I began this course curious as to how to motivate adults to take part as active and engaged stakeholders in continuous improvement, and intimidated by the idea of working as a leader of adults, as I have limited experience with this and am younger than most of my colleagues. At the beginning of the course I reflected
I am curious to see how professional learning can be pursued through a social justice lens in this class this Quarter, as is mentioned in the article “Building Hope, Giving Affirmation” by Stephanie Hirsh and Shirley M. Hord. I do feel like social justice issues have been raised by our administration, and this year, we were encouraged to work in our PLCs to design units of work that would be accessible to low income students and our African American and Latino students. Unfortunately, we were given little time and no guidance/resources for how to do this, and so teachers more focused on designing collaborative units of work more than units designed to support specific populations of students within the school.
Now, at the end of the course my interests and learning have come full circle. Without looking back on this pre-assessment, I ended up working on a plan to leverage Teacher Experts at my school in order to close the achievement gap between African American and Hispanic students and their peers (see project link here: collaboration-and-communication-project-proposal).
According to Zepeda’s Adult Learning Theory, “adult learning should be built on ownership, appropriateness, structure, collaboration, internalizaton, reflection, and motivation.” (p.47) Throughout the course I learned various strategies that can be implemented within the school setting to engage staff in professional development that responds to how adults learn including: embedding professional development within the job, giving teachers choice over what professional development (PD) they need and how they would like to learn and thus giving teachers ownership and making sure PD is appropriate for the teacher’s level of knowledge and expertise, making sure PD applies directly to the job, and engaging teachers in leadership opportunities throughout the school, including the opportunity to share their learning with others. (Zepeda, p.59) I agree that all these factors play integral roles in adult learning, however I believe that ownership and motivation, two qualities that are closely intertwined, are some of the most powerful but also the most frequently overlooked and under appreciated by politicians passing educational policy, and even by many district and school administrators. Possible strategies for engaging teachers in this process include:
- Learning Communities (PLCs)
- Job-embedded professional learning
- Professional Coaching
- Book studies, teacher study groups
- Whole faculty study groups
- Action Research
One piece of learning that I found particularly helpful in this course was the Principal Interview (Link here: principal-interview). After reflecting on the importance of leveraging teachers as key participants in their own professional development, I was dismayed and disappointed to realize that my principal and admin team did not employ many strategies to elicit teacher voice or engagement in the professional development process. Through this interview I learned that the process to decide whole staff development focus was often district driven, but that the admin team got together in the summer of each year to decide what the focus would be. Teachers are not consulted, nor a part of this process. The only teacher voice in professional development at our school seems to come from two sources:
- Teacher-initiated professional development: a teacher or whole staff request a particular training that the school funds.
- JAT (Juanita Administration Team) made up of Teacher Leaders (department chairs) in addition to the principal and three assistant principals: This team does give feedback to the Admin Team regarding professional development, but are not party to designing the development experiences.
For some reason unknown to me, the admin team does not seem to prioritize teacher voice in the planning of professional development. More so, according to my Principal, the team relies on their one-on-one conversations with teachers, classroom observations, and district focus to determine the direction of professional development for the year, and yes, the focus is different year to year.
Very importantly, leaders should promote teachers sharing expertise the wide range of experiences that teachers bring with them. This can be done in many ways, such as asking teachers who are exceptional in one area or another to lead break-out sessions on their areas of expertise during LEAP days (professional development days). (See link: cstp-fillingleadershipvac) In addition to this, school administrators and leaders need to frame the evaluation process as an opportunity for the principal or evaluator to ask questions, for the teacher to be reflective on his/her practice, and for administrator and teacher to engage in talk about growth opportunities and how the evaluator can help facilitate this growth (provide necessary resources, for example). If the administrator makes professional development and continued growth a priority in this evaluation disucussion, then possibly the evaluation system can be a vehicle for growth, instead of a high-stakes farce.
A believe for this to happen however, the evaluator needs to be very mindful of how he/she dialogues with the teacher. For example, asking questions such as “Have you considered…” or “What forms of formative assessment did you used? What did they tell you about student learning?” “What would happen if…” “What do you think about…” In this way, the evaluator can probe and guide the teacher to focus on aspects of practice in a reflective way that can lead to the teacher himself/herself identifying areas for growth.
“If schoolwide changes about attitudes and expectations are a desired outcome, then settings that convene the entire staff for hard conversations and facilitated dialogue may be necessary first steps.” (Hirsh & Hord) The article “Building Hope, Giving Affirmation” discusses the need to support a schoolwide learning process where teachers work in teams (PLCs) to set professional learning goals, are then supported by receiving training in required/desired areas to help them build knowledge and skills that can change pedagogy or deepen content knowledge, and then bring these new ideas and skills back to their PLCs to being cycles of inquiry and data analysis to further work towards the goal. I agree this is an ideal situation, one that I would very much like to participate in. (See link here: building-hope-giving-affirmation-hirsch-and-hord)
However, in my experience, although there are regular, notable successes in collaboration and team learning, implementation of this process has often been imperfect and frustrating for a variety of reasons. My main concern coming from my professional experiences, is that there rarely, if ever, is time given to having the hard and meaningful conversations that have to happen to cause real change in individual attitudes and philosophies regarding best practice, students’ needs, assessment, and collaboration. As Hirsh & Hord mention, “while we can start with changing behaviors, if we don’t modify beliefs about our children’s needs and what is truly required to provide them social justice, we will make changes at the superficial level and will not initiate nor sustain true and lasting change (Guerra & Nelson, 2009).”
At my school over the last two years, school administrators have been pushing us to think about our practice through a social justice lens. Last year we began talking about race, culture, and our diversifying school. We began to discuss bias and how we can or should address the needs of a multicultural student body. However, this conversation never progressed past the first two whole staff trainings. We never got to a point where strategies or training was offered to help staff develop their abilities to address needs of diverse students, or to teach multicultural education. Thus, although it was an important conversation to have, I question what change it had on actual teacher practice.
I have learned this year that collaborating with staff in a continuous learning loop is the essential foundation for a school culture open to and focused on continuous improvement. This means that principals and administrators need to re-imagine their roles and give up some leadership power to staff. In doing so, principals can empower their staff and motivate them to continue improving and learning for the betterment of students. Zapeda mentions seven Pathways to Instructional Improvement: Increased knowledge of subject matter, increased knowledge of instruction, increased ability to observe students, stronger collegial networks, stronger connections of daily practice to long term goals, stronger motivation and sense of efficacy, and improved quality of available lesson plans. I believe that as a teacher leader, the most significant challenge when working to increase collaboration at my school would be “staff’s lack of goals and lack of understanding the connectivity required between goals and practice.” (p. 229) This is significant because the teachers I work with are mostly highly experienced, effective practitioners who keep students’ well-being at the center of all they do. I strongly believe that if teachers can connect the impact of their efforts to student impact, they will be willing to invest the time and effort, and building of trust and collaboration, that is necessary to accomplish the goal. Unfortunately, most of the collaboration we do now is mandated, top-down. Most teachers I work with do not see the goal and cannot connect the work we are mandated to do with student impact or improvement. There is thus no buy-in. As a teacher leader or administrator, I would work to get creative to give teachers more time to collaborate. I would then set a clear expectation that increased collaboration, in order to benefit student well-being and performance is the goal. I would provide opportunities for teachers to discuss their values and build a common vision and purpose, and to build trust amongst themselves. Then I would give teachers choices in how they collaborated and with whom. I would give them options such as book studies, lesson studies, PD leadership opportunities, coaching opportunities, PCCs, etc. and teachers would have to choose at least 1 way that they would participate in one of the collaborative communities. Hopefully by giving teachers choice, staff would be able to find personal and professional meaning in the work that directly linked back to their daily work with students.