Recently I was asked if I had ever come across teachers who did not want to engage in professional development. My answer was a resounding "YES!" The truth is, when I was teaching full time, I was that teacher. I dreaded mandatory professional development. I usually considered PD to be a complete waste of time… time that could be used to grade papers, plan for lessons, or research methods to engage my students. In addition, professional development was typically delivered during faculty meetings and I absolutely hated faculty meetings! I loathed the fact that I had to listen to an administrator drone on about a new initiative or mandatory directive. I was even somewhat defiant when it came to PD that I found to be worthless.
The problem wasn’t the fact that the professional development was worthless. The PD may have been great… but I wasn’t interested. Let me pause to say that I was an amazingly hard-working teacher. I went above and beyond the call of duty, and I did my own personal “professional development.” I researched ways to better engage and instruct my students. I read blogs and followed scholastic’s top teachers. I owned dozens of professional books that I used to learn about reading and writing workshops, classroom management, math methods and more. I spent hours online searching for resources and studying how to better incorporate technology in the classroom. Why did I work on my own but disregard required professional development? The answer is multifaceted, and I believe it reflects similar problems we face in today’s classrooms…. drive.
If you haven’t read Drive by Daniel Pink, I highly recommend that you do. While it is geared toward business, I find it to be highly relevant to education. In his book, Pink argues that we are all innately driven to direct our own lives (autonomy), to improve and get better at things that matter (mastery), and to do something positive or serve something larger than ourselves (purpose). I think these three elements are vital when motivating teachers and has a lot to do with lack of engagement in professional development.
Why wasn’t I interested in the professional development that was required of me? Simple, I wasn’t given any choice… who, what, when, where, and why were all decided for me. There was no consideration of my learning style/preference nor opportunity for self-direction. I was expected to work in the same fashion, on the same topic and at the same pace as everyone else. I believe that by providing more autonomy, we might find teachers to be more driven. Pink points out that autonomy has a powerful effect on individual performance and attitude. Researchers have even found a link between autonomy and overall well-being.
Teachers might be more driven to participate in professional development if they are given more flexibility. Allow teachers to decide what, when, where, with whom, how and to complete tasks. What topics do they want to learn more about? Do they study online, in person, reading books, attending lectures, etc.? I know, this might seem like a crazy idea. Most educators I know tend to be control freaks. (I surely am.) Pink states, “it requires resisting the temptation to control people — and instead doing everything we can to reawaken their deep-seated sense of autonomy.”
It is important to note that encouraging autonomy doesn’t mean discouraging accountability. There will be times in which flexibility is not an option. Specific professional development will be mandatory, but the hope is that by providing teachers with more autonomy they will want to be accountable. Leaders might also allow teachers creative free time in which they are able to practice and apply their own interests to the required professional development topics.
Mastery is defined as the desire to get better and better at something that matters. This element seems incredibly critical when discussing professional development. After all, isn’t the purpose of professional development to develop mastery? Pink explains that mastery can only be achieved through engagement. He also points out “in our offices and classrooms we have way to much compliance and way too little engagement.” It’s true. When I was teaching didn’t see value in the required professional development. It didn’t matter to me… therefore I wasn’t engaged.
Pink explains that mastery begins when the challenges we face are matched with our abilities and we become lost in what we are doing. Personally, I only become lost in what I am doing when truly enjoying it, and I did not truly enjoy obligatory professional development. What if leaders step back and stop trying to spoon-feed teachers, opening up opportunities for teachers to develop their own ideas, opinions, and techniques? What if we not only ask what is that teachers need to master, but what do they want to master and what will it take to get there? To foster an environment where mastery is possible, clearly defined goals and immediate feedback are key factors that must be established.
According to Pink, there are three rules in which mastery abides by:
Most educators enter their profession to make a difference in the lives of their others. Teachers are like personal trainers. We coach and encourage students to be the best they can be, helping them through tough work while making them do the heavy lifting to achieve results. So a teacher’s purpose depends not only on his or her own success but the success of the student. Unfortunately it is easy for teachers to become consumed by activities and lose sight of the greater purpose. In addition to preparing students for a test, grading endless piles of papers, and fulfilling mandates that include meetings, paperwork, and after-school events, professional development becomes one more activity in a teacher’s already full schedule. It is important that leaders encourage teachers and provide ample positive feedback so that they continue to feel successful.
It is also important to cultivate an environment where teachers feel valued and a sense of belonging... I mean, who doesn’t want to be valued? Teachers must understand the purpose and see the value of required professional development. Teachers must have a set of objectives and take responsibility for their own learning. Leaders should ask teachers to play an active role in the professional development and to contribute in some way. This will give teachers a sense of worth, significance and satisfaction.
Teachers have the drive to learn, to create, and to better the world. This drive must not be stifled. To maximize teacher enjoyment and productivity, we need to transform our thinking to include autonomy, mastery and purpose. In my next blog entry (and upcoming webinar) I will address ways in which technology and professional learning communities can enhance teacher engagement in professional development based on Pink’s theories.
The Common Core State Standards have certainly raised some controversy – debates regarding the amount of work for teachers, poor student performance, federal regulations versus state’s rights, and the legitimacy of the Standards themselves. I’m sure there are other arguments; but as I mentioned in my last post, I believe our educational system is on the right track by adopting the Standards.
I didn’t come to this conclusion immediately. Initially I believed the Common Core Standards to be a great effort at uniting America’s educational system, but also understood the annoyance of those against big government policies. After listening to many of my teacher friends complain about the implementation of the Standards, I decided to dive in and study the Standards in depth to gain a better understanding of their content and development.
I began my journey by reading the mission statement and “About the Standards.” I looked at the key points in English language arts and math, and I examined all of the Anchor Standards. I then read the introduction to each of the Standards and printed out the math and ELA Standards to study while I traveled. This became my go to reading material when I wasn’t allowed to use electronic devices during take off or landing! As I studied, I also looked for the consideration of technology in the design and ways technology could be used in the implementation of the Standards. I used Diigo to bookmark and highlight all of points that I felt to be significant. (You can see my notes here.) Out of everything I read, I pulled out three critical points, which I’d like to address.
First, the Standards are “designed to be robust and relevant to the real world.” I am a strong believer that students must understand that education isn’t about sitting at a desk listening to a teacher lecture, but education is about making sense of our world. I have seen so many teachers fall into the rut of teaching to the test… whether that is following the structure of a textbook or making sure that every state standard is covered one by one. Teachers are so consumed with getting everything done that students become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content being introduced but never deeply examined or they are bored by the lecture, worksheet, test routine.
The Common Core Standards were designed to be more rigorous, allowing teachers to slow down and delve deeper into the material. This is crucial as studies reveal that focusing on in-depth learning of concepts supports richer understanding and results in improved performance overall. By cutting back on multiple topics, teachers should be able to focus on central concepts and create experiences that are more meaningful and relevant to the students’ lives. Dan Meyer does an amazing job exemplifying this.
Second, the Standards do not “dictate curriculum or teaching methods.” I love Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk titled, “Do schools kill creativity?” in which he explains why educational systems should nurture creativity. I believe that teachers are some of the most creative people on earth, but due to the pressures mentioned in my last point, many have completely lost eagerness to be creative. Because the Standards “focus on results rather than means,” teachers are now given the time and flexibility to be creative without being restricted in the process. The Standards also call for students to “engage with the subject matter and model understanding.” How can teachers not utilize their own creativity when they design lessons that engage students and encourage student creativity?
Finally, the Standards take an interdisciplinary approach. I am a firm believer that education should be fluid; curricula should be designed to promote interconnections between and among the content areas. The ELA Standards call for an increase in “literacy and vocabulary in social studies, science and technical subjects to build knowledge, gain insight, and broaden perspective.” Rather than using a textbook to teach individual subjects, teachers might use trade books, informational texts, and primary sources to impart content knowledge related to social studies or science while also teaching conventions, effective language usage, and vocabulary, all of which is essential for reading, writing, speaking and listening. The Math Standards call for students to “analyze situations, model understanding, construct arguments, and critique the reasoning of others.” Students must be able to communicate effectively to justify their understanding of mathematics and apply it to practical situations in everyday life. None of this can be done without a solid grasp of language skills.
While I do not believe that the Common Core State Standards are a silver bullet in education, I am convinced that as a nation we are on the right track. I outlined three points that I believe support the implementation of the Common Core and I have found many other great points within the Standards (especially ways to incorporate the use of technology) that I discuss in my professional development sessions. My desire is for the Common Core to be the beginning of a fundamental overhaul of what and how we teach. Our students deserve to be engaged in authentic, real world, rigorous learning experiences that focus on the meaningful application of core academic knowledge.
Now that the Standards are being implemented, teachers, schools, and districts are faced with the challenge of successfully building a rigorous curriculum (aligned to the CCSS) that is built around 21st century competencies - critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication while also incorporating the use of technology. Recently, a friend loaned me a book I believe to be extremely relevant to this challenge:
Teacher as Architect was written by educators to be a guide in “instructional design and delivery for the modern teacher.” It walks the reader through the steps to become an “architect of learning,” and it provides the tools and resources needed to build the aforementioned curriculum. Teacher as Architect addresses the questions, “What does it mean to be a modern teacher? How has education changed over time?” And, “What are the best practices in education for our 21st century learners?”
I found Teacher as Architect to be insightful and highly relevant to the challenges teachers are currently facing. The hands-on style of writing allowed me to interact with the content. The tools and resources better equipped me to construct engaging curricula appropriate for the 21st century learner. Accompanying the book is an online resource library based around the book’s four core principals that maximize teaching effectiveness. The library also contains professional development kits complete with PowerPoints, PDFs, activities, and guides for facilitators and participants. A Questioning Flip Book is a part of the tool kit and is another remarkable reference to help teachers plan and effectively use questions in lessons. For anyone in education... it is a must read!
Just after I wrote my last entry regarding STEM education and critical thinking, I stumbled upon an article in The Economist titled, “Best and brightest… Only a few countries are teaching children how to think.” The article summarized Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And how they Got That Way. I was absolutely amazed with the first paragraph in the article describing an American company forced to open factories abroad due to the lack of skilled workers in the U.S.
"…the skills [needed] to fill even [the] most basic factory jobs require workers to think critically. Graduates of local schools are often unable to read or do simple maths."
Wow, this was so similar to what I had been writing about earlier that I picked up my iPad and ordered the book.
I began to read and couldn’t put the book down. The author follows three foreign exchange students to Poland, Finland, and North Korea as she investigates the successes and failures of these educational systems. Her description of Finland’s educational reform in the 1970’s parallels the reform efforts taking place in America’s educational system today, and her analysis of their educational history, policy, and culture reveal two key factors essential to educational reform: academic standards and teacher quality. Not only that, but the largest contributing factor for success was not the amount of money spent on technology in the classroom nor student engagement, but “rigor”—clear and high expectations shared by students, parents, teachers, administrators.
"To give our kids the kind of education they deserve we must first agree that rigor matters most of all; that school exists to help kids learn to think, to work hard, and yes, to fail. That is the core consensus that makes everything else possible."
Ripley does an outstanding job of illustrating the need for critical thinking and the implementation of rigor into our school system. I highly recommend this book especially to educators and parents, and I believe that the American educational system is on the right path as we adopt the common core standards. (To this, I will speak more in my next entry.)