Start the Discussion Around Professional Development
How Do We Ensure Teachers are Getting the Right Professional Development
Joanne Weiss, Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Education, discusses how we make sure teachers are getting the right professional development for their profession.
The Goal is Professional Growth
States need to be clear with teachers from the start that the intent of their efforts to reform the evaluation system is to provide them with the professional development support that will be helpful to improve instruction. States need to tell teachers that evaluation is about supporting, not firing educators. To frame the discussion, states should consider the following:
- The context of evaluation reform. Both teachers and policymakers can agree that traditional evaluation systems serve no one well. They don’t highlight achievements that can be shared with the field, and they don’t provide educators with useful feedback and advice to improve classroom instruction. For states to increase student achievement and cultivate an excellent teaching force, then evaluations should be tied into both of those strategic goals. Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, notes that, no matter what, “teachers should know that the reforms will help them. The connections to investment in the workforce should be in place from the beginning.” Peter Shulman from Delaware says he thinks of evaluations as a key piece of the continuum of an educator’s career, from recruitment to pre-service to placement to professional development and retention. “The evaluation is the nexus of that work that drives all of the pieces,” he said.
- All educators can improve. States need to frame the issue of revamping evaluations in a way that is honest and clear. There is no doubt that a more fine-tuned evaluation will uncover examples of both outstanding and ineffectual teaching. The point is to assist all educators in improving their practice in many ways, including what they can learn from their high achieving peers. “The focus of an evaluation program should be to make teachers better through professional development, not firing, which sends the wrong message,” said Mary Reel, Superintendent of the Milan Special School District in Tennessee. The link between evaluations and professional must be absolute. Linking evaluation results to professional development opportunities has proven tricky in many states, but needs to done. Professional development can and should include a range of things including peer observations, off-site classes, or job-embedded work. In Delaware, teachers are helping with this effort and are working together to design 10 different professional development models.
The point is to assist all educators in improving their practice in many ways, including what they can learn from their high achieving peers.
- Keep it simple. The longer and more complex the evaluation instrument, the harder it will be for teachers and principals to embrace it. In this case, simple is better, said Kim Vann, a teacher in Tennessee. She says every effort should be made to minimize paperwork or “jumping through hoops” to ensure the system will work well and efficiently as possible for teachers.
- Ensure Understanding. Part of the challenge will be to make sure everyone understands what the new evaluation system is, what it is not, how it works and what it means. This requires training on the system itself, differentiated for administrators, evaluators, and educators. Emily Barton, assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction in Tennessee, says in hindsight that her state should have done more to train principals on how to roll out the evaluation system to their teachers. Doing so, she said, would have led to a more consistent rollout. “How it was presented dictates the experience they are having now,” she said. Barton and Erin O’Hara, who directs Race to the Top work for Tennessee, advise that states couple the trainings to train the evaluators and the evaluatees at the same time. Massachusetts is considering this, and may soon invite union leaders and principals to attend trainings together. These trainings can be time-consuming and voluminous, but can be done over time – and with outside support. Fro example, with the support of NIET, Tennessee managed to train 6,000 evaluators on the rubric in trainings spanning four days in cohorts of 50.