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Sunday
Sep162007

The responsibility for effective staff development

samp17253e0896285d59.jpgMy first Sunday at home since July. Feels weird, but good. What shall I do? What shall I do?

Last week, Scott McLeod asked the question, 'Why is staff development so bad?" and Tim Stahmer follows up at Assorted Stuff. Both posts are well worth reading. A couple reactions/thoughts regarding staff development...

1. Professional development should be considered the responsibility of the professional, not the organization. Seems like I remember someplace in the dark recesses of what passed for my formal education, I was told that in order to be considered a "professional" one had to take responsibility for one's own learning. Tim laments that "teachers must get their training on their own time and often using their own money." And the problem here is....?

I will bet dollars to doughnuts that you, dear reader, consider perusing this blog some sick form of "professional development" and that you aren't reading it during school time. Dedicated professionals have always learned both in formal and informal ways, have done most learning outside the school day, have paid their own costs, and have made it a priority.

This is called being professional. Teachers need to act like professionals if they wish to be regarded as such. Sorry, but it's the truth. The logical consequence of professionals not taking their learning seriously is that they are so ineffectual they will no longer be employable. Well, that's the theory.

2. Organizations should facilitate individual/individualized staff development. Tim suggests an IEP for every teacher, something I have been advocating for some years, especially in the area of technology. In articles from 2000/2001 issues of Leading & Learning, I described our district efforts to create "professional growth targets" as a means of organizing technology staff development initiatives.

To meet a professional growth target for a year, we expect teachers to take about 30 non-school hours to learn enough to move at least one level on one of the Rubrics for Restructuring. The teacher, principal and other specialists jointly plan how those 30 hours are spent, and how the gain in knowledge and skills can be demonstrated and documented.

Tools to help make this happen are in the articles.

This worked pretty good for a couple years in our district, Here is what teachers told us about the approach:

At the district level, we have assessed the viability of such an individualized staff development approach. By using a survey tool, we found of the 38 respondents that:

70% felt they had successfully completed the PGT
70% thought the plan was clear
81% found the work they did meaningful
55% found the work they did learning about technology also helped them in other educational areas
78% found there were sufficient PGT options from which to choose
44% found these PGTs more rigorous than those in the past; 33% found them as rigorous

And then it fell apart, and I am not quite sure why. Mostly, I think, it was a lack of monitoring on the part of administrators as to whether any work was actually done. It's easier to just count heads in a formal staff development session. Our staff development folks, including our computer coordinator, didn't really buy into it. There was a general lack of trust that teachers would do the right thing. It was ahead of its time. i did not have the personal charisma to keep selling the project. Who knows?

Interestingly enough, our current Professional Learning Communities have some of these same elements, except now it is small groups rather than individuals who are planning and being held accountable for professional learning. A step in the right direction.

And I've not yet given up the fight about IEPs for teacher technology competencies. We just need to somehow thread them into the work the PLCs are doing. 

3. "Sit and git" has its place within the larger plan. First a disclaimer: I make pretty good beer money by going to conferences and giving one-time workshops and breakout sessions. I also enjoy attending these (sometimes).
Sit and Git, Spray and Pray (whatever the clever derogatory appellation du jour for short sessions offered during professional development days or conference is), such learning opportunities ought not to be simply dismissed as ineffective and drop kicked from the educational ball field. Like classroom lectures, good short sessions can be effective in meeting specific purposes. Those include:

  • Introducing participants to a new concept, theory or practice with the expectation of self-directed follow-up. (What is meant by authentic assessment.)
  • Teaching specific, useful skills, especially if practiced within the time allotted. (How to design a good rubric.)
  • Bending a mindset or encouraging an action. (Assessments can be used not just for ranking students, but to actually improve the learning process.)

Concrete, even discrete, learning opportunities have a place in professional development, provided they are part of a larger profession growth plan or teacher IEP.

OK, it's after 10AM. What did I once do with my Sundays? 

Friday
Sep142007

Can we cheat-proof schools?

"It's not the dumb kids who cheat," one Bay Area prep school student told me. "It's the kids with a 4.6 grade-point average who are under so much pressure to keep their grades up and get into the best colleges. They're the ones who are smart enough to figure out how to cheat without getting caught." from "Everybody Does It" by Regan McMahon, San Francisco Chronicle,Sept 9, 2007

cheating1.jpgIt's time we made a serious effort in finding pedagogical means of ending cheating. When 90% of high school students admit to cheating, something is out of whack. And it is hard to point a finger an entire generation of kids.

I've addressed why kids might cheat and how one might plagiarize-proof research assignments. But can teachers help make tests and homework cheat-proof as well?

McMahon suggests Top 5 Ways to Curb Cheating

  • Create an honor code with student input so they're invested in it
  • Seriously punish cheaters according the academic integrity policy
  • Create multiple versions of tests to make purloined answer keys useless
  • Ban electronic devices in testing rooms
  • Develop multiple modes of assessment so the grade is not determined primarily on tests

Of these, I would endorse last one. Here are Johnson's Top 5 Ways to Curb Cheating:

  • Use performance-based assessments that require personal application of or reaction to the topic
  • Be very clear about what will be tested/assessed
  • Make every assignment a group assignment with expectations that the role of each group member be clearly defined
  • Only make assignments that are actually necessary (Alfie Kohn writes that there is little correlation between test scores and homework.)
  • Eliminate "objective tests" or make them all open book.

What's wrong with the honor code business? Nothing except it seems we are in a social values shift about cheating and about property rights if 90% of a population no longer holds an older value. Personally, given my Boomer sensitivities, I think kids who cheat are little weasels. But then the majority of US citizens, by generations usually, have also changed their views on things like slavery, women's rights, gay rights, seat belts, smoking, littering, the environment, and Michael Jackson from what they were at one time.

I'd like to bang a drum about the need for a society that places less emphasis on test scores, that has a better means of choosing kids for colleges, and that values non-testable attributes of people. But you wouldn't want to listen and it wouldn't do much good. What is within the individual teacher's sphere of influence?

Anyway, read the article in the Chronicle and tell me how you would curb the cheating epidemic... 

Oh, I expect to get beat up on this entry. Have at it.

 

 

 

Thursday
Sep132007

Right Brain Skills and the Media Center

kqweb.jpgNow online: Right Brain Skills and the Media Center: A Whole New Mind(set), KQWeb March/April 2007.

Don't ask me why this has just been published in the March/April version!