Develop Teaching (Including Professional Development)

Here’s one more section before Eva and I rush out to meet with my brother, his wife, and my little one and a half year old hockey playing nephew. :)

This DRAFT is once again submitted for your consideration and comments…

5. Develop Teaching (Including Professional Development)

Dennis Sparks said that “teaching is the most effective means through which a leader can lead” (Tichy, 2002, p. 57, as cited in DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2005, p. 165). As Hord (2004) pointed out, the most effective principal will be one who has a deep understanding of teaching and learning (p. 146), and one of the main benefits of developing a shared vision is the opportunity to then use that shared vision to recruit quality staff (p. 46). Developing a professional learning community necessitates not only a need to develop leadership, but also a need to develop high-quality teaching at the school. Ultimately the ability of an organization to teach and learn will be the determining factor in the success or failure of any change initiative, including any effort to introduce video games and simulations as educational technologies. For this reason, schools must overcome the cultural belief that they cannot honor or identify good teaching because it will “lead to unhealthy competition and bad feelings among teachers” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Karhanek, 2004, p. xiv).

The DuFours and their co-authors put the development of quality teaching and learning at the heart of their professional learning community model. “First and foremost,” they said, “the potential benefits of collaboration will never be realized unless educators work together in matters directly related to teaching and learning” (DuFour and Eaker, 1998, p. 125). They described a professional teaching as one who emphasizes learning rather than teaching (p. 216), emphasizes active student engagement with significant content (p. 217), focuses on student performance and production (p. 218), routinely collaborates with their colleagues (p. 219), and consumes research as a student of teaching (p. 220, see also DuFour, DuFour, and Eaker, 2006, p. 83). For DuFour and Eaker, professional teachers also serve as leaders (p. 226). The DuFour’s constructivist approach to inquiry also plays a roll in their concept of a professional teacher; they consider “the focus of collective inquiry… both a search for best practice for helping students learn at high levels and an honest assessment of the current reality regarding teaching practices and student learning” (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2006, p. 21). They also call for an interactive sort of teaching, including patterns of calling on students, responses to student answers (such as cuing, wait time, expressing confidence, asking the question in a different way, and validating what is right about a student’s answer while pointing in another direction; DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2005, p. 92), giving help (such as useful cues; DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2005, p. 92), dealing with errors, assigning tasks, offering feedback on student performance, and displaying tenacity as a teacher (DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2005, p. 90-91). In order to make this sort of teaching possible, they also suggest that school schedules be carefully designed to include “consistent and large blocks of teaching and learning time” (Eaker, DuFour, & DuFour, 2002, p. 63), and to include collaborative structures with a focus on teaching and learning (DuFour and Eaker, 1998, p. 196-199).

Hord (2004) also called for the professionalization of teaching; her model included critical self-consciousness (p. 155), practical expertise (p. 157), trustful relationships with students (p. 158), and collegial regulation among fellow teachers (p. 159). Hord shared that in “he most successful schools functioned as professional learning communities, where teachers helped one another, took collective (not just individual) responsibility for student learning, and worked continuously to improve their teaching practices” (p. 12). She also noted the importance of “providing the structures necessary for learning (e.g., team meetings, grade-level meetings, study groups, etc.) and look[ing] for other opportunities for… teachers to collaborate around meaningful teaching and learning issues” (Hord, 1997, as cited in Roberts & Pruitt, 2003, p. 47). Hord wasn’t alone in believing that “meaningful and continuous conversation among teachers about their beliefs, their teaching, their learning, and what they have learned about teaching is necessary for teachers to develop into a community of learners and leaders” (Kruse, Louis, Bryk, 1995, as cited in Roberts & Pruit, 2003, p. xi). Wald and Castleberry (2000) advocated a similar practice, writing that as teachers reflect on themselves “as learners in a larger community… [they] will have new insights about cooperative learning in heterogeneous groups, learner-centered teaching, and the inquiry-based approach to learning because” (p. 17). Stone and Cuper (2006) conclude that teacher education programs must be dedicated to fostering the concept of being a lifelong learner in professional educators so that they might pass this on to their (p. 88-89).

Professional development is an important part of building educators’ capacities as teachers. DuFour and Eaker (1998) recommend that the content of staff development programs should “be based on research”, focused on “both generic and discipline-specific teaching skills”, and used to “expand the repertoire of teachers to meet the needs of students who learn in diverse ways” (p. 276). They also recommend that the process of staff development should “attend to the tenets of good teaching,” “provide the ongoing coaching that is critical to the mastery of new skills,” “result in reflection and dialogue on the part of participants,” “be sustained over a considerable period of time,” and “be evaluated at several different levels, including evidence of improved student performance” (p. 276). Finally, they recommend that the context of staff development should “be focused on individual schools and have strong support from the central office”, “be so deeply embedded in daily work that it is difficult to determine where the work ends and the staff development begins”, and “foster renewal” (p. 277). Stone and Cuper (2006) further recommend
“enriching and extending teaching through professional conferences” (p. 102).

At the heart of any school change effort should be an attempt to improve teaching. Change agents who hope to help educators adopt video games and simulations as educational technologies need to be sure their efforts focus on such improvements as are recommended by the professional learning community theorists above. Games and simulations may even serve as natural means of helping teachers practice and hone their teaching and learning skills.