I have heard before at conferences, workshops and staff meetings that presenters have to treat teachers like we treat our students. We need to differentiate our training (not every teacher needs “Smart Boards 101”), let them work in groups, engage them, and deal with the occasional unruliness.
Why, then, do we not train teachers in a way that reflects a model of formative assessment? We are fairly headstrong about implementing formative assessment models in our classrooms, but in terms of raising teacher quality and making evaluations more effective, a formative assessment model is only in its foundational stages.
Here’s what I’m thinking…
The new teacher evaluation system in Ohio (the most thorough information on the ODE website is in the OTES Model document) involves a series of evaluations and administrator/teacher conferences through the course of the school year. Teachers will set “SMART” goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results, Time-bound) at the beginning of the year and through a series of conferences, observations, and evaluations, their progress toward these goals will be measured and evaluated. Forgetting about the connection all this has to merit- and performance-pay for a minute, this framework for improving teacher quality encompasses all the elements of what we want teachers to do in their own classrooms: set clear learning targets (based on standards), make these learning targets clear to students, observe and evaluate individual student progress toward targets (formative assessment), and reteach through scaffolding or differentiation (the equivalent of what an administrator should provide in the teacher evaluation process) to help struggling students. The process reflects what we have come to define as best practices in assessment.
To make this framework as effective as it can be, teacher SMART goals need to align with district needs and the strategic plan. If a district is looking at a technology overhaul and wants teachers to incorporate 21st century skills, each individual teacher should have SMART goals oriented toward this district goal. A struggling teacher may say, “I aim to incorporate one piece of technology every week for nine weeks to improve student engagement,” whereas a more technologically skilled teacher may say, “I want my students to blog twice a week over the course of the next four weeks to improve their comfort with blogging platforms.”
To build even more on the evaluation/formative assessment for teachers framework, I would extend this system to professional development. Why not synthesize the SMART goals teachers write for their evaluations AND their Individual Professional Development Plans AND the types of staff development provided throughout the year? By creating one set of goals, teachers can have focus in their professional interests and learning instead of the anxiety produced by the constant inundation of too much stuff from disconnected PD offerings. Additionally, why not create cadres of teachers (outside of the PLCs that already exist) who are interested in and set goals about the same general interests. If a slew of teachers wants to learn about literacy across the contents (as indicated by their IPDP goals, which would match their SMART goals!), why not let them work together on learning opportunities instead of restricting each teacher to predesigned PLCs (grade level teams, department teams, etc.)? This cadre of teachers could work together throughout the year, and through peer observations, modeling, collaboration, and a peer-based formative assessment structure, PD (and meeting those IPDP and SMART goals) becomes a more engaging effort focused on learning targets (for teachers) and a steady progression toward those learning targets.
I can hear you already, “Where is the time to do this?” Do you still have group staff meetings where all teachers gather for an hour or two once a month to run through the gamut of business-oriented minutiae? In my opinion, those staff meetings would be much more effective if the minutiae came through email (or Google docs, or posted online…) and meeting time was used for professional learning. Use those two hours to unblock twitter and let the learning target cadre work together perusing the internet for their own webinars, you tube videos, PLC connections in other districts/states/countries, reading articles.
Just as I get excited about improving the practices of teaching and learning for students, I get incredibly excited thinking about the possibilities for improving professional development for teachers. We must use our understanding of best practices for students and put them into place for teachers as well. Help them set meaning learning targets for themselves, help them find paths to meet and practice those learning targets, and use formative assessment processes to see where they are struggling. Talk about empowering teachers in their practice.