Collaboration and Observation

Teachers aren’t the only ones who wish they had more time for collaboration with their peers. Many principals also think this is a missing piece of their district’s professional development system, according to first-year results from the foundation’s Innovative Professional Development (iPD) initiative.

MDRC, which is conducting the evaluation, presented some early findings at the “Ideas Fest” held this week in New Orleans for iPD districts and partners. IPD is an effort to redesign professional learning experiences for teachers so that they are more closely aligned to the work teachers do in the classroom everyday, match teachers’ individual needs and goals, and allow for more collaboration among teachers. In fact collaboration with peers and observing their colleagues is what teachers report to be the most useful types of professional learning. But only half of the teachers responding to a survey from MDRC said they get a chance to spend time in other teachers’ classrooms.

Over a three-year period, MDRC is looking closely at five sites—Fresno Unified School District and Long Beach Unified School District in California, Jeffco Public Schools in Colorado, Lake County Schools in Florida and the Tulsa Public Schools. Through surveys, focus groups, visits to schools and reviews of district documents, the researchers are gathering data on these questions:

  • What systems within districts are changing as part of districts’ implementation of the iPD theory of action?
  • How is iPD implementation changing teacher professional development opportunities and patterns of participation, individually and collectively?
  • How does teacher engagement, social capital and instructional practice change during the course of implementing the iPD Challenge?

Principals also say that they need support on how to identify the kind of professional development teachers need and with matching teachers to the right kind of professional development. It’s no surprise to us that a big chunk of teachers—65 percent—say they want different types of professional development. But barriers, such as cost, time constraints and a lack of learning opportunities that really meet their needs, stand in the way.
iPD ideas

It’s also no surprise that the study uncovers this tension between individual and collective professional development—what I described in this earlier post. How do we find the right balance in iPD between supporting teachers’ individual goals and needs and providing the right professional development that moves an entire school or district in the right direction?

This early evaluation also points to a tension between implementing a district-wide professional development system and supporting what’s happening within schools and classrooms. And it points again to the role of the principal in supporting both the individual and collective aspects of iPD, the researchers said.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing how these districts solve many of these challenges so that teachers across the country can benefit from the kinds learning experiences that they need to improve outcomes for their students.

 – C.