TAP helps teachers improve | VailDaily.com

TAP helps teachers improve

Heather Eberts
Vail CO, Colorado

In response to a recent call for a movement against TAP, I would like to present my thoughts and opinions, from the perspective of a recent elementary school principal, now director of elementary education. I believe a visit to any one of our schools’ professional development sessions would show some of the most talented and dedicated professionals engaged in the cycle of constant improvement. I also believe a very recent commentary regarding a less-than-effective school experience provides a most compelling argument for our current reform effort.

Before joining Eagle County Schools five years ago, I considered myself an effective educator. By being in a system that values the abilities of educators and is constantly seeking to improve daily practice, the knowledge and improvement in my practice has grow tenfold. I am a much better teacher today than I was five years ago. More importantly, because of our focused reform I am confident that I will continue to grow.

I once attended an educational conference where a group of physicians spoke of their “Monday morning meetings.” These professionals described a setting where a group of practicing doctors got together every Monday to discuss the past week with their patients ” the techniques that worked, the surprises they encountered, what they were going to try next, and unfortunately what they believed went wrong with patients who died. They spoke of how these conversations with colleagues impacted and improved each of their respective abilities as physicians. This is what we do in Eagle County. Teachers, as members of the teaching profession, meet weekly to discuss students ” the heart of our business. We talk about a strategy or technique we’ve tried and its outcome. We discuss what didn’t work and what we may try next.

We even talk about our failures with kids and seek the advice and help of our colleagues. There was mention of Spencer Kagan, questioning whether or not he would endorse our reform movement. I am very confident he would endorse this system of reform. Spencer Kagan and others like Roger and David Johnson endorse the model of cooperative learning, a model defined as working and learning together so that each individual grows in their capacity to be effective. This is what is going on in our schools.

This type of collaboration has been described as “assembly line” production. I see this in a much different light. As do other professionals, during our meetings we rely upon and use current research about how kids learn and what works in schools as well as data to inform and guide our practice. I don’t know how we could be any more responsible or responsive in our work to improve.

As for Howard Gardner, another educator who was mentioned and whose endorsement of this model was predicted would never come to pass ” again, I believe this is totally inaccurate. I spent one week training with Mr. Gardner at Harvard, where I attended Harvard’s “Project Zero” and further worked with Mr. Gardner as he consulted on a public school project in Florida. A main component of this project was to implement a professional development school model at a K-12 public school site. A professional development school model looks just like what we are doing here in Eagle County ” a model where teachers work together to impact student learning by improving their own practice. At the time, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Central Florida were prominent in bringing forth and developing this model with the hopes of doing exactly what we are doing now ” that was some 15-plus years ago ” but it seems to me that if all those years ago Howard Gardner supported the continued growth and improvement of the teaching practice, then he would still do so today. Howard Gardner, teachers in Eagle County and teachers around the world believe in the process of teaching and learning. That is why we do what we do. So, I for one firmly believe Howard Gardner would endorse our efforts at reform. For an educational institution to not demand that its own employees engage in the very process that is the foundation for our existence would be irresponsible and ignorant.

Finally, I want thank the taxpayers for putting faith in our system. Eagle County Schools has not sold out to a family foundation, but has accepted the challenge to improve through a systematic approach; an approach that is taking hold in a number of other states and by a large number of districts across our nation. I will never believe that taxpayers anywhere are satisfied with the status quo or that any parent with a child in any school system would settle for teachers not interested in nor being asked to improve.

The use of federal funds to implement a program of reform was described as nothing more than venue for experimentation. I personally take pride in living in a nation that seeks to experiment ” I would not be using the computer I am typing on right now if there weren’t others before me who experimented. Just to clarify, here is an example of the kind of experiments that are going on in Eagle County Schools: Teachers trying out a strategy where every lesson has a clearly communicated objective so that students know what they will learn. This experiment is based on brain research that says when kids know what they are to learn, they tap into those parts of the brain that hold prior knowledge and ready themselves to acquire new information. This research comes from Robert Marzano and Jane E. Pollock. I certainly find this kind of experimenting worthy of our efforts. Therefore, I appreciate a federal government that has invested in students by providing educators the resources to continue to work toward putting research-based best practices into place.

I am an Eagle County educator who has been involved in education for 16-plus years. I am proud to be a member of Eagle County Schools. I believe in our reform effort and am thankful for a school board committed to this effort. Businesses seek reform and change often before they must. To be part of an organization that is taking a proactive interest in its own growth and development is exciting. I will continue to stand by this systematic effort that allows all teachers the opportunity to improve their practice to help students. I open my door to anyone who would like to discuss this further and eagerly await the opportunity to speak personally about the great efforts toward improvement that Eagle County Schools strives to achieve.

E-mail comments about this column to editor@vaildaily.com.

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