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
- 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. [↩]
- 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. [↩]
Latest posts by Bud Hunt (see all)
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Having read your materials with great interest, I have a few suggestions that you might consider to move from a tech oriented professional development stance to an enhanced collaborative learning model.
In my graduate classes, I use 18 Think Models that raise the traditional assignment from build a question, research, create a product, present, get a grade – to the building of personal expertise in stage one and then building collaborative intelligence in stage two. When completed and assessed, students and teachers do what coaches do: they “watch” the video of the experience (the game) and do a Big Think look back and forward: How can we get better the next time. These experiences embed wide information resources and technology into what we call Knowledge Building Centers for topical explorations and Book2Cloud experiences centered around deep understanding of texts. If you would like to participate as a guest in my graduate class as folks are building and assessing these experiences, you would be very welcome. And that goes for readers of your blog post. It is all about deep understanding boosted by quality information and Web 2.0 technologies like Google Apps for Education.
I think it’s hard to self evaluate. While extremely useful and important, I think both fear what deficiencies or mistakes they might identify and think it’s not worth the time. I wonder if that culture of evaluation and reflection could be built in from the start of the program. Maybe when they are creating the learning goals during the first year, the can also reflect on how they think these new technologies they want to learn about will be helpful. They could answer the question “how will I know that this technology is impacting my class?” Then in year two, they can come back and fill out their own pre-made questionnaire to help them reflect on what the impact is.
It sounds like you are doing really great work. Thanks for taking the time to write these very thoughtful and important questions.
You’re absolutely right, Bud. The act of reflection and self-assessment are critical to improving one’s practice. So how do we encourage it in the midst of an admittedly hectic schedule for teachers? For me, that’s an open question. It helps to have some sort of reflective protocol that gets at self-reflection. For example, looking at student work and evidence of student thinking is one way to make inroads. Regarding technology – bring in a student-created product, share likes and wonders, and consider the question: “does this product demonstrate what you wanted to achieve with this activity?”
Another thing I’ve been a part of is a small, private PLC blog. Seven of us have our own private blog, once a month someone is asked to post something – anything. And then we have a conversation around it. It’s been really helpful for me, and doesn’t take up too much time.
Still, these sort of dance around the issue – almost too sneakily – of teacher inquiry. It’s a fundamental aspect of our practice, and one that for the most part isn’t cherished or rewarded.
I appreciate your thoughtful questions. Reflection on one’s own practice is vital to personal and professional growth. As a school librarian, I’ve recently started a journal (it’s a private journal on my iPhone) about what I do and how I can improve my work. It’s not easy to look in the mirror, but it’s a start.
Yes, time is precious and many teachers will claim they just don’t have time and energy to reflect. But if you use a medium (such as your iPhone!) that you enjoy, you’ll be surprised just how easy it is to fit it in your schedule.