Five Models of Teacher-Centered Professional Development | Global Partnership for Education

Five Models of Teacher-Centered Professional Development

Beyond Workshops and Trainings

Aberash Tsegaye and teacher Roman Getiye Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (c) GPE/Midastouch

Earlier this year I wrote a series of posts critiquing the hegemony of the cascade (train-the-trainers) approach (here, here and here) and promoting teacher centered professional development. In the spirit of “better-late-than-never,” I return again to this theme of teacher-centered professional development. Specifically, what are some models of teacher-centered professional development? What are some alternatives to duopoly of workshops and the cascade approach? To answer such questions, this post offers five models of teacher-centered professional development (PD) that I’ve seen used well in (all but one) low-income countries.

1. Observation/Assessment

In this model, the professional development provider—a master teacher in a school, a specialist, perhaps a very experienced teacher colleague—observes teachers in their classrooms, assessing their instructional practices and providing structured feedback. This model of PD may be used as a support measure following workshops or periodically throughout the school year as a form of peer coaching (Sparks & Loucks-Horsley, 1989). Using something as simple as a spreadsheet graph, a trained observer can provide an immediate visual snapshot of a teacher’s performance, as we did in one EDC project in Indonesia, and combined with per coaching observation/assessment can help teachers refine specific areas of practice.

2. Open Classrooms

Teachers want to see other teachers in action. In an open classroom model, teachers create lessons and invite colleagues to observe the lesson and provide feedback in a post-observation session.

The focus of open classroom is on teacher behavior. I first saw an open classroom in action in Azerbaijan in 2003 and have used this model in every face-to-face professional development program I’ve designed since (and with success in India, United States and Indonesia). When the observation is followed by structured discussion and information sharing, watching more skilled colleagues in action, it benefits both parties— those conducting the lesson and those observing (Gaible & Burns, 2007).

3. Lesson Study

Lesson study is a well-studied and highly successful form of professional development—if teachers are provided the time, support, resources and skilled facilitation needed to make it a success. Lesson study has been used as a dominant form of professional development in Japan for years. Japan’s curriculum focuses in depth on fewer curriculum topics and Japanese educational culture has a longer tradition of outside observers in classrooms.

In lesson study, teachers collaboratively plan, develop, or improve a lesson; field test the lesson in a classroom; observe it; make changes; and collect data to see the impact of the lesson on student learning. This usually occurs over a period of months.

Lesson study has been shown to be a proven way of enhancing teachers’ design and instructional skills (Stigler & Hiebert, 1999). However, there is a fairly high entry barrier: It is extremely comprehensive, focusing on all aspects of instruction, and is therefore time- and resource-intensive. It demands that teachers have foundational skills in all aspects of teaching. It also demands that professional development providers be skilled across a range of areas (content, instructional design, knowledge of instructional and assessment models). Oftentimes, implementing educational organizations or consulting firms do not have staff with such developed skills, and thus often deem lesson study “impractical” for poor countries— but in fact designing lessons is a core teacher competency.

4. Study Groups

Teachers benefit from formal discussions and interactions with peers around critical issues. In study groups teachers collaborate, as a single large group or in smaller teams, to study a particular issue with the goal of solving a common problem or creating and implementing a plan to attain a common goal. The study—the reading, discussion, writing and reflection, led by a skilled facilitator—is the key component of a study group. During the study process they may use print-based resources, classroom materials (such as work created by students) and their experiences as part of their approach to the problem.

5. Looking at Student Work

“Looking at Student Work” (LASW) is a model of teacher collaborative self-study and formative assessment that focuses on examining student work and assessing the way the teacher designed the particular activity being reviewed. Having participated in LASW activities as an instructional coach in urban schools in the United States, I saw firsthand the power of teachers collaboratively examining student’s work. Linking it back to how students learn, and how the lesson was designed, and then restructuring lessons based on this information is a key component.

This type of professional development uses highly structured protocols that make the examination of student work non-threatening and keep the focus off what the teacher did or did not do and instead on evidence of student learning.

The LASW folks have a great step-by-step website, which, though dated, provides more information for interested readers.

Pedagogies of Patience and Perseverance

What makes these forms of professional development teacher-centered and worthy options (ceteris paribus—all things being equal) for developing countries?

First, they start from where the teacher is in terms of his/her practice and offer planning, modeling, supervision and support that are differentiated and individualized. Next, they focus on the core behaviors of teaching—how students learn, how to design lessons that really target student learning, and the best ways to teach those lessons—all within the context of schools and classrooms. Third, they are active—eschewing the usual sitzprobe professional development sessions and involving teachers in the hard work of thinking about how students learn and how they themselves teach, and designing learning experiences that bridge the two. Fourth, they are highly structured, iterative and support based so that teachers can plan, practice, receive feedback and improve what they do.

Finally, these models build professional learning communities in which teachers, “enlisting colleagues to help them critique and improve implementation of a particular idea or strategy, can customize, personalize, and adapt new skills and concepts to their particular setting” (Burns, 2011: 190).

The community-based aspect of the above models can reinforce and institutionalize many of the main points learned in professional development workshops and indeed can increase, not just the human capital of teachers, but the social capital of schools. A recent U.S. study of “knowledge spillovers” among teachers, indicates that teachers who interact regularly with higher performing peers often improve their performance as a result (Jackson & Bruegmann, 2009).

The above models represent a shift in the psychology, pedagogy and pace of current paradigms of professional development. These models recognize that professional learning for teachers is iterative and developmental and that change occurs not at twitch-speed but at a much more evolutionary pace. They also show that instruction and support for teachers must be characterized by perseverance, practice and patience if we want teacher learning to be deep and sustained.

Mary Burns is a senior technology specialist and a professional development specialist at Education Development Center (EDC).

References:

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Comments - Join the Conversation

video clubs

Interesting overview which connects to a research I did in Cambodia about using video clubs, a way of professional development which is often used and researched in other countries. Please let me know if you are interested in the first results, which will be published hopefully early next year.

I am interested!

Leandra,
I would like to read about your results. What is the video club about?
You can contact me via twitter @tracyrosen - thanks!

Professional development can be so much more than it is in many of our schools and centres in Quebec - looking to change that! :)

Video club research

Hi Leandra,

I would love to see your research. You can email it to me at mburns [at] edc
[dot] org. Thanks for reaching out.

Mary

more practical content

Mary Burns very insightful article
but how about bringing the industry specialists to teach the practical so as to bridge the gap between theory and practice for example I would love to have the marketing gurus come into my class with their practical skills in marketing

video clubs

Dear Leandra, I would like to know what is the video club about? I am very much interested to read about your research. Thank you

Teacher-centered professional development

Dear Mary,

Your piece, I believe, defines the vision that will ultimately enable us to get teacher professional development right. Pedagogies of patience and perseverance (love the alliterative lilt), are vital shifts needed everywhere, but particularly in areas where public education is the only healthy way out of lives circumscribed by poverty.

The small pilot study I am now doing in Maasailand, Kenya, is a promising entry level to teacher-centered professional development in the teaching of early grade reading and writing in an area of extreme scarcity. My approach and materials, which promote higher-level thinking and self-direction, engage teachers in practices grounded in the proverb ...If a person is hungry, teach her/him to fish... This touch stone goes a long way toward clarifying and motivating a shift away from traditional rote learning.

Demonstration lessons embedded in the context of a 6-part model of instruction; supported group practice; guided classroom implementation; individual cognitive coaching sessions dedicated to reflection & lesson planning and teacher-initiated collaborative work were implemented during a 6-week period. Literacy coaches were trained during the 6-week period as well. Their job is to sustain our model of instruction, student- teacher transactions, and coaching support for a minimum of 3 terms.

Given the early success indicators of this project, I would welcome the opportunity to share the details of my program www.creatingmasterteachers.com with you.

Thank you.

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