If only we could “fix” teachers!
This seems to be the paradigm of almost every politician and many media commentators – the perceived failings of school education systems are because of poor teaching. Consequently, their logical conclusion is to raise entry standards to teaching (which, often, bear little relationship to the qualities/skills needed by great teachers), improve pre-service education and/or require practising teachers to give up their own time to “upskill”.
Teacher education provided by schools and school systems tend to be “one offs” and do not often lead to changes in many teachers’ practices. Engaging professional development sessions can pique the interest of teachers, and some teachers will even make some changes in their practice, but, overall, professional development days are seen, particularly by teachers, as a waste of time and money.
However, enough research1 has been done on teacher education to establish a few basic principles for increasing its effectiveness.
In a nut shell, effective teacher education should be on-site, ongoing and just in time. Teachers need time and support to trial and practise new strategies to facilitate effective learning. The professional development must be relevant to the teacher’s work, and delivered when and where needed, by the teacher. Therefore, teacher education must be individualised2.
The other essential aspect of “effectivising” professional development is the school leadership. A principal who models professional learning, including learning from things that do not go to plan, and makes it explicit that the whole school community is one of life-long learners would be expected to encourage more teachers to take risks with their professional leaning.