My principal slipped an article into my mailbox at school today. The name of the article was: “Teacher Expertise Matters” from the Guide to Professional Learning Teams. I thought that this article was an interesting choice to distribute to the whole staff, mainly because it sends an important message often gone unheard as many counter-narratives play out in the field of education. While most educators are aware of the research regarding teacher effectiveness and how it is the primary influence in student achievement (Darling-Hammond, 2000), the current climate in education today is sometimes one that exudes distrust of teachers. Instead of acknowledging teacher expertise, most conversations are centered around how to make sure teachers are held accountable or how we as a nation need to exert more control over the school environment. Yes, I’m all for accountability, but I’m not sure the American school systems have the right idea about how to accomplish it. Evaluating teacher practice is important but what is just as important is supporting professional learning and collaboration so educators can continue to grow.
I think this article, “Teacher Expertise Matters” brings forward some great reminders that we need to really think about as we move forward with educational decision-making. If we know that student achievement is higher among students with more skilled teachers (Langer, 2002), then maybe the emphasis on teacher accountability measured by student achievement data on standardized tests or re-vamping the evaluation system should lessen. Maybe the answer lies in continuing to develop teacher expertise in less threatening forms. It is a very real possibility that the accountability systems designed to improve educational outcomes are instead becoming the structures that threaten the innovation that is led by teachers in school systems in America.
The Guide to Professional Learning Teams outlines suggestions regarding professional learning for educators from Teacher Quality: Report on the Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers, published by the National Center for Education Statistics. The report states that the most important factors in advancing teacher skills and performance are:
1. Teachers must spend more time in professional development than they currently spend.
2. Teachers must engage in collaboration and on-the-job learning in a climate that supports professional growth.
3. Teacher learning must be ongoing and must maintain momentum over time.
In essence, the research all seems to point in one direction. Efforts to develop what Hargreaves and Fullen refer to as “professional capital”, is what will lead to improved teaching and learning for our students. If the evaluation system that is being implemented in the U.S. does not contribute to the professional learning opportunities needed to help educators develop expertise, then we are not heading in the right direction.
Teacher expertise matters. Teacher learning opportunities matter. Teacher opportunities to work together matter. These are the things that lead to seeds of change.