People and Practices, not Programs

I recently finished reading a new book, Transforming Professional Development into Student Results by Douglas B. Reeves, and I have to recommend it highly. This provocative book may seem like common sense to many, but according to Reeves, most professional development for teachers in this country don’t improve teaching nor student learning.

The first chapter begins by comparing professional development to an autopsy – it provides us with plenty of interesting information, but it doesn’t help the patient.  Standardized test scores, for example, may provide us with interesting information, but if we look at it as an assessment of the past rather than a tool to inform the future, that data is pretty meaningless.

Chapter 2 states that high impact professional learning has three essential characteristics: 1) a focus on student learning, 2) rigorous measurement of adult decisions, and 3) a focus on people and practices, not programs.

1) Professional learning should not be evaluated on their popularity, ease of adoption, or buy-in from teachers, parents, or other stake holders. Professional learning should be selected by linking gains in student learning to teaching practices.

2) Student results need to be balanced with an analysis of adult practices. The decisions teachers and their leaders make should be observed.

3)People and Practices should be the focus. What is the best strategy to teach the measurement of length? Are our teachers using those strategies? Is what we know also what we do?

A good example of this can be found in three neighboring school districts, Seattle, Bellevue, and Issaquah in their attempts to find a better ‘math curriculum’. Math scores are down, and it seems that those districts are looking at ease of adoption, buy-in, and programs (text books) to get those scores up. Whose scores? The next group of kids? What about the ones who actually took that test, what are they going to do to help them?  A lot of energy goes into the analysis and choice of textbooks, but what if that energy were more efficiently spent?

Textbooks can be useful tools, but it doesn’t matter what text is used, teachers need to know how to teach what’s at the heart of those text books. My favorite teacher, Mrs. Smith, could have assigned the phone book (remember those?) and I would have read it cover to cover.

But wait – there’s more – a lot more. That’s not all that is wrong with Professional Development, according to Reeves. What I’ve noted are just from the first two chapters. I will continue posting more chapter summaries and thoughts in future posts.

You can read the introduction to the book here and view the table of contents here.

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