If teaching is improved, the improvement is the result of a teacher making changes in the classroom. Perhaps policy, professional development, or standards inspired that change, but what matters is what happens in the classroom. There are a number of levers that can be pulled to change what goes on in the classroom, and a quick list could include the following:
- Content of printed or electronic teaching materials
- Way the teaching materials are introduced and explored with students
- Relationships the teacher has with students, and the students have between each other
- The conversational norms among students and the teacher about the material
- The methods of formal and informal assessment
- The messages students receive about assessment, learning and mathematics as a discipline
A teacher could come in to work and tweak any of those things tomorrow, and notice a difference with their students. The next day the teacher can take the change they made yesterday, and how it differed from previous classes, and try another tweak. Over a school year of tweaking their teaching, as well as noticing, and responding to the differences, the teacher could improve at teaching. Teachers making adjustments in their class and learning from what changes is perhaps the only way changes in teaching practice.
Traditional ways of changing teacher practice
The traditional methods of changing teaching, such as PD, attempt to create the catalyst that starts the teacher along a chain of reactions of tweaks that will lead to changed practice. A one day PD gives teachers 3 examples of new lessons with the expectation that teachers will take those 3 lessons, use them, and question their current practices in positive ways. The PD would then be a one-time catalyst of future growth. Of course if the chain reaction dies out before the teachers leave the conference hall, then it will never have any intended effect, even if the teachers pantomime the 3 lessons and go back to business as usual next week. This may not be the fault of the PD either, the teacher may be in the middle of working on some other part of their teaching, or have a different adult learning style.
In this traditional model, those in charge of improving teaching can only worry about the clarity and power of PD’s ability to inspire a change in the teacher, but cannot support the continual process of experimentation and noticing the difference. What could be a new way to do it?
Supporting The Process
Blogging sounds like a perfect method towards supporting the process that teachers start in their own classroom. It provides a place to document the little changes they make and also get feedback about those changes. They can read about things that other people are doing in their classrooms they can learn new things to try in their room. Thus, the blogosphere serves as a 24/7/365 set of ideas that can catalyze a chain reaction of teacher growth whenever the teacher needs it (as opposed to the 3 designated days on the district calendar).
There are certainly other ways to spark, support, and push the on-going teacher development process taking place inside their classrooms. For people who aren’t interested in typing, there is a lot of value in talking about teaching with your peers. A structured way to do this would be in a professional learning community and looking at different products of student learning through protocols.
Teachers reflections about their teaching are only as good as the information they have about it. Having clear formal and informal assessment practices would allow them to have more information to base their next decisions on. Other teachers have learned from having student surveys and feedback forms about their teaching.
Nothing is more important than doing something. There are also a number of specific technical things that can be done by teachers to improve a specific facet of their teaching. I think part of what you’re asking in your tweet is how do we get people to improve their teaching when they might not want to otherwise. We can package up a bundle of practices and air drop them into teachers lounges across the country, but it won’t make a difference unless teachers are actually trying them. Actually trying means accepting the fact that constant change and growth in your practice is as much a part of a teacher’s life as having summers off. (It’s not just teacher’s. Surgeons, artists, scientists and many other professions have to hone their methods and explore new procedures