September 21, 2014
“Students learn best when they are engaged in meaningful activities; when they collaborate and receive peer feedback; when they reflect critically on what they are doing; when they work on real-world, challenging, authentic activities; when their work is constantly evaluated; and when they are intrinsically motivated.” (Vrasidas & Glass, 2004)
Certain times of the year in a teacher’s life there are moments of anxiety and dread when the words “professional development” are whispered in the hallowed halls of their institutions. With the age of accountability upon us, and the level of anxiety rising in all areas of our schools, we need to recognize the problems inherent in providing relevant professional development that truly has an effect on improving instruction, and student achievement.
Unfortunately, most professional development is a waste if there is no connection to the real-world issues faced by the faculty on a daily basis. In fact, anyone that has ever taught in the schools knows that peer feedback is an essential part of the professional learning process, especially in the faculty room. There are a few successful models where professional development occurring on the school site, and woven in such a way as to encourage facilitative feedback and peer evaluation may be a more constructive and achievable process for creating significant change.
Over recent years there has been an abundance of research created in the types of successful professional development that can nurture this desired outcome, but to what avail do we look for these opportunities? We cannot only evaluate teachers into oblivion, we must help them discover their potential, and their discoveries should be gathered in a collective, and constructive manner with the aim of improving teacher and student learning. If teaching is ever to rise to the level of a profession in the eyes of our critics, than this goal is a must in the lives of our teachers and our students.
There are many successful models for professional development, but one, which I am quite impressed with, is the format that actively involves, and infuses collaboration and feedback into the process. “Feedback” is defined as ‘‘specific information comparing a student’s observed performance with an established standard or objective. In a study by VandenBurgh, Ros, and Beijaard (2014), efforts were directed to improving teachers’ feedback behavior during active learning by implementing a specifically designed professional development program (PDP) measuring the extent teachers’ feedback occurred during active learning. The PDP outline for the study is outlined below.
1. Informative meeting with team
2. Videotaping an active learning lesson delivered by each teacher
3. Selection of pertinent fragments from their own videotape by each teacher
4. Video interaction training meeting in small groups and a facilitator/supervisor
The study was ongoing and proved that a long-term effort of PDP facilitated for active teacher involvement was much more successful in improving the teacher’s ability to change making constructive efforts to improving student learning and achievement.
The opening quote presents a challenge to all 21st Century School Leaders to create and provide the opportunity and the process for constructive professional learning, whenever possible. Take up the challenge and create significant change for your schools this year. “Innovative professional development will involve opportunities for teachers to share their expertise, learn from peers, and collaborate on real-world projects.” (Vrasidas & Glass, 2004).
Vanden Bergh, Linda, Anje Ros, and Douwwe Beijaard. "Improving Teacher Feedback During Active Learning: Effects of a Professional Development Program." American Educational Research Journal 51, no. 4 (2014): 772-809.
Vrasidas, Charalambos, and Gene Glass. Online Professional Development for Teachers. IAP, 2004.