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The Center’s CA Insights – 2017-18:
In the Professional Learning domain, we focus on professional learning opportunities — both formal and informal — that advance educators’ understanding and application of the California State Standards. Here, district leaders, principals, and teacher leaders describe the kinds of professional learning they receive and provide, and how those experiences vary in approach, frequency, and adequacy. In addition, we highlight the key role that teacher leaders play.
Most of the district leaders we spoke with report drawing on internal expertise, such as embedding teacher leaders in schools, to improve teachers’ instructional practices around the California State Standards.
Learning From Peers
Examples of Site-Based Approaches to Professional Learning
“Every other month, we do peer observations, and we do it throughout the grade level so it’s three days every other month. [However, finding] subs is always a challenge.”
“Teachers have a shortened [day] to work in collaborative groups. Schools use site funds to release teachers to work in collaborative groups.”
“[The ideal approach is to] do peer-to-peer, or your instructional coach comes in and you create a lesson, peer review [the] lesson, and an instructional coach teaches it. Especially [for] new teachers, [you can say,] ‘Watch me do this,’ and then you have an opportunity to debrief it afterwards.”
Districts provide, on average, 1.6 hours of professional release time per week for teachers to collaborate, including through professional learning communities (PLCs). We talked to teacher leaders about how it’s being used.
In Their Own Words: How Teacher Leaders and Teachers Are Using Professional Release Time to Collaborate
“They have their PLC binders, and they keep notes on the binder. Within their binder we have expectations: ‘Where are you in the cycle? What evidence do you have and what have you?’ Then we go instead of sitting on everyone they turn them in and we just take notes and ask questions and they provide feedback…
Teachers are currently getting approximately two meeting sessions a week, potentially three. They fluctuate anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Weekly, probably a total of about anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours.”
“We’ve started having the tough decisions of making changes because some of those PLCs are really stuck in their way of teaching… and weren’t ready to make that shift. We moved five teachers around the grade level.”
“We have an extra 54 hours in the teacher’s contracts [set aside for professional release time]. We meet every Monday at our site. [At] the PLCs, they are looking at data, formative assessments, et cetera. Then we have about eight faculty meetings that we have figured into the hours.”
“Ours is very informal… We have late start Wednesdays also, but we use ours for other things. We always end up doing something else… We are just coming up with stuff on our own, little sub departments. Me and the other biology teacher, I’ll say, “I was working on this. What do you think of that?” Then we look at it, what if we add this. We collaborate, create an assignment.”
Districts have consistently told us that teacher leaders are the backbone of implementation strategies. A majority (68%) of teacher leaders we spoke with feel prepared to support teachers with the California State Standards.
We Asked Teacher Leaders About the Support for Transitioning From Classroom Teacher to Teacher Leader – Their Responses Revealed a Diversity of Teacher Leader Training Approaches:
“The county has been training us, like two training days, working with mentors, different topics each time and stuff.”
“I even have a mentor coach, so our [approach] is to provide a coach that does several cycles with me as well to improve my practice.”
“I have probably been out of the classroom more than I’ve been in. I’ve worked for a couple of years for the [outside organization] and ran around the Valley doing professional development [and] I’ve been through any number of trainings. I’ve been to train-the-trainer [programs too]. I’m a practitioner.”
“I didn’t have any formal training because we were a small site and [I] had the initiative.”
In Their Own Words: California Teachers and Leaders on Lessons Learned Related to Professional Learning for Standards Implementation
Develop a Focus and Clarity of Objective
“We really need to focus people and focus our professional development on a few really key pieces and really build the expertise of making sure that people, that our principals and our TOSAs, really have a lot of confidence in their own abilities too, and really have a clear understanding of what those pieces are so that they can better roll them out at their sites.”
Measurement and Feedback Can Facilitate Learning
“We do actual feedback where we do 15 or 20 minute class visitations [to capture observations]. We don’t capture the whole lesson, but we capture enough as it relates to the gift of framework. Then we schedule a follow up face to face meeting with the teachers. I’ve got to tell you that, for me as an instructional leader, that has proven to be the most effective way to improve instruction.”
Teacher Leadership is about Hands-On Engagement
“We do, every other week, grade-level collaborations to facilitate [professional learning]. What I do is coach the coaches. I ride around the weekly meetings where we norm ourselves and do some professional development and shared learning on strategies that the coaches can use in better facilitating meetings [with their teachers].”
Teacher Leaders in California: Who Are They?
The term teacher leader refers to educators who have experience teaching in classroom settings and expertise in instruction and leading peers. The primary job of a teacher leader is to coach, mentor, and improve other teachers – usually their peers within the same school – on various aspects of instructional practice, from pedagogy to unit planning to understanding student data. Due to the variation in teacher leaders’ roles and responsibilities, job titles and job descriptions can differ substantially; on paper, teacher leaders may be called instructional coaches, literacy specialists, teachers on special assignment (TOSAs), or data coaches, among other titles. Across the Center’s 35 focus group participants in our 2017 research cycle, teacher leader was the most frequently listed job title for these individuals. Read on for more facts about our 2017 sample.
Want to learn more about teacher leaders in California? Read this 2018 CenterView publication from the Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning: Teacher Leadership Works – It Builds, Energizes, Sustains