Dashboards Revolutionizing Teacher Professional DevelopmentJose A. Rodriguez | Assistant Dean in the School of Education, American Public University System
This time of year, school districts across the country send out mailers welcoming new and veteran teachers back to school for yet another academic year. During the first few days before school starts for students, often called staff development days or learning improvement days, systems-level leaders at each school and district plan various types of staff development for teachers. Topics include building logistics, pedagogy, curriculum, assessments, cross-cultural training and others.
In preparing for these back-to-school activities, what data and information do administrative leaders really use to plan the staff development they provide to teachers? Are there ways in which teacher evaluations can help inform systems-level learning on the content and delivery of specific staff development throughout the year? Should teacher evaluations be used to identify professional development needs?
A national debate about the aforementioned scenario and subsequent questions is ongoing. What is the answer to the problems plaguing student achievement in our public schools? Is putting Common Core at the center of the national debate really the answer? Are standards and test scores really the only solution? I believe the answer to our educational curriculum and instructional achievement gaps today is not the creation of more standards, but, rather, the addressing of a common problem of practice deeply rooted in school systems in the United States.
The common problem of practice is a systemic one and centers on classroom observation and professional development, two of the most important duties school organizations spend rtime and resources on in raising and sustaining student achievement. Comprehensive information from teacher evaluations simply does not exist in real time when important decisions regarding resource allocation and targeted professional development are contemplated.
The current practice in most schools finds classroom observation and professional development operating completely independent of each other, with the former never informing the latter. Teachers often seek professional development on their own and many times spend their own time and money outside of work seeking these learning opportunities. They browse through the course catalog for professional development and sign up for topics such as in computer training, software for grading, Smartboard training, protocol for checking out books, taking attendance, developing discipline policies and teaching strategies.
While these professional opportunities exist for teachers across the country, staff development that teachers sign up for, and staff development provided to teachers by administrators, may not be directly related to each other, to their teaching assignment or to the direct needs of the teacher. This dissonance between professional development and classroom observation is a missed opportunity to address the systemic problems in our educational organizations across the country.
Designing a leadership dashboard would identify the curriculum and instructional needs of each classroom in order to build and sustain much-needed systems to finally link professional development to what actually goes on in the classroom. Why classroom observation? The answer is quite clear. Incorporating two existing practices currently used by districts across the nation—the use of the teacher evaluation criteria and the formative teacher observation process—have the potential to inform district/school systems on the specific needs of each classroom.
Currently, each district is responsible for its own criteria, and most choose to adopt the state’s standard criteria. These standards provide teachers and administrators with the tools they need to work together to create an environment conducive to student learning. The criteria provide both parties the opportunity to engage in the conversation about student learning by linking them to an agreed set of standards and expectations. Standards that operate outside established and mutually agreed upon criteria found in teacher evaluations like Common Core are often not sustained. Providing the necessary link between teacher evaluations and professional development could very well be the missing link in education.
Author Perspective: Administrator