Great teaching is special. There might be comprehensive rubrics to measure it and best-selling books to define it; but there is something intangible yet deeply felt when you see the eyes of students in the middle of a powerful lesson, delivered by a powerful teacher.
Students' eyes are on the teacher, on the work, and looking to each other. Students quickly and intentionally discuss and debate the learning of the day. At the conclusion of such a lesson, the bell seems like a surprise and an interruption all at once. This type of environment is special to witness and shouldn't be a unique experience. We want all students to experience this, every day. This year, through my work as an instructional coach, I am more convinced than ever that the best teachers grow out of rich and empowering systems.
Some teachers are naturals: they were born to teach. But by and large, it's the system of support that teachers encounter, especially early on, that can catapult them to success. Sadly, many teachers are forced to seek out and create their own professional development structures and processes because of how misdirected and generic professional development tends to be. One of the focuses of my work this year is to uncover what types of professional development lead to significant teacher growth. In my search for the conditions and features of a climate that supports superb teaching, I will categorize my findings in the following four buckets:
- Establishing a vision of excellence: What does exceptional student work look like and what are the instructional shifts necessary to help all students produce this caliber of work on a consistent basis?
- Creating planning spaces: In what ways can we create physical and virtual spaces that serve as conduits for creative conversations around effective instruction?
- Co-creating common practices: How do we create the conditions necessary for teachers to choose to adopt the best common practices across the grade/content?
- Normalizing the feedback loop: How can we make feedback regular, useful, and on-going?
Go back to the student vignette at the beginning of this blog. Now consider the eyes of a child who is in a room with a teacher whose practice is the result of years of poor professional development. At best they are bored and apathetic, at worst they are disengaged or working to interfere with others' learning. The contrast is almost unbearable. If we don't change how we support teachers, it's likely that we'll see more of these disengaged and disinterested students than we will those whose eyes sparkle with the excitement of learning.
In the next few blogs, I will share my journey through professional development this year. I hope you'll tag along and share your own experiences creating great professional development systems for our teachers by commenting below, or sharing them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag: #betterteachers.
This work was made possible through support by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.
Josh Parker is a 2013 NEA Global Fellow and the 2012 Maryland Teacher of the Year. He serves the students and staff of Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School in Washington, D.C. as an Instructional Coach. He is a proud board member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. Connect with Josh on Twitter: @MDTOY2012.