Recently, as I was tweeting about the need for teachers to be more aware of what was going on within their profession an unexpected tweet response came from a connected educator who I greatly respect and hold in high regard. He tweeted that he was tired of the teacher bashing. I was upset for that was the furthest thing from my mind as I tweeted my opinions out.
I have always supported teachers and have a record of doing so during my very public run in social media for the last decade. It is my belief that those who would limit or even dissolve public education for the sake of advancing a for-profit alternative have scapegoated teachers in recent times.
There are few things wrong with the education system that can’t be improved by properly educating and supporting teachers who are already working in the system. The exception to this of course is the problems specifically related to schools in areas of poverty, both urban and rural. These schools have problems that will require more solutions than supported professional development can provide. The problems: personal, political and cultural of these schools may be helped by supported PD, but the foundational issues need more political solutions.
Probably the biggest problem teachers have is the rapid rate of change that occurs in our computer-driven culture. Things change so fast, that we are now faced with “data obsolescence”. That which we believe to be true today, may not be true, or might be replaced by another fact or improvement in the upcoming year. Unless the very system that educates our population keeps up with these changes in a timely fashion it will itself in time become irrelevant.
The model of professional development that the system relies on most heavily is the same system that has been in place for at least century. Educators can get PD from in-house programs by consultants or peers, college courses, and conferences. Some schools have prescribed topics for PD others allow a more personal selection for educators. Most of these courses rely heavily on pedagogy to deliver the content. The problem that I see with this model is in two parts.
Using pedagogy to teach seems the right way for educators to teach because they have all been educated on what it is, and how to use it for teaching. It makes sense educators are masters of pedagogy, the method of teaching children. Therein lies the rub. Professional Development is the teaching of adults, not children. Andragogy is required for teaching adults who have different goals, needs and motivations from children.
Adults learn best through collaboration (I believe most kids do as well.). The best tool for collaboration is discussion. Adults come to the table with life experience. Many educators getting PD may be more experienced than the person providing the PD. Adults need to be respected as adults and not children. Adults are goal oriented. They know much of what it is they need, or at least seek, to know, and they want to learn it today in order to use it tomorrow. Adults are relevancy oriented; if it doesn’t fit their needs they will be less interested in learning about it.
All of this suggests to me that a Power Point presentation delivered by someone who may be lacking knowledge of effective Power Point delivery fails to meet the needs of adult learners. Here is a quick video taken at a public school’s system-wide professional development session. This came at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Is this the way we should teach adults, or anyone for that matter? https://youtu.be/eAy3vJn4pbs
The second area of professional development that concerns me is the relevance of what educators learn. We know change now comes faster than we have ever experienced in history before and, if technology has its way, that rate of change will always increase in speed. In order to keep up with change in education someone needs to be involved with it, where it is happening, or at least connected with those who are. Most educators lack the time or the inclination to do so. Most efforts to get a majority of educators connected and collaborating have failed to capture the intellectual drive of a majority of educators. There are districts however, that have placed amongst their faculty teacher coaches who support the learning teachers need with support time and direction.
After a decade of trying to get all educators connected and collaborating, I have come to recognize this probably will not happen. However, if we can’t get the entire faculty of a district connected to the thought leaders in education, than why not connect them with colleagues who are connected educators? These coaches may provide relevance, collaboration and support that are not evident in conventional PD delivered by most schools. It gives educators time to get comfortable with connecting with others. Even if adults know what it is they want to learn as a goal, too often they don’t know what it is that they don’t know. They have not been connected to the very people driving the latest thinking in education. The ideas that are being discussed in the connected community of educators are not yet being discussed in faculty rooms of the unconnected. Teacher coaches are connected and they can provide relevant new ideas to the less connected majority.
To many, the idea of teacher coaches is still an experiment. These coaches are often regular teachers with a penchant for technology and a collaborative mindset. They are often on split schedules as a part-time teacher and a part-time coach. We need to establish these coaches as a firm position in schools. They need to be trained in both technology and adult learning. Their class load will consist of adults and their schedules must be flexible in order to teach, collaborate, and nurture their students. This will prioritize relevant professional development incorporating it into the job description of educators. It will be part of every educator’s workweek.
Many of the problems in education can be eliminated or at the very least improved by properly providing, supporting, and maintaining respectful, relevant and collaborative professional development. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.