Thursday, April 28, 2011

Are you walking or just talking?

I'm like most teachers.  My first year or two, I was swimming in newness and trying to stay afloat.  As soon as the dust settled, I started to realize the hurdles I was up against.  Soon, I became disillusioned.  I think that is when most of those who leave education do so-when they realize their workload will forever be increasing and their support will forever be decreasing from the futile, but still appreciated, efforts of mentoring during the first year.  

A roadblock in Klemmets vegImage via WikipediaI made it past the doldrums, and continued on my journey determined to make a difference, despite the odds and roadblocks stacked against my fellow teachers and me.  The roadblocks are many, varied, and complex, but one in particular always rubbed me worse than the others, simply because it was so easy to 
change, but no one ever seemed interested or willing to change it.  That roadblock is staff development.  

Even the name draws ire from deep within my teacher-centric being.  After all, anyone who has been to the traditional staff development can attest to the fact that they were not being developed at all.  They may have been preached to, or they may have drilled down into the data, but they certainly were not "developed".  If they were, we wouldn't still be talking about trying to change for the 21st Century 11 years after the century has started. 

Staff development has long been criticized by teachers, but there are also plenty of organizations, research, and documentation out there to prove that the old way of "one size fits all" and "sit and get and forget" don't work.   We KNOW that we need time, time to give teachers to practice and apply with support the things we want to eventually affect change in the classrooms.  If we don't give them the time and sustained support, nothing ever changes.  Look around.  Does this describe your school?  

Chances are, you work in a district like most others, in which a new initiative comes along every so often that gets everyone all fired up.  Then, when nothing becomes of it, it goes away.  Nothing becomes of it because no one ever took the time to make sure it was being  understood, internalized, and practiced by all staff.  That didn't happen because those with the power to give teachers what they've been asking for won't change the approach.  

It is ironic to me that we are so bent on the idea of data-driven decision making in education that we fail to recognize some of the most important data.  That data states that nothing is ever going to change unless you make sure your teachers are on board, prepared, and supported.  That simply cannot happen in two in-services at the beginning and end of the year.  The National Staff Development Council has clear standards that are regularly ignored.  

If your district isn't providing the time and allocating the resources to support initiatives at the teacher level, then it is just doing lip service.  Talking the talk, but not walking the walk.  
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