Teachers are incredibly busy. They need to be the experts on a variety of curricular topics, especially in the elementary years, and for a variety of learners. Most teachers have earned a bachelor’s degree and spent additional time studying pedagogy and curriculum to earn their teaching credential. Further, they have all the wisdom gained from their time in the classroom. It is highly unlikely that they spend their afternoons and evenings also reading current educational research that is relative to their practice. Most professional learning is provided to teachers during their staff development time and relates to implementing curriculum and instruction trends or site policies. However, professional learning should not stop, and does not stop, once we begin teaching. Our children deserve teachers who are consistently making themselves into experts. Formal professional learning is a vital part of any teacher’s career.
Educational research is constantly examining new ways of understanding and employing factors that shape educational outcomes. Researchers are adding to the field on a daily basis. How does this research reach the classroom teacher? According to Makel and Plucker (2014), less than one percent of that research ever reaches the classroom teacher.
According to the July/August 2007 Harvard Business Review, “experts are made, not born.” The AIMS Center for Math and Science Education Research Division acts as an agent making sure that applicable research reaches classroom teachers. Our charge is to develop teachers’ professional learning around viable and reliable educational research related to how children come to know and understand their number concepts. We believe that understanding how children construct number in kindergarten and grade 1 benefits teachers and students by offering a fair and equitable mathematics experience that continues to support students while they progress as learners. While teachers aren’t necessarily the only math experts in the room (students bring a level of personal expertise as well), they are the instructional experts. They are not born teachers, but through education, experience, and professional learning, experts are made.
Last fall, I witnessed the journey of two teacher/researchers as they returned to the classroom (see Grace Florez and Beverly Ford’s blog posts) to experience the challenges and rewards of applying their research into student adaptive pedagogy. Both of these individuals were former classroom teachers, each with a Master of Arts in Education and years of experience studying student adaptive pedagogy as described by Dr. Leslie P Steffe. Student adaptive pedagogy (SAP) is a research-based method of teaching in which instruction is guided by what students know already and the ways in which they perceive given situations. It requires that a teacher build a deep understanding of each student’s knowledge and is able to ask questions or create situations that both support the student’s current understanding and challenge that understanding in ways that will expand it.
Next fall we will begin a pilot program with approximately a dozen teachers. We will combine the knowledge and insight we have gained with the knowledge and insight of full time K-1 classroom teachers. While the details are not completely laid out yet, we will use this spring to reflect on lessons learned and to prepare the program that will be used in the fall. I believe that this venture will produce meaningful and viable ways of using job-embedded professional learning.
What were some of your most valuable forms of professional learning?