Sunday, May 4, 2008


"People want the attention -- no one likes to feel like an underappreciated cog in an overworked machine."
~ Vicki Davis
Vicki was commenting on a post from Ed Tech Trek titled "I'm beaming". In the post, Caroline Obannon was expressing her joy when working individually with a teacher who saw clearly and enthusiastically how a tool could be used in his classroom.

The moral of the story is that teachers are very, very busy people and need to be treated with respect. It is so very easy for people who don't spend every day in the classroom to pontificate by throwing out elaborate schemes that in the end are not workable given limited time and energy. I saw it many times during my 32 years in the classroom. Those who work on making changes in our schools must do so without arrogance and self-righteousness. It is time to start trusting teachers while giving them our support.

The ultimate irony is for an outsider to give a lecture to a crowd of teachers on a professional development day on how teachers should be using collaboration, teamwork, constructivism, project-based learning, and interdisciplinary teaching with their students. And yet, how often does it happen? I know I've been guilty of that approach. Not good.

Coincidentally, thanks to Michael Richards' Notes from Millie D blog, I discovered the following:

An Ode to Study Groups

By Folwell Dunbar

From the early Neolithic or late Pliocene
To just yesterday afternoon around half past four
The professional development most often seen
Had participants screaming and running for the door!

The principal would attend a workshop in July,
Buy the hottest new book or some videocassette.
He would come back to school with a twinkle in his eye
And write an S.I.P. teachers could never regret!

A Ph.D. with a huge ego and résumé
Would visit the school two or three times during the year.
And show every last teacher an enlightened way
To make A.Y.P. without even an ounce of fear.

He would stand at the podium and preach to the choir
Bout' NCLB and shared accountability.
"We must raise the bar and then jump higher and higher!
Teach from bell to bell with sense and sensitivity!"

The teachers would leave the cafetorium in glee
With reams of information packed with jargon to spare.
Lugging binders and handouts (at a nominal fee),
They would return to class both in rapture and aware...

Of research-based "best practices" that were tried and true
And lesson strategies that could not possibly fail!
The administration was sharp, knew just what to do:
They had "stood and delivered" the PD Holy Grail!

But as we all know, school change is a tricky business;
It's hard as a tack and never happens overnight.
Workshops don't work, all victims would certainly confess.
It requires blood, sweat, and tears and a terrific fight!

Faculty buy-in and active participation
Are key ingredients for real, successful reform.
To bring about such a meaningful transformation
We have to make the two an essential PD norm.

Embed them throughout the entire training process
To ensure that teachers get both what they want and need.
Create a new culture dedicated to progress
Where everyone has an opportunity to lead.

To accomplish this, there is only one thing to do:
Sound the alarm and rally the much-beleaguered troops;
Get rid of workshops and empower the in-school crew.
Change the paradigm; adopt faculty study groups!

Six to eight people working together side by side
Go explore topics and issues relevant to each.
They travel miles and miles deep and hardly an inch wide,
Until they discover a better, new way to teach.

From crunching numbers to trying a new high-tech tool,
From reading a great book to designing a lesson,
They do any number of things to improve the school.
It is always worthwhile and occasionally fun.

Study groups will increase student achievement and more.
They will earn the school district and state impunity.
But much more important than any assessment score,
You'll be a professional learning community!

Let's hope that the the phrase, professional learning community, doesn't deteriorate to simply mean business as usual. Let's not use language to get in the way of communication . . . but instead to help develop clarity and understanding.

1 comment:

Harold Shaw said...

Jim - are you saying that we should let teacher's teach. Wow that is an interesting proposition - perhaps even a novel idea.

But who would listen, certainly not the politicians, parents or "experts" who believe they know how to teach in the classroom better than the professionals who have been trained to.

Parents and Politicians should be our partners not our adversaries, but let teachers teach what works not the latest fad that looks and sounds good. - Harold