Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Support Funding for Professional Development

Imagine what it would be like in a world without professional development for doctors! Allow me to paint a picture. Late this summer, my wife Ann and I took a trip to Gettysburg, PA. I have wanted to go there for quite some time and an interest in history has always been a passion. In fact, had I not become a music teacher I would have become a history teacher. Anyway, in addition to visiting the battlefield and the numerous museums around town, there were a lot of artifacts and displays dedicated to civil war medicine. There were thousands of casualties during Gettysburg and medicine was very primitive. Field hospitals were literally set up everywhere, from farmhouse barns to tents adjacent to the battlefield. You know what the most common treatment for battlefield injury was? Amputation. Look how far we have come! 

If you have followed this blog for a while, then you no doubt understand where I land on the importance of professional development. Like any other profession, teaching requires continual training in order for our practitioners to stay up to date on the latest trends in instructional strategies, learn new processes, and implement research based curriculum with fidelity. Teaching and learning is not the same as it was when you and I went to school. Gone are the days of rote learning where memorization was the key to a good grade in school (and ultimately a good paying job in the local factory). Instead we are focused more and more on understanding. Rather than memorize facts and regurgitate information on a multiple choice test, we are more interested in a students' critical thinking skills, and their ability to solve problems (because those are the types of jobs that our kids are going to have). Instead of giving simple answers to a question, we are interested in having students explain why they gave a particular answer. Teaching is evolving, with an expectation that practitioners be comfortable with a multitude of highly advanced technological devices. They must be comfortable analyzing and sorting data in a way that will enable them to adjust instruction on the fly, meeting the needs of an ever increasing population of diverse learners. Gone are chalkboards, overhead projectors, and two dimensional learning models. Today's classroom features advanced technology more powerful than we ever could have imagined, learning models that span the globe, and coursework in STEM fields that was never even dreamed of ten years ago. Does this sound like a complex field? It is, and I have only scratched the surface.

As Hudson has embarked on the implementation of a new and robust system of teacher leadership in our district, we have a guiding vision to strengthen instruction through embedded professional development that is designed, delivered, and dissected by our teacher leadership structure. Research shows that the most effective way in which to implement professional development [into] practice is to not only show the worth of the strategy, but give the opportunity to try it out and then be coached in an effort to fine tune the new learning. When selecting the learning for our faculty, we must first be concerned with why we think it will work. In other words, what is the theory behind the practice? After we have established that theory of practice, our teacher leaders are in a position where they can demonstrate that professional development to the remainder of the faculty. This gives the teachers the opportunity to see the strategy or learning in a laboratory or clinical setting (enter Model Teacher classrooms). Or perhaps this is during an inservice, webinar, and even in front of a live classroom. Following this demonstration, the practitioner is able to take the strategy back to their classroom and put it into practice. After trying the strategy out a few times, our teacher leaders will be able to see the strategy in action to determine whether or not it is working and to trouble shoot areas of difficulty the practitioner may be experiencing. It is through this coaching that we are truly able to see professional development become an engrained part of practice that can be taken to scale school or district wide. 

We know this system works! The ultimate winners in this type of system are the multiple student learners who are able to learn material at a much deeper and rigorous level. That is why we support full state funding that encourages local initiatives (such as the Hudson Teacher Leadership Plan) to fully comply with current professional development requirements. The Iowa Professional Development Model, which is described above is a program requirement for Iowa schools. Implementation of these models and requirements are not cheap. We are grateful for the funding that has been provided for the fiscal year that we are currently in, this will go a long way toward ensuring full and deep implementation. Those funds include:

  1. Student Achievement and Professional Development funding $56,791,351 (statewide) in Hudson used to fund PLC training.
  2. Iowa Reading Research Center $1,000,000 (statewide) a clearinghouse that develops and disseminates best practices in reading intervention and instruction.
  3. AEA Support for System of Teacher Leadership (statewide) This is critical for the 39 districts like Hudson that are implementing TLC programs this year. Funding will offset costs associated with training of principals and teacher leaders.
  4. Administrator Mentoring $1,000,000 (statewide)
We urge this practice to continue with sustainable funding for the fiscal year that will begin on July 1, 2015. Teaching will continue to evolve as it has for decades. Quality professional development is not cheap, and some day soon we just may be saying 'gone are the days of learning models like we had in 2014'. What will the future hold?

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