Most teachers welcome opportunities to learn more about effective instructional strategies and classroom resources. They reach into their own pockets to purchase materials that engage students and open doors to greater academic success. They attend classes that equip them with knowledge and tools to become better instructors.
Federal programs such as Title I were created to provide teachers with on-going professional development (PD). Professional development delivers training to empower educators with knowledge and skills to help students meet high academic standards.
However, no amount of professional development or teacher training replaces consistent implementation of building and district policies in schools. When students are permitted to violate policies, when parents and primary caregivers are allowed to verbally attack teachers, when administrators reprimand teachers for supporting policies and procedures they were hired to support, and when superintendents and school board members undermine the authority of school administrators, professional development will not fix problems beyond the teachers’ control.
There are three essential elements necessary for creating a positive school culture that supports sustainable change. Solutions to challenges in schools can be explored when staff members are provided (1) training, (2) resources, and (3) permission to do the jobs they were hired to do.
When teachers lack training, schools and districts provide educational opportunities to staff members. Professional development offers outstanding educational opportunities for teachers to acquire new instructional techniques, discover how to effectively use technological tools, and engage in meaningful dialogue to share ideas and discuss classroom strategies that work.
When teachers lack resources, schools and districts provide appropriate tools that enhance learning in classrooms. When schools lack money to equip schools with adequate resources, many teachers spend hundreds of dollars from their own funds to purchase paper, pencils, and supplies for students. These are purchases teachers willingly make because they love to teach and are eager to provide students with tools they need to experience success.
Teachers must also have permission to teach. This means schools and districts must create consistent policies and procedures that support learning and ensure safe learning environments for all students. Policies and procedures must be clearly defined and communicated to all students, families, and school staff members.
Clear guidelines must unmistakably outline consequences of policy violations. It is imperative for administrators to regularly discuss the importance and value of policies and procedures implemented throughout their buildings with all stakeholders.
Unfortunately, many schools and districts fail to support their own policies and procedures – particularly as they relate to student behavioral and academic expectations. When schools require teachers to attend professional development that focuses solely on academic rhetoric without providing them with permission to teach, professional development is useless – and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
For example, when student behavioral issues interrupt instruction, there must be consistent means through which teachers redirect inappropriate behavior. Of course, teachers must not exclusively rely on dismissing students from classrooms when unacceptable behaviors interrupt instruction. A teacher must employ several interventions to redirect student behavior.
If the seriousness of a student’s inappropriate behavior escalates after multiple intervention strategies consistent with school and district policies have been employed, all students learn the consequences of inappropriate behavior by watching and listening to exchanges between teachers and pupils.
Students also learn the consequences of inappropriate behavior when their peers discuss the results of inappropriate behavior. Are there consequences? Are parents allowed to persuade teachers to change the consequences that follow inappropriate behavior? Are teachers reprimanded for following school or district procedures? Are administrators’ decisions reversed by school board members who pressure district superintendents? Are teachers’ and administrators’ responses to students and primary caregivers consistent with school and district policies? Or not?
If we want to create schools with sustainable change, school staffs and districts must work together to:
- Create and support consistent policies aligned with the vision, mission, and goals of the school and district.
- Provide clear guidelines that support implementation of policies and procedures.
- Communicate school and district policies and procedures with all stakeholders.
- Administrators and instructors must be given permission to set appropriate boundaries with students and primary caregivers.
- Regularly evaluate and update policies and procedures.
Strong professional development experiences can equip educators with powerful learning and teaching strategies. Fred Hang, senior trainer and consultant at The Great Books Foundation, insists teachers share a common attitude about quality PD: “Don’t bore me, don’t waste my time, and don’t talk down to me.” Professional development must be useful, engaging, and applicable to schools and classrooms.
- Provide meaningful professional development experiences that address specific needs.
- Provide meaningful professional development experiences facilitated by highly-qualified, experienced experts in their fields.
- Maximize 21st century tools of technology in ways that enhance PD experiences.
- Require all staff members, including administrators, to attend professional development experiences.
- Engage in dialogue about professional development experiences and evaluate effectiveness of PD strategies in classrooms.
- Offer ongoing support to new and struggling teachers to ensure success.
Brad Henry, former governor of Oklahoma, once said, “A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.” Teachers enter education because a passion burns within them to share their love of lifelong learning with others. Most teachers are highly trained and highly skilled at providing exceptional instruction. It takes a village to educate our children. We must be willing to collaboratively work together to support our schools and trust the teachers who are hired to provide quality instruction.
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