From Teacher Training to Teacher Investment
When I hear the word training, I think of preparing for a marathon, learning how to use a piece of computer software, or getting a new pet. Perhaps the marathon analogy connects to teaching, but the term sits uneasily with me because it doesn’t reflect the continued growth of the complex set of skills and attitudes needed to be a master teacher. Globally, we see an increasing trend of top down policy decisions and teacher trainings expecting the teacher to be the cure for all of society’s ills. Poverty, trauma, lack of health care, broken families; we’re told they can all be fixed at school. The truth is that a highly qualified teacher in a positive school culture can support students to leapfrog grade levels and provide relational and social support. These teachers are invaluable and must be invested in, so that they will continue to grow and will themselves invest in thousands of children throughout their careers. As an education community we should shift our perspective from thinking about teachers as those who need to be trained, to professionals who deserve to be invested in.
The New Teacher Project released a study on teacher professional development in the United States which found that mandatory top-down professional development is usually ineffective. The professional development that is effective teachers chose individually such as a master’s degree, fellowship program, or course (The Mirage, 2015). Over the years, I’ve worked with extraordinary teachers from around the globe and I see the significant impact that professional development can have on teachers and students when it values pedagogy, content development, and the profession of education. I believe that this feeling of value, or of being invested in rather than trained, empowers teachers to be highly effective in their classrooms, school, and communities. I’m going to share two stories that demonstrate the power of positive investment in teachers.
Chilufya is a talented secondary school teacher leader from Zambia whose passion for education led her to a meaningful fellowship where she developed her pedagogical and content area skills in teaching English. Through the program she gained leadership skills, a strong network, and the empowerment to make a difference in her community. Chilufya created a reading and writing program for students at her school to create books using technology, supported her fellow teachers to improve teaching reading and writing, and started a reading and writing program for out-of-school children in her community. According to Chilufya, ’I love teaching. Teaching is in me. That’s the blood that runs in me.” When this type of passion is invested in, it has impacts beyond the classroom walls and into the greater school and community.
Recently, I was with a group of teachers in the Republic of Georgia developing a workshop on formative assessment. Prior to the workshop, I’d been cautioned that the teachers are stuck in their ways, they don’t want to learn new skills, they will be resistant. However, my Georgian colleague and I were thoughtful in our planning and willing to be flexible when the workshop wasn’t meeting the teacher’s needs or interests. By the end of the workshop, the teachers were lingering around the room, asking more questions and curious about new methodology. What this demonstrated is that teachers may have been resistant to previous top-down trainings but when they experienced a workshop tailored to their specific needs and facilitated with care, they opened up as professionals and were enthusiastic to grow.
The reality of most teachers’ packed schedules and growing list of expectations makes thoughtful professional development increasingly important for student success. The question we need to be asking ourselves as an education community is amidst the reality of limited funding and high need; how do we reframe teacher development programs so that they invest in a teacher rather then become another task on a checklist?
Sarah Bever is currently a Technical Adviser at IREX. She joined IREX in 2014 in the Education Division for the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program.