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  • Abner Oakes

Effective Professional Development and Tidying Your Standards-based House

We’ve been busy with our friends in Maine, Vermont, and Ohio - to name a few states that we visited lately - and we got away from our blog posts on the JumpRope implementation benchmarks. (To catch you up, see here and here and here.) Well, let’s get back to this series of posts and look at our benchmark #6, which states:

My school/district administration provides adequate time and resources for training and professional development for teachers and staff members.

You will see that this benchmark, as with benchmark #2 about the change process, does not specifically relate to standards-based teaching and learning. But this benchmark, as with the change process benchmark, is critically important to the effective implementation of a standards-based learning system. In fact, it’s critical to any school improvement effort; as we have discovered here at JumpRope, teachers need time and training not only around the standards-based approach - philosophy and implementation - but also around implementing a new, mission-critical technology tool, such as our gradebook.

Much has been written on the qualities of effective professional development, and much has changed in its delivery. Yes, there are times when teachers still receive the “Sit and Git” approach, with an expert up front expounding on a bloated PowerPoint deck. But thankfully that’s becoming less and less the norm. Look at the questions at the end of Jana Hunzicker's June 2010 paper Characteristics of Effective Professional Development: A Checklist and the story the questions tell about effective professional development:

Does it connect to teachers’ daily responsibilities?

Does it include follow up activities that require teachers to apply their learning?

Does it require teachers to reflect in writing?

Does it engage teachers physically, cognitively, and emotionally?

Does it engage teachers socially in working together toward common goals?

Does it require teachers to give and receive peer feedback?

Does it require a high number of contact hours over several months’ time?

Does it provide teachers with many opportunities over time to interact with ideas and procedures or practice new skills?

Does it “build” on or relate to other professional development experiences in which teachers are required to engage?

And see the characteristics identified on page three of this brief from the The National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality; I particularly like the last two:

Provision of opportunities for collaboration among teachers Inclusion of embedded follow-up and continuous feedback

We could not agree more about these approaches to effective professional development, and we have been working with several district partners lately using an embedded approach, working one-on-one at times with teachers and other school and district personnel. Yes, these folks have all had some kind of basic introduction to our tool, but they and we are discovering that there are still gaps of understanding, not only about using the JumpRope gradebook but also about implementing a standards-based approach in the classroom and school building.

In fact, we have come to an even more basic understanding about professional development, before we even get to this issue of effectiveness: That there are three threads of content that our school and district partners need to tackle when implementing JumpRope and standards-based teaching and learning. First, teachers and other school and district personnel must have a common and consistent understanding of the more philosophical underpinnings of their standards-based approach. Is everyone on the same page? And what professional development has occurred to inform everyone and ensure that they are? Second, a standards-based approach demands a new approach to teaching and learning, and teachers and other school and district personnel may need help on what that looks like in the classroom, on the day-to-day implementation. I know that several of our school and district partners, such as Champlain Valley Union High School and Licking Valley High School, have been spending time helping teachers with just that: Teaching in a standards-based system.

Lastly, as it should be, is professional development around the JumpRope suite of tools. Sure, we like to think of ourselves as darn important, but we are tertiary to the previous two threads. A school’s or district’s standards-based house needs to be in order before that school or district tries to implement JumpRope - or at least we feel strongly that it should be. When we’re on site to help teachers or other school or district personnel with JumpRope, we often find ourselves addressing something from the first two content threads, as if those areas have not been sufficiently settled on, before JumpRope is introduced. We’re happy to do both - work on both JumpRope the tool, for example, and classroom approaches to standards-based teaching and learning - but we also feel strongly, given our experiences, that a JumpRope implementation will be strengthened with a well-tended, tidy standards-based house.

So back to our benchmark: School and district personnel provide adequate time and resources for training and professional development for teachers and staff members, and they provide time and resources around three standards-based areas: Big picture issues, classroom-level issues, and tools like JumpRope. Ideally, these areas and professional development for them are not conflated but are addressed separately, given the importance of each.

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