Professional & Staff Development Opportunities Research Paper Starter

Professional & Staff Development Opportunities

This article addresses issues and concerns that teachers raise concerning traditional staff development opportunities. Teachers often express that traditional professional development workshops lack a clear purpose and direct application to every day classroom experience because these opportunities are rarely connected to the varying levels of teacher expertise and skill. Furthermore, many teachers feel that one-size-fits all, one-day workshops do not sustain the types of critical conversations that need to happen frequently to encourage positive professional growth. Given these major concerns, a variety of ongoing, meaningful professional development models have been developed to encourage instructional improvement. Critical Friends Groups (CFG's), Lesson Study, Online Staff Development, Peer Coaching, and Professional Learning Communities are explored as progressive alternatives to the traditional staff development model.

School Administration

Keywords Cognitive Coaching; Critical Friends Group (CFG); Expert Coaching; Lesson Study; Online Staff Development; Peer Coaching; Professional Learning Communities; Reciprocal Coaching; Technical Coaching; Traditional Staff Development


Traditional vs. Professional Staff Development

Traditional staff development opportunities for educators usually take the form of one-size-fits-all, one-day workshops. Topics of focus are usually determined by central administrators. Teachers are expected to attend workshops in order to take away key understandings about teaching and learning or specific instructional methodologies and strategies they can employ in the classroom for immediate positive results. The ideology behind traditional staff development opportunities seems rational and seems as though it yields positive results for teachers and students. However, many teachers find these workshops to be a waste of time because of the lack of correlation between their perceived needs as professionals and what is actually offered through staff development opportunities.

Lock (2006) highlights key issues that influence the level of impact that professional development opportunities have on teaching and learning. First and foremost, most teachers find little value in one-size-fits-all, one-day workshops that are not connected to their current, every day practice or experience. Furthermore, such workshops generally rely on transmission of knowledge from experts to teachers. Lock (2006) further asserts that traditional staff development opportunities fail to meet school-specific needs and do not provide sufficient time for teachers to plan or to effectively learn new teaching methodologies or strategies.

Wycoff et al. (2003) also discusses in detail the major issues teachers express with regard to traditional staff development. Teachers often indicate that traditional professional development opportunities do not optimally match the variety of knowledge and skill levels in a group of educators. Just as students come to the classroom with different learning needs, teachers also come to workshops with different skill sets and learning goals. Professional development geared toward optimal individual growth needs to take these varying levels into account. Wycoff et al. (2003) asserts that schools need to consider teacher expertise in order to maximize the value and transferability of knowledge to teachers.

Wycoff et al. (2003) further discusses the fact that staff development opportunities need to provide opportunities for teachers to practice new concepts free from evaluation. When applying new skills and methodologies, teachers need to be given time to practice and weave new instructional strategies into their every day craft. They also advise that teachers need to be provided with follow-up workshops or study groups to help them reflect on their experiences and continue to learn from each other. Traditional staff development opportunities often ignore these needs and hope to achieve positive results quickly and efficiently without follow-up or time to actually uncover what teachers need in order to individually improve and grow.

As more and more researchers and educators realize traditional staff development workshops have not provided the type of ongoing, meaningful learning opportunities teachers need to grow professionally; literature has increased the emphasis on the critical role of sustained, ongoing professional development connected to every day experiences at a level commensurate with teacher ability and skill level. Garet et al. (2001) found that sustained, ongoing, intensive professional development is more likely to impact instructional practice on a broader level than are shorter, limited staff development workshops. However, one major problem exists: many schools are not organized or structured in such a way to promote ongoing, meaningful professional development connected to every day classroom experiences. Therefore, schools need to shift the focus toward organizational structures that promote the type of continual learning necessary to enhance teacher expertise (Kohler et al., 1997; cited in Farrell & Little, 2005).

New Approaches to Staff Development

This section highlights some of the more common professional development opportunities that schools are using today to address the concerns raised by teachers. The following models all involve sustained, ongoing professional development geared toward individual teacher professional growth and development:

Models of Professional Development

Critical Friends Groups

Critical Friends Groups (CFG) were initiated by the Annenberg Foundation and are currently supported by the National School Reform Faculty (Norman, 2005). CFG's consist of a small group of six to ten teachers who work together consistently for a long period of time to encourage positive professional growth and significant instructional improvement. A CFG is very similar to a teacher support group in that the group meets regularly to work on improving practice and to address issues related to teaching. The group is usually facilitated by a "coach" who takes responsibility for developing a set of structured procedures to help create focused, equitable and meaningful dialogue around teaching and learning (Norman, 2005). CFG's usually focus on examining teacher and student work, solving problems, discussing professional literature and observing other teachers in practice (Bambino, 2002: cited in Norman, 2005).

Bambino (2002) indicates that CFG's help teachers work collaboratively through a democratic and reflective community. This type of learning community is not established overnight and is not one in which members are required to participate. CFG's are created by teacher volunteers who are committed and dedicated to examining and challenging instructional practice and different perspectives on student learning. When teachers believe in the mission of the group and truly want to set aside time to participate in the critical conversations, they are more invested in the group and more willing to allow the professional development experience to influence their teaching.

To ensure the success of a CFG, the group must be willing to engage in open, honest communication about teaching and learning. Teachers must come to the group honestly believing that something about their teaching or their students' learning is worth close examination (Norman, 2005). A significant amount of time is devoted to developing a deep sense of trust to help teachers feel comfortable to engage in direct, honest, purposeful conversations about their craft (Bambino, 2002). Furthermore, teachers must be willing to shift the blame for poor student learning outcomes from the student or home environment to something tangible in the actual approaches used to help students learn. Through structured protocols for meaningful dialogue, teachers are able to both give and receive feedback about their instructional practice (Bambino, 2002).

A key, defining characteristic of a CFG is that the group meets consistently on an ongoing basis throughout the school year to engage in these critical conversations. CFG's differ greatly from traditional professional development opportunities in that they are not a one-time workshop and they are not designed as a one-size fits all approach. Rather, CFG's maximize expression of teacher individuality and provide the opportunity for teachers to direct their own professional growth needs and desires. Thus, teachers have ownership over their own learning and are therefore more invested in the process and in actually transferring what they learn to their every day classroom practice.

Lesson Study

Lesson Study began in Japan as a professional development opportunity for teachers. After much research regarding the benefits of the approach and the influence on teacher practice, Lesson Study has slowly become a popular tool for professional growth and staff development in the United States (Cohan & Honigsfeld 2006). Due to recent increased interest, lesson study centers such as those created at Columbia University and Mills College have been initiated to study the benefits of this particular approach for professional development of teachers (Cohan & Honigsfeld, 2006). The approach again involves a group of teachers working together to improve instructional practice through observation, discussion and feedback. However, Lesson Study involves extremely focused objectives for instructional improvement as the approach focuses on one lesson and the myriad of possible ways in which the lesson can be taught.

The lesson study approach involves an extremely careful examination of one specific lesson that is taught numerous times by different teachers until the lesson is perfected. The process begins with a group of teachers who work together to plan a lesson around a particular unit of study. One teacher from the group teaches the lesson, as planned, while the other teachers observe. The group meets to discuss the observations, revise the lesson and then a new member volunteers to teach the lesson. This cycle of observation, discussion and revision is repeated numerous times throughout the...

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