PD needs a makeover

So this year at my school we have a new administrator who is focusing on making data teams more successful. Now, most departments have had data teams for a few years, but some more successfully than others. The official duty of data teams has been in place since I started working three years ago, but my department has never done anything to perform actual data team work. The general consensus has been that because we are not a core subject then data teams doesn’t really apply to our teaching. But this year the new administrator is insistent that our department can do something to hold data team meetings, even if it doesn’t look like what core subjects do. So the administrator held a meeting with us to explain the process, she brainstormed with us what one topic we could collect data on, and then she left us to design an assessment to implement.

Unfortunately, this is the part of the process where things started to unravel. My department didn’t understand the task well enough to start working, but rather wanted to discuss the task itself. So instead of getting work done, we philosophized data teams. Then in the next meeting it was as if we hadn’t decided what we were doing at all. My colleagues became disgruntled about the work, viewing it as a waste of time. More debate ensued and more time was wasted.

I have become very frustrated by this process. On the one hand, I understand it’s hard for my colleagues to adjust to this new assignment. It does seem like a “flavor of the week” that these teachers have seen throughout their tenured careers. To me, however, data teams means analyzing student work and then collaborating with your professional colleagues about their students so we can share ideas and talk about how to move forward with our teaching. Well, I tried to explain and re-explain this to my colleagues but my passion for this task has not translated into any meaningful discussion. Even worse is that after their misinterpretation of data teams I went to the administrator, voiced my concerns, but the administrator doesn’t have time to come clarify and resolve our differences.

I am writing this because I think it’s a sign of the education system at large in America. Teacher professional development fails to accomplish it’s goal because teachers see themselves as sole rulers of their domain: the classroom. Many are reluctant to relinquish any control or collaborate with their peers because of their differing teaching philosophies. But in my opinion, there are certain characteristics that underlie all good teachers, regardless of particular teaching philosophies. I am passionate about data teams because I think that being reflective is a key component of teaching. I also believe that a school is only as strong as its teachers and this means that teachers should be working together to make it better. The reality is though that without better leadership and direction, teachers feel that the only important thing is what they do inside their classroom.

This is my fourth year teaching. After the first two I recognized that I did not get the support and the feedback that I wanted to get better. Now I have some experience and that enhances my teaching abilities greatly, but there’s still something missing. I feel isolated and unmotivated to improve my craft because of the climate in my department meetings. And I know I’m not the only teacher who has ever felt this way. And that’s a travesty.

I wrote earlier about the new teacher evaluation system. It’s a step in the right direction, but I do believe that tenure is doing the system a greater disservice by allowing certain, unmotivated veteran teachers to maintain such complacency about their teaching duties. In my view, data teams is not an extra assignment or flavor of the week–it’s simply good teaching practice. Let’s reform the education practice so that teachers get more time to collaborate and understand the importance of reflection and self-improvement in their craft. 

I think this all starts first with a mindset of both administrators and teachers alike. Schools need to create a culture that values professional development. 


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