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In the latest journal of the American Educational Research Association Educational Researcher (Jan/Feb 2012) the policy forum included a commentary about teacher professional development. The abstract of the commentary provides (p. 26):

Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) includes teachers’ understanding of how students learn, or fail to learn, specific subject matter… [and] a form of teachers’ professional knowledge that is highly topic, person, and situation specific.

Given this definition and the literature identifying the “complex nature of PCK” the authors suggest that (p. 26):

Professional development programs aimed at the development of teachers’ PCK cannot be limited to supplying teachers with input, such as examples of expert teaching of subject matter. Instead, such programs should be closely aligned to teachers’ professional practice and, in addition to providing teachers with specific input, should include opportunities to enact certain instructional strategies and to reflect, individually and collectively, on their experiences.

This notion of leaders providing specific feedback to teachers to improve their teaching effectiveness is a core part of Studer Education’s leadership development institutes. We call this “Round for Outcomes on Teachers.” Teachers often complain that school leaders do not spend enough time in their classrooms, and as a result are unaware of what they do and what their most pressing needs are. Consider the following scenario centered on leader evaluation of teacher instruction:

When evaluation time arrives, a typical school leader goes into a teacher’s classroom for a relatively short amount of time, assesses the teacher, possibly identifying one or two skills that “need improvement,” requests the teacher get professional development on the topics/skills and sends the evaluation to the teacher to review and sign.

What happens next? In many school districts the teacher visits an online video library of expert teacher videos that his/her school district has paid thousands of dollars for its teachers to gain. In the commentary, the authors suggest “Although the creation of an online library of [lessons being taught by expert teachers] may serve certain purposes, we think this resource will be of limited value when it comes to fostering the development of teachers’ PCK” (p. 27). If not the online library of videos, what options are there for teacher professional development which may afford the same flexibility to school districts? Research suggests specific feedback to teachers (see Results that Last) – and this is where leadership development is important. It is not enough for educational leaders to visit teacher classrooms only for assessment, or for a short period of time during the assessment, or in some cases never during the school year.

That is, beyond the assessment period, leaders must be attentive and must care about the issues teachers are facing in the classroom. High and middle performing teachers want to work in a place that lends them every opportunity to make a difference in the lives of their students. When leaders recruit great teachers, they want to keep them. Rounding, based on a technique doctors have practiced for years with their patients, can help them do just that. As part of its methodology, Studer Group teachers its healthcare clients that it is important for staff leaders to round on their employees. The practice has been tremendously successful in helping healthcare leaders increase employee retention, among other benefits.

Many leaders say that providing them with an effective way to engage with staff is the number one item that improves staff performance. Rounding is a way for leaders to gather information so that they can handle issues or needs in a proactive rather than reactive way. Rounding for outcomes on teachers provides school leaders with a way to establish genuine relationships with them. Based on our experiences working with schools, we provide various methods leaders can use to standardize rounding in their schools. That said, we cannot emphasize enough how important it is for leaders to commit themselves to regular rounding and to also standardize methods for processing the information received from the practice. Rounding allows school leaders to gain insight on what techniques are working for teachers, which teachers deserve to be recognized, and what tools and equipment teachers don’t have but need in order to do their jobs in the best way possible.
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Pilcher, J. and Largue, R. (2009). How to Lead Teachers to Become Great: It’s All About Student Learning. Gulf Breeze, FL: Fire Starter Publishing.

Studer, Q. (2008). Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors that will Take Your Company to the Top. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Van Driel, J. H., and Barry, A. (2012). Teacher professional development focusing on pedagogical content knowledge. Educational Researcher, 41(1): 26-28.

Our mission at Studer Education is all about providing students with a great place to learn, teachers with a great place to teach, and parents with confidence that their children are getting a great education. To do this we teach teachers and leaders how to get the best student learning results and create results-oriented school cultures. Visit us online at http://studereducation.com to learn more about Studer Education Teacher Development Institutes (TDIs), Leader Development Institutes (LDIs), and Evidence-Based Leadership.