Vail Daily column: Smart teacher learning
“If I die, I hope it happens during a staff development meeting … because the transition will be so subtle,” — Dal Lawrence, the colorful former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers.
Ask almost any teacher about the most dysfunctional and painful parts of their job, and some form of mandated “professional development” will rank high on the list.
Too often, professional learning for teachers is directed from on high. State or federal politicians, education bureaucrats and district administrators are all in the wagon to impose and direct the time, form and content of what front line practitioners should do in terms of growing professionally.
And that is exactly the problem. Teachers and principals working in buildings do need dedicated time to think and grow professionally. But when the form and subject of that professional growth is determined by someone far away from the actual work of instruction, it’s very likely to misfire and be a colossal waste of time for front line educators — who have very little time to waste.
By contrast, functional professional learning for educators is directed and determined by the teachers themselves. In each building, classroom teachers can tell you exactly what the areas for growth and development for their schools need to be focused on. More than anyone, they know where time and energy should be directed and on what they need to work.
Functional (and helpful) professional learning for teachers is driven by and attuned to their needs. By contrast, dysfunctional (and often harmful) professional learning is driven by the latest political fiat or fad, imposed from someone in a position of authority who thinks they know something about what teachers need to be working on.
One of our major focus areas in Eagle County Schools has been “empowering” our front line educators. Our goal is to flip the traditional notion of top down professional development on its head. While we have a clear organizational focus (teaching all students to high standards and customizing instruction to fit each student), the form and specific manner of how our educators explore and grow in learning those concepts is driven by the people closest to the work — our teachers and principals.
Rather than proclaim edicts from above, the job of our central office in terms of professional learning is to listen and provide support tailored to what our front line professionals tell us they need. It’s our job to be of service to the people working most closely with kids and families.
Toward that end, Eagle County Schools is organizing a relatively new kind of education conference — right here in our community. It’s called EdCamp Vail. We invite all educators from across our community, region and state to come together, learn together and go back to their schools inspired and energized with new ideas. Working with the Great Schools Council of Eagle County, which is made up of leaders from our public, private and charter schools, all educators are encouraged to attend.
The format of EdCamp Vail is front line driven. There are no big-name, sage-on-the-stage type motivational speakers or self-proclaimed experts. Instead, the educators in attendance decide their own topics, organize and lead their own sessions and decide the format of how information will be delivered. If a session isn’t useful or relevant, attendees are encouraged to “vote with their feet,” getting up and moving to another session that is more useful.
Decades ago, business management guru W. Edwards Deming taught us that our systems must be configured and attuned to the needs of the people closest to the work. EdCamp Vail is this principle in action — making sure that the work of professional learning for our teachers is of real meaning and value for the people who matter most in delivering quality instruction in our schools.
You can find out more about EdCamp Vail by visiting: http://www.smore.com/h35r1
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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