORMERS HAVE implemented tighter accountability, curriculum standards, organizational restructuring, school choice, professional development, and a variety of other strategies to improve schooling. Since teachers have the most direct, sustained contact with students and considerable control over what is taught and the climate for learning, improving teachers' knowledge, skills, and dispositions through professional development is a critical step in improving student achievement. According to critics, however, professional development has not substantially improved teaching, because conventional professional development violates a number of key conditions for teacher learning.

' Teacher learning is most likely to occur when teachers can concentrate on instruction and student outcomes in the specific contexts in which they teach. Yet because professional development often presents information that teachers see as irrelevant to student learning in their specific school settings, teachers often don't learn and apply what professional development programs offer.

' Teacher learning is most likely when teachers have sustained opportunities to study, to experiment with, and to receive helpful feedback on specific innovations. Yet most professional development activities entail brief workshops, conferences, or courses that make no provision for follow-up and long-term feedback.

=95 Teacher learning is most likely when teachers collaborate with professional peers, both within and outside of their schools, and when they gain further expertise through access to external researchers and program developers. Yet traditional professional development relies almost exclusively on outside experts and materials, without integrating these resources into existing systems of peer collaboration.

' Teacher learning is most likely when teachers have influence over the substance and process of professional development. Influence over the course of professional development increases teachers' opportunity to connect it to specific conditions of their schools and facilitates a sense of ownership. Yet conventional professional development is often dictated by school, district, or state authorities without significant input from teachers.

Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers express substantial agreement that professional development should change in these ways, but the actual conduct of professional development has been slow to respond.1 We agree that learning by individual teachers would be enhanced if professional development were more consistent with these principles, but an approach to professional development that focuses only on the learning of individual teachers would still be insufficient to advance student achievement across a substantial proportion of schools. Teacher success in boosting student achievement depends on the teacher's ability to implement knowledge and skills within a particular school. But each school contains a unique mix of teachers and students with varying competencies and attitudes and a unique set of social, cultural, and political conditions ' all of which influence what teachers do with students.2 While individual teacher learning is the foundation of improved classroom practice, teachers must also learn to exercise their individual knowledge, skills, and dispositions to advance the collective work of the school under a set of unique conditions. To the extent that professional development focuses only on the individual learning of teachers, we should not expect substantial achievement gains in the student body as a whole. Moreover, since student outcomes and how teachers teach are profoundly influenced by the schools in which the students and teachers work, the design of professional development itself should be grounded not only in a conception of how individual teachers learn, but also in a conception of how schools as organizations affect teachers' learning, teachers' practice, and student achievement. …

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