Friday, April 26, 2019

Rethinking Common When Considering Teacher Professional Learning

     Jeff is a high school teacher of United States History. He has 11 years experience teaching. He is passionate about his content area and his students. Jeff has evolved with regards to his teaching which is evident in his practice. Over the years he has transitioned his approach to include more universally designed instruction and critical thinking exercises. Recently he has collaborated both within his discipline and across disciplines in order to improve approaches for developing student writing. He has recognized through his own reflective practice that his students struggle developing a thesis and defending their claims through evidence. Jeff is eager for the upcoming school year to be able to invest time in self-study and collaboration with peers to explore practices that will contribute to his growth in this area as a teacher. He is hopeful that his development will result in improved student outcomes. 
     Jeff's supervisor has a shared process of reflection and discovery. Through the observation of classes, review of student work, and her own research she has recognized a deficit among students in this area. During lesson planning meetings, post observation conferences, and informal conversations, she has provided Jeff with advice and resources to aid in his development. She has also facilitated dialogue and provided time and space among Jeff's peers that has allowed him to share and discuss his observations and motivation for action. As a result of these actions, peers within the department have made connections to the experience Jeff has articulated and demonstrated an interest in exploring this topic. Recognizing the organically developed motivation to shift instruction among department members and a teacher on the team who has demonstrated effectiveness in this practice, Jeff's supervisor establishes a professional development learning lab centered around this topic. The teachers who subscribe to this lab will meet at various times throughout the year to discuss practices, share experiences, critically reflect on outcomes, and share student work. For the remainder of the available professional development time the teachers will self-select their activities and actions in order to grow and develop in their identified area of practice. 
     The district administration has recognized the overcrowding of initiatives and one-size fits all approach to teacher professional development. They have decided to weed their professional development program of top down common initiatives. They have reformed their professional development under a new program titled Go Time.  Go Time provides time, space, and resources for teachers like to Jeff to explore areas of professional development that they self-determine to be relevant and aligned to their needs. This new model recognizes the varied learning styles and needs of teachers are differentiated. It is also empathetic to the constraints placed on teachers through the breadth of initiatives and directives that overcrowd their ability to sustain actions and practices that contribute to their growth and development.  
Education has become fascinated with common initiatives. Since the roll out of the common core we have seen a shift towards common assessments, standardized lessons, common planning time, and whole group professional development initiatives. At the forefront of this shift is the idea that research based practices can be generalized and cloned. It is the implementation of these common initiatives that will provide a consistent, research based, instructional program for all students. 
     Lacking in this understanding is the belief that teachers are professionals. Individuals capable of critically reflecting, adapting to their classroom context, and challenging their own beliefs and assumptions about students, instruction, and learning. The "common directive" serves to motivate teachers to action utilizing an extrinsic pressure in order to conform to the expectations of the organization. 
     The  Go Time  model of professional learning is in direct contrast to the common directive.  It is rooted in motivational theory and recognizes that there is not a linear relationship between professional learning and student outcomes. Instead, it recognizes that a third dimension must be introduced in order to ensure sustained growth and development. Teacher motivation must be developed and sustained in order to progress teacher learning and impact student outcomes. Self determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) argue that motivation is dependent upon autonomy, competency and relatedness. The authors argue, "people whose motivation is self-authored compared to those whose motivation is externally controlled have more interest, excitement and confidence. This will manifest in enhanced performance, persistence and creativity" p.69.  Therefore, when thinking about the origin of motivation, consideration for the level of autonomy and self-efficacy that individuals perceive or experience is of importance. In considering relatedness, the authors position motivation by extrinsic sources as a variable that may direct motivation. They argue, when extrinsic motivators are fully assimilated to the self will they be perceived as autonomous. The self-directed model of professional learning provides participants with an opportunity to develop efficacy and autonomy in the process and activities while assimilating those needs to meet the expectations of professional learning directed by the school or district.   This integration of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is a process that happens over time and allows for sustained growth, development, or action. 

     Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.