Stuck in Training

The final two chapters in the first section of the book Transforming Professional Development in to Student Results finish up what Reeves writes is wrong with today’s professional learning. I will take a break from posting this book before heading in to section two where he discusses HOW to create high impact professional learning.

In these two chapters he highlights the following things to be wary about.

Schools should invest not in brand name programs, but in people and practices.

Reeves states that the research suggests that “when it comes to instructional interventions, a few specific decisions by school leaders have a disproportionate effect on student learning.”

  1. Teacher Assignment
  2. Monitoring Practices (not just test scores)
  3. Time Allocation (implementation of most initiatives take more than one year)

In terms of time allocation, Reeves says the following ways time is misused in schools is common, but “absurd.”

  1. Pull outs where students are taken from a literacy class to get ‘extra literacy’
  2. Announcements (there should be no announcements over the school PA unless it is an emergency) – “Faculty and department meetings can potentially offer an environment for professional learning, but not if the first third of a meeting is consumed by oral announcements that could have been made in writing.”
  3. E-mail (forces real priorities to compete with ads and other distractions)

He criticizes many schools for talking about the importance of distributed leadership, usually at conferences where only senior leaders are invited. (Quite a departure from the norm, my school sent me and 6 other colleagues to this year’s NAIS conference).

Effective learning happens if we work towards mastery of fewer but essential disciplines which include: focus, repetition, and effective practice.

Reeves states that there are two essential questions every educational leader must address:

  • “If I require every teacher and admin to ‘get trained’ in my latest enthusiasm, what great ideas of last year am I going to displace?”
  • “Are the students in our schools better served by teachers and admin who have deep insight and knowledge of last year’s skills, or superficial exposure to this year’s fads?”

Finally, he lists 5 ways to assess your professional learning:

  1. Find some professional training you did three years ago. What do you remember about it?
  2. Can you name one or two specific influences this program had on your teaching?
  3. As you look back, to what extent do you seem surprised that some ideas seemed inspiring at the time, but don’t seem relevant today?
  4. Look ahead 12 months. What dates are blank? What’s the topic? Who’s the speaker?
  5. What proportion of next year’s calendar suggests a commitment to the refinement, reinforement, and deliberate practice and perfection of the professional practices that you know are most essential to your school.
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