This blog is in response to the numerous emails and comments I received concerning a recent post. For all of you expert teachers out there who feel what you know and do is not valued, if we all rock the boat, the ocean will move. YOU ARE IMPORTANT!
A very overweight man went to the doctor and asked the doctor to help him. “Doc, I just have to do something different. My health is terrible.” The doctor ran tests and met the patient the next day. “Well, you are smart to come in. I think we can really turn this thing around by making some changes in your life. The first thing I want you to do is begin by amending your diet. I want you to eat more fruits and vegetables and eliminate the beer. Come back next month and we will see how things are working out.”
A month later the doctor was confused to find the man was not only not healthier, but had increased in weight and other tests showed similar issues. The doctor said to the man, “I just don’t understand how you have gained weight and increased your body fat percentage.” The man was concerned also. The doctor asked the man to record everything he ate and other habits such as exercise and sleep in a journal for the next month.
Upon reading the journal the next month, the doctor was astonished at his findings. The man had increased his fruits and vegetables and had stopped drinking beer. However, the patient had consumed fried vegetables. The man had counted items such as jellies and pies as fruit. He had stopped drinking the beer, but replaced with other drinks such as colas and sweet teas. There was no evidence of exercise and his sleep patterns were terrible. The doctor simply shook his head and asked the man what had happened. “Well, I did what you asked me to do,” he replied.
I am obviously not a medical doctor, but I have always viewed my teaching practice much like a good doctor. First, I have to learn everything I can about my “patients”. I need to understand their likes and dislikes, their habits, their mindsets, their histories and then I can begin to coach them to make some healthy changes. When I began working in the area of professional development, I took the same viewpoint. I assume all teachers are capable and smart as a beginning point, then I begin to observe and ask questions, and then we begin a conversation of how to make small changes, which lead to results. I want to make the teachers I work with feel valued and important. I want to work with them, not tell them what to do. I want to be his or her cheerleader, coach, and support, because I truly believe no teacher enters education desiring to be a bad teacher. With support and encouragement, most people are motivated to meet the expectation.
I have often been appalled at the professional development efforts I have been exposed to in my career. The majority are thrown at teachers from a top down decision process where someone, somewhere decides this will work for everyone. There are the one size fits all experiences where teachers are given one answer to all of our problems. Then there is the fill-in-the-blank type of workshops where if the teacher follow this script and just fills in the names of his or her students, success is inevitable. Finally there are the technology-assisted programs promising grand results in two minutes a day. Really? For the cost of the system, I could have hired two more teachers or given the existing teachers all a nice raise. (Disclaimer: I do believe technology is powerful when used to teach children to think.)
The issue I have with all of these types of professional developments is there is seldom a chance for the teacher to build his or her own thinking skills when it comes to classroom interactions and actual teaching. The underlying message is “You are too dumb to learn to be effective so we will “teacher-proof” this for you and make it easy.” Newsflash! Expert teaching in NOT easy! Teaching is an art and a science. The artistic part when the teacher orchestrates each student, much like a conductor, to share their individual piece in order to create a glorious experience from the whole. Yet, expert teacher are very scientific in the planning and experimenting with various strategies and techniques required to create the artistic experience. Neither the art or the science of teaching can be taught in a lock-step fashion.
The research on effective teaching clearly demonstrates highly effective teachers are reflective thinkers and problem solvers with the intuitive ability to analyze a situation and respond immediately. This ability is more natural to some, but it still takes years to develop to expertise.
Intrigued by the teachers who passed the National Board of Professional Teacher Standards (NBPTS.org) certification process compared to those who did not, Hattie and Jaeger (2003) began researching how the certified teachers internalized and processed the five Core Standards differently then teachers who did not attain certification. Expert teachers (Hattie, 2003) can 1) identify essential representations of their subject, 2) guide learning through classroom interactions, 3) monitor learning and provide feedback, 4) attend to affective attributes, and 5) influence student outcomes.
Hattie and Jaeger examined the entries for patterns and then spent time observing the teachers to find the differences between those who achieved certification and those who did not. Hattie (2003, p. 5) states “expert teachers can identify essential representations of their subject, can guide learning through classroom interactions, can monitor learning and provide feedback, can attend to affective attributes, and can influence student outcomes. These five major dimensions lead to 16 prototypic attributes of expertise. Herein lie the differences.” These five dimensions of expert teachers align with the findings of other effective teacher research of Good and Brophy, (2008), Marzano (2008) and Darling-Hammond (1995).
These attributes are not taught in a make and take workshop, but through deep reflections and intensive discussions. For example, if an expert teacher can identify essential representations of their subject(s), then how can this be taught to a teacher in a few sessions? These teachers have deeper representations about the teaching and learning of their subjects. Expert teachers understand how to make connection between ideas and other disciplines. Expert teachers also understand how to use instructional time carefully by differentiating between critical content and less important content. Expert teachers plan their time to focus student learning on what is important (Good & Brophy, 2008).Marzano (2008) states when effective teachers introduce new content they link the content to prior learning, preview the new learning, add narratives and anecdotes, but also teach the content in small chunks in order to allow students to digest. Expert teachers have developed a curricula based on standards which align to national expectations (Good & Brophy, 2008). The opportunity to learn is a tremendous current variable in the United States, which up to this point has not had a common curriculum (NGA, 2011). The expert teacher has been teaching in this manner for years.
Hattie (2003) also explains expert teachers were also able to consistently create an optimal classroom climate that was welcoming and where errors were not only welcomed, but also expected. The expert teacher has a multi-dimensional complex perception of the situations within the classroom through the constant scanning of the classroom and using language that promotes learning and instruction. Experts use feedback information to develop and test hypotheses about learning; they are adept at evaluating possible strategies while seeking and adding further feedback information to ascertain the effectiveness of their teaching. All of this happens immediately and without obvious pondering of the teacher. He or she simply understands how to respond to the student need at the moment. They achieve this because their cognitive skills become automatic with extensive practice and reflection (Chase & Simon, 1973; Chi et al., 1981).
The few examples offered of expert teachers supports the efforts of countries like Finland and Ontario in their efforts to reform education. Rather than create more testing and sell more programs, these countries have begun focusing on and investing in teachers as the most important capital in their education system. These countries are recruiting intelligent and compassionate individuals and are spending money to invest years of training in these young teachers before allowing them to teach. Once in schools, the teachers are paid a very competitive rate and are given time each day to have deep and reflective conversations with peers. The countries pay expert teachers to coach these young teachers.
This sounds quite a bit like the process one goes through to become a medical doctor….four year college degree, medical school, residency, and then support with a solid salary. My brother-in-law, Dr. E.J. Mayeaux, is a well-respected and highly published doctor, who is a teacher at the LSU Medical School in Shreveport. He is a wonderful teacher, but is also expected to continue improving his own practice, is celebrated for his own discoveries, and is valued for the attention he brings to the school. I am not sure teachers have the same culture. I am also not sure any young person in America is willing to spend 8 years in school and then work 18 hour days to make $45000 a year for the rest of their lives and then treated like a trained dog with no ability to think independently.
One significant difference found in counties scoring at the top of the charts of international student assessments is teachers are valued and trusted to be thinkers and problem solvers. Rather than “teacher-proofing” curriculum through multiple programs and mandates, counties such as Finland hire the best and the brightest, spend years training these recruits to be strong thinkers, and then pay them well.
There is hope. Systems like the Teacher Advancement Program (www.tapsystem.org) is currently researching and working to change our perceptions of education in this country. The four-tier approach is the first real effort to appreciate and even admit there is such a thing as an expert teacher and that expertise can be coached and developed. However, much like the man in the story, if not implemented with fidelity, the results will show the lack of following the research.
As districts move towards reform and value-added teacher report cards, I hope the leaders read the fine print in the research and create laws in which teachers become researchers who are encouraged to be independent thinkers and problem solvers and apply this ability in the classroom for all children. We can no longer tell teachers to just “eat your fruits and vegetable.” As a teaching force, we should support any effort designed to develop of strong, intelligent, reflective practitioners who are valued for their abilities to effectively change the lives of children. Value expert teachers….without us, our economy, our dreams, and our way of life will no longer exist.