‘We have 20th century teachers educating 21st century students: we must improve professional development’

8th December 2016 at 18:12
teacher training, classroom, students, schools, professional development
If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators, says Tom Whitby.

The flipped classroom; maker movement; project-based learning; blended learning; student-centered learning; hour of code; collaboration; direct instruction; and lecture: there are passionate teachers advocating each of these methods as the best way for kids to learn. I am sure there are others I have not mentioned.

Each of these methods to teach can be effective with many groups of students. The burning question should be, however, which is the best way to affect the greatest education reform? The focus for change in education seems to be in finding a way to best teach our students. The focus is targeting student learning. That assumes that once that method is found all will be right with the world of education and PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment) be damned.

I think that may be the wrong focus for reform. I believe that if we want to affect the greatest number of students by the way they are taught, we need to better educate their educators about the way they teach.

A combination of several methods might be the best path for students to learn. The focus should target what and how we teach teachers, not students. There are hundreds of thousands of educators who are familiar with many, if not all of the strategies mentioned here. Many are aware through their social media connections. The problem is that there are millions of educators who are far less connected, informed, or educated. Many of the uninformed educators may be far less connected to communities where discussions and collaboration with these topics go on daily.

I am becoming more of the belief that, at this point in time, we are not going to get all educators connecting, collaborating and creating through digital connections with other educators around the world. We do need to look at the benefits of these digital connections and find a way to create that resulting collaboration within the schools in which our teachers work without digitally connecting, those who will not connect.

Collaboration has become an integral part of professional development. We need to not only endorse collaboration, but we need to support it. It is a key to adult learning and teachers are adults. We must approach all PD through andragogy, an adult’s learning, and not pedagogy, a child’s learning. Teach adults as adults. 

There is not a college or university in the world that can graduate teachers with all that they will need to know to carry them through a thirty-year career as a teacher. The world and everything in it changes too rapidly for that to happen. Learning has to be ongoing. The term life long learner does not only apply as a goal for kids. It is essential for anyone wanting to exist, strive, survive, compete, and flourish in a modern tech-driven society. This especially applies to those who teach others who will need to do the same.

If standards have to be drawn up for education, why not have standards for PD? The biggest problem with the implementation of common core, beyond the testing aspect, was the fact that there was no support for PD. Each school was left to its own devices. Some schools did well with it, others not so much. This was another example of a non-funded mandate gone awry. Any national initiative in education it would seem would need its teachers on board and fully aware of their goal.

Until we recognize that the greatest effect that we can have on education is by continually educating our educators to the constant and continual changes occurring in their profession, there will be little change in the progress we hope to make in education. We have now and will continue to have 20th Century educators trying to teach kids to live and learn in a 21st Century world.

Professional Development must be part of a teacher’s job description. It should not be solely on the backs of teachers to find it. Schools should deliver PD on a regular basis each week, not just one or two days a year. Faculty and department meetings should be more than a mandatory gathering to talk about schedules and policies. Teachers must be given collaboration time to connect with colleagues to implement changes. The best people need to be placed in supportive coaching positions to help facilitate, and reinforce these changes.

Change is difficult and uncomfortable for everyone. People need help to accomplish it. Comfort zones are the biggest obstacles to change. If change is what we need and want for our education system, then we need to put things in place to make that happen. Doing PD as we have done for the last two centuries doesn’t seem to be working. This is the one thing that most educators agree with. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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