Promoting Professional Learning to Increase Great Instruction, By Dr. Danny Mendez, Gene Morrow Jr. and Ryan Siebe
There have been many reports on what is not working in teacher professional development. A 2015 report—The Mirage—concludes that despite significant financial investments, current teacher professional development by and large doesn't seem to have any impact on teacher effectiveness.
This gloomy picture is brightened by at least one finding in the report, in which the authors note the value of accurate professional self-assessment. "The one factor that consistently showed a relationship to teacher growth, across measures and at both the individual teacher and the school level, was alignment between teachers' perceptions of their instructional effectiveness and their formal evaluation ratings. Improvers were almost twice as likely to rate their own performance as the same as their formal evaluation. (Non-improvers were nearly twice as likely to self-assess their own performance as stronger than their formal ratings.)
As principals, we use each of the elements of the research-based TAP System to accomplish what The Mirage highlights as an essential feature of the effective teachers or "improvers" they studied: being able to accurately describe and analyze their own teaching practice. Leadership teams are trained to help teachers to do this on a regular basis, enabling them to develop the skills that put them in the "improver" camp, instead of the "non-improver" camp.
The foundation of a clear and well-defined set of teaching standards, and training to ensure consistent and reliable application of these standards across the school in both evaluation and professional learning, is fundamental to improvement. This foundation must support both evaluation and professional learning in order to create the conditions for teachers to improve their practice. Teachers are supported in learning to self-assess their own practice, and teacher leaders and administrators provide consistent and clear feedback to support improvement. Success in raising student academic growth with students rests on this common vision for great classroom instruction.
It is critical that observation and feedback are viewed as fair, accurate and useful by teachers and that it is provided multiple times during the year by different observers. To achieve this, teacher leaders serve as evaluators along with administrators. This trained and certified leadership team is then able to provide teachers with differentiated, specific and actionable feedback on their practice based on a detailed, research-based description of teaching practice.
In partnership with district leaders, we use federal innovation funds from the Teacher Incentive Fund to restructure budgets, schedules and school cultures to create real, meaningful roles and authority for teacher leaders as providers of professional learning and coaching in their schools. Weekly professional learning sessions are led by teacher leaders delivering student strategies they have field-tested with students in that school. This ensures that teachers know the time spent in professional development will help them to increase their students' learning. These collaborative group sessions are followed up by individual coaching in classrooms.
National campaigns like TeachStrong—a coalition of over 50 diverse education organizations—are working to prioritize these opportunities for teachers. The campaign's nine principles, designed to modernize and elevate the teaching profession, include calls to create career pathways for teachers, design professional learning to foster feedback and improvement, and provide more time for teachers to plan and collaborate with one another.
Providing teachers clear, actionable support build consensus around higher expectations for classroom practice, and provides teachers with a strong, deep understanding of their own performance and progress. This opens the door to the idea that there is room for growth for everyone, even the most accomplished teacher.
(Dr. Danny Mendez, principal of Southport Elementary School, Perry Township Schools, Indianapolis, Indiana; Gene Morrow Jr., former principal of David Daniels Academy, Grand Prairie ISD, Grand Prairie, Texas; Ryan Siebe, principal of Farragut High School, Knox County Schools, Knoxville, Tennessee. Siebe was appointed principal of Farragut High School for the 2016-17 school year. His experiences are drawn from his principalship at Carter High School in Knox County Schools.)