I often overhear teachers discussing, and sometimes lamenting, about the fact that they feel overwhelmed with our profession. Teacher evaluation, standardized testing and school ratings – OH MY! For this reason it is not surprising that many of us retreat to the confines of own classrooms and seldom stick their heads out – especially as teacher leaders. It also doesn’t surprise me that a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) showed that just over half of respondents spent a day or less on professional development over the past year. It seems that we just don’t have time to keep the “profession” in our professional development. Heather Hill, Associate Professor, in the Harvard Graduate School of Education argues that our professional development system is broken: a product of excellent intentions and misplaced implementations. One of her suggestions is that professional development be framed in an economic sense: supply (available opportunities), demand (teacher choices), information (quality) and efficiency (access). Her goal is focused more on large-scale professional development and teaching, however, I want to build off her concept. We can use Hill’s economic framework in our personal, professional development.
I am convinced that meaningful change will come to our profession, but only if each of us steps out as a teacher leader. To do this we must first commit to stay abreast of things going on outside our classroom and school. Of course our first priority is always to students, parents and our immediate colleagues. However, if we want our profession to be viewed as “professional” then we must lead in some way. How do I know this? Over the past six months I have participated in an excellent, one hour weekly forum exploring current issues in education (based on articles from Education Week). Using Twitter, a number of teacher leaders, policy makers, and other educational professionals come together to “tweet” about ways to solve real problems. While the overall number of participants is small (but growing) the conversation is always stimulating and forces me to think about my role as a teacher leader. Listed below are some of the additional ways I am enhancing my teacher leadership skills in order to keep the “profession” in my personal professional development. On another positive note, I accomplish these things in approximately 3 hours of dedicated time per week.
Mix It Up (30 minutes)
I always felt a little guilty on days when I reminded my students to read for at least thirty minutes at night but hadn’t followed suit. I have a never ending supply of books and materials – just no demand on my part. I realized that just like my students I needed to “mix up” my reading. Now, I turn to a Twitter feed or one of my favorite blog sites. I always have at least 30 minutes one evening a week where I can sit down and focus. I follow a number of educational scholars and professionals on Twitter (Diane Ravitch has a great Twitter feed) and I pick up a wealth of information simply surfing these feeds or reading several interesting blog posts.
Invest Time Wisely (2 hours)
Find a forum that lets you get your biggest “bang for your buck”. For me, I participate in the Ed Week / Every Week forum sponsored by the Arizona K12 Center (visit http://www.azk12.org/ed-weekevery-week). Weekly discussions are always based on a current educational issue (an article from Education Week) so I allow myself 30 minutes of time to read the article and develop several questions. Since the forum meets on Twitter I can control my participation level: reading posts or posting my own Tweets. The forum only lasts an hour, so my total investment is about an hour and a half. Another benefit is that I get to network with different people from around the U.S.
Keep Up with One Professional Network – 15 minutes
There are some amazing professional networks for teachers and we all should be part of at least one. I like the Center for Teaching Quality (visit them at http://teachingquality.org/). I can scan a number of interesting topics quickly, and if I notice a publication that interests me I add it to my personal reading list. There information is also categorized so if you are looking for information about the Common Core you can find it easily.
Link a Weakness to Your Efforts – (30 minutes)
Ask an instructional coach or a colleague from your district office for a copy of an article they have been reading. I am always amazed how much I learn from just 30 minutes of focused reading – especially in areas where I know I want to improve. There are a number of monthly journals that are available through university or public libraries: Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education or Journal of Reading Education are two examples.
These small steps are making significant changes in my journey in teacher leadership. What steps are you taking in your journey in teacher leadership?
Hill, H. C. (2009). Fixing teacher professional development. The Phi Delta Kappan. V90(7), 470-476. (includes information about the NCES survey)