Teacher Development

Good teachers, Freeman (2005) points out, “are expensive, as well they should be. They possess a magical combination of empathy, intelligence, ingenuity, patience and persistence – the very traits we’re trying to develop in our children.” When we refuse to spend money on schools, we turn away the hope of the children themselves. (p. 39)

Teachers are over-worked, underpaid and improperly trained for the responsibilities required of them in the classroom. Considering the role they play in the development of the “whole” child they are second only to the parent in the community. Conflicting or unclear education philosophies within a school district and the schools themselves can cause unnecessary stress on teachers which is passed on to the student either consciously or subconsciously through unnecessary learning-impairing impatience and anxiety.   One proof that education is in crisis is that so few students or teachers or administrators find it fun anymore – or delicious – or playful – or accessible. (Fox, 2005)

Schools that just send the entire staff to a workshop once a month where everyone gets the same are obsolete. Professional development is usually top down instead of the ground up where everyone gets what they want and need. This is because giving everyone (including students) what they need and want takes time & money. With things like Twitter, Pinterest, articles online, books, videos, co-operation & conversations employees can personalize their professional development (Ómarsson, 2014)

Some mathematicians have said professional development for math teachers should prioritize content knowledge over pedagogy. Treisman said many math teachers have the math knowledge to teach in a more open format that encourages growth mindsets, and they just need to strengthen the skills necessary to do so. Many of today’s math teachers were taught in very traditional classrooms, and many have not explored the subject in this way on their own, he said. That’s why teachers need to practice their own sense-making and model it for their students, Treisman said. If math were music, mastering the basic concepts would be like learning scales and leading students through discussions of open problems would be like playing songs, he said. “Teachers love the idea of mindsets as almost a panacea,” Treisman said, “but they themselves have very fixed ideas of their own learning.” http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/09/teachers-nurture-growth-mindsets-in-math.html

The best teachers are those who are continually reading, traveling, exploring ideas, attending artistic and musical events, engaging in philosophical discussions and political action, exercising their bodies – in short, searching for wisdom and understanding. The best teachers are always looking for ways to expand their knowledge and understanding. Conversely, the best students are those who are actively engaged in sharing ideas, conducting experiments and teaching others about their insights and visions. It may seem ironic, but good teachers are perpetual students and good students are active teachers. We reject the notion of a teacher’s guide, answer key or resource manual because it perpetuates the notion of fixed meaning and authoritarian expertise (Kincheloe, et al, 2000). Across subjects, researchers have found that a teacher’s own orientation to learning can affect whether their students have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset about their own abilities (Veronikas, 2004).

The best teachers have many interests and hobbies; they read journals and newspapers, write prose and poetry, attend plays and concerts, travel, organize community events, support social causes, meditate and, dream, volunteer in churches, lead youth athletics and cultural programs, visit museums, exercise and play sports, sing and play musical instruments, protect the environment, care for senior citizens and young children, nurture friendships, attend lectures, paint, plant, dance, carve, take photographs and much more. (Kincheloe, et al, 2000)

As changes have happened on the school front, voices calling for modifications in teacher preparation have become more strident. Indeed, while initiatives like The Kennedy Center’s partnerships with schools are assisting districts and arts agencies to work cooperatively with in-service teachers – with particular emphasis on the use of artists in the classroom – little is being done to prepare practicing teachers and preservice education majors to see the arts as integral instructional content and bodies of strategies to use on a daily basis. A new concept of arts integration goes beyond using media, singing, and drama for self-expression solely, important as these are. Instead, a broader conception depicts the arts as indispensable sources of cultural and historical information, diverse perspectives, and values. (Cornett, 1999, p. 3)

The worth of the arts as special disciplines, requiring teachers trained in each discipline, needs to be acknowledged; but a balanced perspective includes preparing classroom teachers to include the arts as content disciplines and means of learning—as alternative modes for expressing and understanding self, others, and the world (Cornett, 1999, p. 5).

 Dewey’s Teacher Qualifications

John Dewey (1904) not only re-imagined the way that the learning process should take place, but also the role that the teacher should play within that process. For Dewey, “The thing needful is improvement of education, not simply by turning out teachers who can do better the things that are not necessary to do, but rather by changing the conception of what constitutes education” (p. 18). Dewey felt that teacher qualifications should include:

  • A natural love for working with young children,
  • A natural propensity to inquire about the subjects,
  • Methods and other social issues related to the profession, and
  • A desire to share this acquired knowledge with others

Rather, than being a set of outward displayed set of mechanical skills they may be viewed as internalized principles or habits which “work automatically, unconsciously” (p. 15).

As Covington (1998) wrote, “The mission of schools will be best served, motivationally speaking, if we modify the rules of the learning game so that teachers and students become allies, not adversaries, with teachers acting as coaches, mentors, and resources for students as they prepare for their futures. This shift in the role of teachers requires a change in the prevailing way schools view the task of motivating students.” (Covington, p. 51)

Multicultural Empathy

In order to be effective in a multicultural society, teachers must understand and empathize with a diverse range of people and personalities. Too often nowadays people isolate themselves within their own social, political, church or ethnic enclaves, creating “cultural ghettos” where frustration, feat, prejudice and ignorance flourish. Educators must consciously step out of their own comfort zones to meet and accommodate other people, ideas and beliefs.

Like the Ulster Project, which gathers together Protestant and Catholic Northern Ireland teenagers in nonthreatening U.S. communities for a summer of friendship and learning, teachers and students should experience many cultures in a non-confrontational context. We could, for example, attend religious services in a tradition totally different from our own theological beliefs – Buddhist, Orthodox Christian, Pantheist, Unitarian, Wiccan, Catholic, Voodoo, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu or Jewish – and enter into a sincere relationship with a person of that belief, or for that matter a confirmed atheist or agnostic.

In the process, we should learn and affirm without proselytizing or debating. Rather than convert or judge, we should seek to listen, learn, care, discuss, appreciate and befriend. We might also seek to befriend persons from minority or excluded groups in the community who are ostracized or feared – maybe a gay or lesbian, a physically challenged individual, a single mother receiving public assistance, a homeless family, a prisoner, a racially mixed couple, a child with learning or behavior problems, a socialist or a fundamentalist. When possible, educators should visit the homes and gathering places of students from various socioeconomic backgrounds.

We once spent a weekend as a part of a discussion group in the New Orleans Desire Housing Project. Several teachers came together with single parents living in poverty in a crime-infested, densely populated neighborhood. Getting to know real people with specific concerns, fears and hopes proved both informative and transformative. African American author Toni Morrison has observed that there really is no such thing as “the other” because “the other” is really “the self.” When we get to know people who are “different,” we enlarge our own self-understanding; we heal divisions one friendship at a time (Kincheloe, et al, 2000).

Teacher Training and Technology

Thinking of students as producers implies that students are actively participating in the learning process and this occurs in an interactive classroom that uses interactive tools. Producer also means that students are operating at the highest level of higher order thinking skills as they analyze, synthesize, and present knowledge to peers both locally and globally.

Integrating technological understanding within methods courses fosters the development of teaching philosophies enhanced by technology. While we can and should attempt to influence veteran teachers to use an interactive pedagogy supported by technological tools, it is even more critical to begin this process with pre-service teachers.

Schools of education believe that it is a good idea to have pre-service teachers intern (student teaching + observation) before actually taking the reins of an individual classroom. Similarly, pre-service teachers must grapple with the complexities of effectively integrating technologies that will create interactive teaching and learning environments for students.

It is important to have technology skills but teachers must carefully think about cognitive aspects of using technology in teaching and practice creating lessons that integrate technology while taking methods courses. Methods and foundations courses must infuse frameworks that highlight technology as an integral part of planning, designing, implementing, and assessing student learning. Future methods courses should have interactive technologies available, allowing pre-service teachers to practice with interactive technology as they learn. Pre-service teachers who enter the field without a concept of creating interactive learning environments may not develop an interactive philosophy as an in-service teacher. General technology courses coupled with methods courses that integrate interactive technology will create teachers who are prepared to transform the classroom into interactive learning environments.

Transforming the process of teaching and learning will mean that teachers create fundamentally different learning environments that promote interactivity. When teachers are prepared with a sense of integrating technology to create interactive learning environments, it will be part of everything they do in the classroom. Pre-service teachers need to be trained in ways that encourage them to think of learners as knowledge producers, rather than consumers. (Sessoms, 2008)

As Johnson, et al (2014) noted, digital badging is being implemented not only for the learner’s benefit, but for the teacher’s, too. The Worlds of Learning program at New Milford High School (NMHS) in New Jersey was developed to encourage the school’s teachers to learn about technology tools and applications in the classroom. (p. 175) Aligned with both ISTE’s NETs Standards for Teachers and Common Core standards, the Worlds of Learning program was intended by its creator to be a digital method of tracking and sharing informal, on-the-job learning experiences. The badges can be presented on Credly, a free, universal badge sharing platform; Mozilla OpenBadge; on teachers’ websites or blogs; and on the NMHS Worlds of Learning website. At the end of the year, teachers can incorporate their digital badges into their professional growth portfolios, which they present at their annual evaluation conference. (p. 176)

Teaching Authentic Learning

In order to facilitate authentic learning in their classrooms, teachers continue to need adequate support to update their pedagogies and teaching materials. policy makers, parent groups, and others are coming together to develop authentic learning experiences for secondary students, while providing education programs for teachers to help them incorporate this new curriculum in their classrooms (p. 84). As teachers’ roles become more multifaceted, their ability to manage social interactions in safe and productive ways is taking on more importance in the total school environment. The “Learning Positive Discipline” project is part of the Grundtvig Learning Partnership, an effort to address the kinds of behavior problems that may limit a student’s ability to communicate and work with others effectively. Funded by the EU, the project has produced a guide, three modules of professional development, and an appendix of 50 positive discipline techniques. The goal is to help teachers facilitate conflict management and stimulate positive behaviors. (Johnson, 2014, p. 147)

Teachers as Researchers

Teachers should be trained to be in-field education researchers. All teachers are social scientists in the classroom and because of the hours spent making sense of the complex interaction of and with their students, with the appropriate training they would be in an ideal situation to add to K-12 education research. As Banks (1998) held:

Social science and historical research are influenced in complex ways by the life experiences, values, and personal biographies of the researcher; It is not their experiences per se that cause individuals to acquire specific values and knowledge during their socialization within their ethnic or cultural communities; rather, it is their interpretations of their experiences. (p.10)

In a study about early social-emotional functioning (Jones, et al., 2015) teacher participated to reach the following objectives:

We examined whether kindergarten teachers’ ratings of children’s prosocial skills, an indicator of noncognitive ability at school entry, predict key adolescent and adult outcomes. Our goal was to determine unique associations over and above other important child, family, and contextual characteristics. Data came from the Fast Track study of low–socioeconomic status neighborhoods in 3 cities and 1 rural setting. We assessed associations between measured outcomes in kindergarten and outcomes 13 to 19 years later (1991–2000). Models included numerous control variables representing characteristics of the child, family, and context, enabling us to explore the unique contributions among predictors. We found statistically significant associations between measured social-emotional skills in kindergarten and key young adult outcomes across multiple domains of education, employment, criminal activity, substance use, and mental health. A kindergarten measure of social-emotional skills may be useful for assessing whether children are at risk for deficits in noncognitive skills later in life and, thus, help identify those in need of early intervention. These results demonstrate the relevance of noncognitive skills in development for personal and public health outcomes. (Jones, et al, 2015)

Also see: K-12 Professional Development