In-Service Education Programs
This article focuses on the effectiveness of teacher in-service education programs. Many in the field of public education believe that having a good teacher is an important factor in a student's academic success. Based on this belief, there has been a quest to determine what should be done to ensure that every classroom is led by a good teacher. Professional development is one type of practice that will address this need. A quality in-service program will provide faculty and staff the option of continually upgrading their skills so that they can continue to meet the needs of an increasingly more inclusive learning community.
Many in the field of public education believe that having a good teacher is an important factor in a student's academic success. Based on this belief, there has been a quest to determine what should be done to ensure that every classroom is led by a good teacher. Several researchers have encountered situations in which educational bodies have sought to evaluate what makes a good school and an effective teacher. Elmore and Burney (1997) observed a school district in New York and found that there were various professional development activities. Some examples of the programs included professional development laboratories, peer observation, off-site training, and classroom visitations by administrators. Hilton (1972) reported that Wiley Housewright, then president of the MENC Commission on Teacher Education, appointed a seven-member commission on teacher education. "He charged the group with identifying pressing needs and determining priorities in the pre-service and in-service education of music teachers, and with identifying innovative and exemplary programs in teacher education that may serve as models for change" (Hilton, 1972, p. 67). In addition, McLaughlin and Talbert (2001) shared the results of their study and reported that professional communities within schools contributed to teachers' ongoing development and satisfaction. These researchers observed how "teachers in these schools experience professional growth because they worked together to become better teachers and to become a better school" (p. 90).
One type of initiative that can assist in the quest for effective schools is to make sure that the teachers have supportive working conditions (Johnson, 2006). By providing a supportive work environment, school districts can enhance teacher quality and improve teacher retention rate. Johnson, Kauffman, Kardos, Liu, and Donaldson (2004) found that a school's ability to be supportive and organized was a key factor in new teachers deciding whether a teaching career was appropriate for them. Moore (2006) developed a list of best practices that were typically found in schools that provided supportive workplace conditions.
The practice that this paper will focus on is professional development. Although teachers require advanced degrees, there still is a need for them to continuously improve their skill set. One way to do this is by attending professional development workshops such as in-service education programs. Teachers must have the opportunities to seek out training programs that will assist them with enhancing their skill set so that they can be good and effective teachers. "Recent research suggests that there are increasing opportunities for learning and growth but that they have yet to become widely accepted and established in school practice" (Johnson, 2006, p. 12-13). However, the NEA (2003) reported that "of all professional growth activities queried by their survey, teachers were most likely to participate in system-sponsored workshops during the 2000-2001 school year (77%)" (NEA, p. 55). These system-sponsored workshops included in-service education programs.
In-service education programs have been neglected as a result of other priorities in the education system even though many have recognized the importance of having these types of programs in order to ensure the effective operation of a school (Harris, 1989). Although the importance of the programs is recognized, "in-service education programs may be unique as a developmental task in our schools more by virtue of being widely neglected than because of its obvious importance" (Harris, 1980, p. 29). As a result, approaches to in-service education need to become more proactive. Why?
"The professional preparation of teachers is a continuing process, and self-renewal must occur if teachers are to stay in tune with the changing needs of their students. Effective in-service education programs should help the teacher meet these changing needs" (Brimm and Tollett, 1974, p.521-522).
According to Desmarais (1992), in-service teacher education suffers many shortcomings, including a tradition of being reactive rather than proactive. In the past, in-service education programs were held to assist new teachers who had poor teaching skills when they entered the field. However, the purpose of the programs has changed. Today, the programs are designed to keep teachers up to date about changes in education and the world.
Table 1: Best Practices
Benchmark for Moving from Moving toward Teaching assignments Out-of field or split assignments; excessive teaching load or class size. Appropriate teaching assignments; fair and manageable teaching load and class size. Working relationships among teachers Working in isolation from colleagues. Working collaboratively with colleagues. Support for new teachers Sink-or-swim induction. Ongoing observation of, interaction, with and advice from experienced colleagues. Support for students Little assistance for students or for teachers in working with students; inadequate family and community support. Collective teacher responsibility for student achievement, comprehensive student support services, school-family-community partnerships. Curricular support Under- or over prescribed curriculum, often not aligned with standards. Complete, aligned curriculum that can be used flexibly. Resources and materials Routine shortages of instructional supplies; teachers spend their own money for essentials. Sufficient resources and materials; teacher stipends for extras. Assessment Excessive focus on tested topics and test-taking skills. Standardized tests, as one part of a comprehensive assessment strategy. Professional development A miscellaneous selection of one-shot workshops Coherent, job-embedded assistance that meets individual teachers' instructional needs. Professional influence and career growth Having the same influence and opportunities on the first day and last day of one's career. Progressively expanding influence and increasing opportunities for career growth. Facilities Inadequate, unsafe, decrepit buildings for some schools. Safe, well-maintained, well-equipped facilities for all schools. Principal's leadership Insufficient attention to workplace conditions and interdependent aspects of teacher's work. Actively brokers workplace conditions; encourages teacher interdependence and collective work.
Characteristics of an Effective In-Service Education Program
According to Shannon & McCall Consulting, Ltd. (n.d.), there is a trend of research on the topic of effective teacher in-service education programs, and the information "can be applied to the acquisition of technology skills, knowledge, and beliefs" (www.schoolfile.com). Characteristics of an effective in-service program are as follows:
* Teachers, in-service planners, school principals, guidance counselors, parents, school members, and local science and technology professionals are involved in the process.
* A focus on program-related tasks should be maintained.
* Theory, demonstration, practice, feedback, and coaching should be included.
* Several sessions should be provided with intervals between for follow through.
* A variety of formal and informal elements such as workshops, teacher interactions, one-to-one assistance, and meetings should be provided.
* The concerns of teachers, which focus on feelings, attitudes, and perceptions, should be the primary focus.
* Program participants should be given recognition.
* Independent study and self-instruction should be used extensively.
* In-service education programs should be led by resource people in determining the design and content of programs.
* A variety of instructional techniques should be used including observation of classroom practices,...
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