I've gotten into the habit of following the weekly focused conversations that Education Week hosts with experts across the professional spectrum. Tackling topics ranging from merit pay to mentoring, I find these chats to be a source of diverse viewpoints that stretch my thinking. Following the Crucial Conversations concept of "filling the pool of shared knowledge," Ed Week has done a great job making education policy approachable.
This week's conversation focused on teacher directed professional development. Guest experts from the Teacher Leaders Network took questions on the power of professional learning teams, structuring teacher directed professional development at the high school level and the role that action research can play in identifying instructional practices that work. Practitioners and policymakers alike submitted questions that were answered with a first hand understanding of what high quality, job embedded professional development looks like at the school level.
Perhaps the most intriguing question in the conversation came from Dr. Francis Gardner, an Emeritus Professor of Biology at Columbus State University, who wrote:
I have conducted over 30 teacher workshops (in content mostly; space science and biology) and taken more than 15 workshops and Chatauqua courses myself. My concern and question(s) is/are: Can the blind lead the blind; especially in critical areas that need reform?
Certainly we need the expertise only obtained by experience, but too often this trumps good, sound research. For example, education has been fraught with "trends and fads" for more than 100 years; usually created by complex interactions, especially in teacher education programs, with little input from content experts.
What checks and balances will be used in these "in-school" staff development programs? Does this approach offer just another over-simplified lip-service to "improving education"?
Gardner's post pushed my thinking...but not about teacher-directed professional development. He left me wondering how we've gotten to the point where the first-hand knowledge of practitioners is described as something other than "good, sound research."
Why is it that content specialists are seen as "experts" yet decisions based on classroom expertise qualifies as nothing more than "trends and fads?" How can outsiders judge sophisticated conversations between colleagues as "just another over-simplified lip-service," while demanding "checks and balances" for teacher driven professional development?
How can we---as accomplished teachers who understand the complexity of our work-- begin to re-establish credibility beyond our classrooms?