Why aren’t more teachers eager to inquire into the impact of their practice?

I’ve written at length in plenty of places about the Digital Learning Collaborative, a project that my school district is engaged in to change the way we do professional development around technology and teaching and learning.  You can read a full summary of the DLC in an article that Michelle and I wrote for Learning Forward’s JSD, but basically: rather than focusing on “help me turn it on and suggest something I can do with it” types of classes, we’ve adopted much of the work that Linda Darling-Hammond and others have done around effective professional development into something that makes sense in our digital context.

In the DLC, we ask teachers, who choose to do so, to form small teams that propose learning goals together over their first of two years of commitment. During this year, they meet monthly to work towards those learning goals. They might access district leaders or other teachers or resources or materials to learn more about what they’re curious about, and they work towards meeting their goals. Teams in the DLC have learned more about Interactive White Boards, or iPods, or using the devices, gadgets and gizmos in their classrooms to impact student learning.

The second year, for me, is the really interesting year.  In year two, we move from a personal or professional learning goal for teams and team members into a year of teacher research. In year two, DLC teams look at what they’ve learned and apply it in their classrooms. Using an inquiry model, we ask the teams to evaluate what impact their use of technology is having on students.

Too often, teams balk at self-evaluation

We provide teams some structure and routine, and ask them to look purposefully at their practice. Some teams are excited and eager to conduct this work, to take a close and critical look at what they’re doing in one aspect of their practice and how that aspect is impacting students.

But more often than I’m comfortable with, teams balk at this point in the process. Some of them do not want to do this work.

That keeps me up at night.

Team leaders and members who push back during this process have many reasons for doing so.  “We’re too busy,” I hear.  Or, “We’d rather learn more about our technologies.” I’ve been told that the rationale for using teacher research must come from some outside agenda, one some are suspicious of, or it doesn’t make sense in their particular teaching and learning situation.

That’s hard to hear…

And it causes me to wonder several things:

 1. Are teachers too busy to be thinking purposefully about their practice and use of technology and how it impacts their students? Certainly, a teacher’s day is full of many things. But shouldn’t a thoughtful examination of one’s practice be worth doing?  How does one teach without doing so?

2. Is “teacher research” not useful in many school situations?  I can’t think of a case where an inquiry approach to teacher improvement and professional development wouldn’t benefit both teacher and student.  Can you?

3. Is it not the job of a teacher to be curious about the impact of his or her instruction on student learning? Is an inquiry frame of mind so divorced from our district’s culture of teaching and learning that work to advance such a frame conflicts with our culture in such a way as to put many attempting such work into an extreme friction situation?

4. Is this inquiry work worth doing, but our approach contains a flaw or flaws that are hampering success? I’m willing to admit, certainly, that there are holes in our model. But I can’t seem to identify them.1

I’m puzzling over these questions as I continue to advocate for the value of processes such as teacher research in our system.  Seems to me that our teachers need to be thoughtful inquirers.

Our district culture should support that. Our district leaders, repeatedly, have made the commitment that the work is important.

How do we keep moving in that direction?2

  1. We’ve put our program evaluators on questions like these, and they’ve identified some necessary conditions for success with the model, but I feel like there’s something deeper that we are missing.  Maybe I’m just not paying enough attention to what we do know. []
  2. The draft of this post inspired a recent podcast of mine.  It also influenced some of the thinking that went into a recent conference session with Jon Becker and Meredith Stewart at Educon. []
About the author
Bud Hunt is an instructional technologist for the St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado. Formerly a language arts and journalism teacher, Bud is a teacher-consultant with the Colorado State University Writing Project, part of the National Writing Project. A co-founder of Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation, Bud reads, writes and worries about the future of education at his blog Bud The Teacher and on Twitter at @budtheteacher. He also writes at the Denver Art Museum blog.