In the book The Diagnostic Teacher: Constructing New Approaches to Professional Development, EDC researchers Mildred Z. Solomon and Catherine Cobb Morocco contrast traditional models of professional learning for teachers with standard practice in other professions:
The assumption …that professional development takes place within communities of practitioners runs deep in many professions. Whether in law, medicine, architecture, or physics, a sense of connection to other contributing members is at the very core of what it means to be a professional. . . .Professionals are identified not only by their specialized learning but also by their socialization into membership organizations and their affiliation with colleagues who are the source of new knowledge and lifelong learning.
In the field of education, the concept of communities of competent professionals actively and interactively building on one another’s knowledge of students, their disciplines, and pedagogy is a radical departure from most current conceptions of teaching and, consequently, of professional development. In the majority of schools today, “staff developers,” often with minimal classroom teacher participation, plan and provide in–service “training.” Most often, these trainings take the form of single workshops, or sometimes a course involving several sessions. The emphasis is on the staff developer presenting or transmitting pedagogical strategies that teachers will apply to their particular students and classrooms. A “deficit” model frequently underlies this conception, with the assumption that teachers’ missing skills have been identified.
Solomon and Morocco go on to issue a call to action for a reconception of professional education for teachers:
Rather than seeing professional development as the transmission of knowledge and practices from staff developer to teacher, we need to invent a new model in which staff developers and teachers join with one another to build a common professional community.
That sort of model of professional development is currently being pioneered and studied in many districts—including several urban districts participating in the National Science Foundation’s Urban Systemic Initiative (USI) and Urban Systemic Program (USP). EDC researchers Brian Lord and Barbara Miller are studying teacher leadership programs in six USI and USP sites to better understand the contributions of full–time teacher leaders to the professional learning of mathematics and science teachers throughout the district.
“Standards–based reforms call for a new depth of mathematical understanding and ability on the part of teachers as well as students,” says Lord. He and Miller are interested in learning whether teacher leadership programs have the potential to bring about the kind of deep and lasting improvement in teaching and learning that the standards movement requires. “Assessments alone won’t do it. Curriculum alone won’t do it. High standards alone won’t do it,” says Lord. “At some point you have to ensure that teachers are learning what they need to know to help kids meet these tougher requirements.”
“Teacher Leadership Programs” describes the work of teacher leaders in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and El Paso, Texas.
Another promising model of professional learning communities are whole–faculty study groups, currently underway in many schools participating in EDC’s ATLAS Communities program. In the ATLAS model, study groups support a broader comprehensive reform effort by bringing together teachers and administrators from across a group or “pathway” of schools in a district to examine a particular teaching and learning challenge. The sessions are determined by student and teacher needs and interests and generally revolve around the close examination of student work. “The teachers in our school had been isolationist, working behind closed doors,” says Pat Sullivan, principal of Everett High, an ATLAS school in Everett, Washington. “We really didn’t know one another professionally, even though some of us had been teaching in classrooms right next door to each other for 20 years.” “Whole–Faculty Study Groups” looks at how these groups have supported the comprehensive reform effort in Everett, while transforming the school’s professional culture.
Originally published on June 1, 2002