In our third post exploring how to develop a culture of success with the Next Generation Science Standards, we turn our attention to the role of professional development .
It is essential to have a professional development plan that positively shapes culture. This is because if you’re going to do something new, then you need to understand what’s involved in that new thing. This is true for any task, including implementing the Next Generation Science Standards.
Teachers teach the students. But who teaches the teachers and the administrators? That’s key because
if you buy a program that you don’t understand, or somebody buys a program for you that you don’t understand, then how can you implement the program as it’s designed to be used?
In a district that has purchased a new curriculum program, the teachers need to understand both how the program and the standards work. They also need to understand the pedagogical approach and how expectations have shifted because otherwise, they’re not going to be able to develop a next generation learning environment that leads to the kind of impacts that schools expect.
Professional development should be aimed at building skills and understanding for effective instruction. This means it needs to tie together NGSS and whatever program you’re implementing to help teachers understand how the two are connected and how one is accomplishing the other.
It will be important to provide educators with the space to take what they’ve learned in the professional development and begin to implement it, engaging in the work as it is intended. That may mean shifting pedagogy, instructional practices, and expectations for students.
To achieve this, professional development needs to move away from a group of people sitting together in a room. Instead, it should focus on creating an empowerment team where teachers are brought together as stakeholders and given the opportunity to develop their practice, both by practicing their practice and observation—observing others and having others observe them.
The role of professional development is really to set teachers up for pedagogical risk-taking and release of responsibility for their students, removing themselves from the traditional role of explainer.
In other words, it should give teachers the permission to have active learning, to have students engaged in a productive struggle, to set up the expectations for students that formative assessment will be the predominant form of assessment.
This can be achieved by phasing out old traditional practices in the science classroom such as writing a single standard on the board. The new standards cannot effectively be taught that way, but teachers will only retire antiquated practices with permission from whoever their top instructional leader is.
This is why professional development should be connected and continuous. The strongest professional development programs incorporate results from classroom performance to evaluate what people took from a previous professional development session so that they could then refine their own practice.
This means taking the results of an educator’s performance in real time and looking at the classroom as a formative assessment opportunity for teachers and students. It means engaging those teachers, not judging them as people, not writing things in their record, but really honestly engaging them in improving their practice on a regular basis and helping them get in to see the practice of their peers and using that iron to sharpen iron.
One way to achieve this is through learning walks. If you go on learning walks, those learning walks are most beneficial when they’re formative, not summative. Their purpose should be to provide insight into the school’s vision, about how the vision is being communicated and reflected in the classroom.
They should also inform the practitioner of how effectively they are reflecting that vision in the classroom and changes that they could make. What is crucial to remember here is that all people, including both students and teachers, learn the practices by engaging in the work. Therefore it’s important that performance is always looked at from a student’s perspective. How does a particular pedagogical technique engage students? What is it actually asking of that student? Do the students understand their role? The expectations? Why are they giving the answer they are?
Teachers mirror this same sort of process with students, engaging students in formative assessment to better understand their own instruction, and for students to better understand what it means to learn well. As you see, we’re working our way toward how the tribe defines success.