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  • Writer's pictureAllan J. Mucerino


Updated: Mar 21, 2018

Bold leadership is about ensuring that just, equitable, and inclusive education is a dominant theme driving the decision-making process.

In my most recent blog (March 26, 2017) I referenced a Linda Darling-Hammond research brief from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. In the brief, titled How High-Achieving Countries Develop Great Teachers, Darling-Hammond looked at how high-achieving countries organize professional learning for teachers, and draws a set of policy lessons for the United States.

She prefaces the brief by noting that research shows that professional learning can have a powerful effect on teacher skills and knowledge, and on how well students learn. To be effective, however, professional learning for teachers needs to be conducted in the ways that it is many high achieving countries—continuously, collaboratively, and with a focus on teaching specific content to particular learners Studies of U.S. professional development show that a small minority of American teachers receive the kind of sustained, job-embedded professional development that research indicates can change teaching practice and improve student achievement.

She makes the point that practices in high-achieving countries stand in stark contrast to those in the United States. In top-ranked nations, supports for teaching contain the following elements:
  1. Universal high-quality teacher education, typically two to four years in duration, completely at government expense, featuring extensive clinical training as well as coursework

  2. Equitable, competitive salaries, comparable to those of other professions, such as engineering, sometimes with additional stipends for hard-to-staff locations

  3. Mentoring for all beginners, coupled with a reduced teaching load and shared planning time

  4. Extensive opportunities for ongoing professional learning, embedded in substantial planning and collaboration time at school.

  5. Teacher involvement in curriculum and assessment development and decision making.

We are in the midst of a renaissance in my school district. How we deliver professional learning is central to our cultural rebirth.  The elements Darling-Hammond proposed above are foundational in breadth and scope. The elements below are our principles. Together they inform our developing PD plan:

Principle #1: 50 Hours/teacher. What works is ongoing, sustained (50 hours/yr), and connected to teachers collaborating in practice. This collaboration model increases the influence teachers have on crucial school decision making.

Principle #2: Less is more. We have too many initiatives competing with one another. First action is to identify what can be put on the back burner and what should and must continue.

Principle #3: Reduce/Eliminate PD during the school day. Missing class time disrupts learning and has a negative spillover effect on the entire campus. Plus the expense of substitute teachers is costly and money poorly spent, in most cases. Extend the year (e.g. Educator Effectiveness Funds days)…..and use after school and Saturdays, when necessary. 

Principle #4: Move away from traditional forms of PD. Move towards new forms of meaningful PD. Namely, workplace learning. 

Principle #5: Develop teacher walk-through protocol. A highly-structured protocol for all-inclusive walk-throughs. These are brief, structured, non-evaluative observations followed by collaborative conversations. 

Our goal is to develop a model that will sustain teacher leadership and their ownership of learning. We aim to become a destination district for teachers by developing a sophisticated model that not only provides support but attracts teachers that are lifelong learners (all educators are not).  And we don't have to look across the ocean either. A neighboring school district of ours that serves as a model is Arcadia Unified. Superintendent David Vannasdall and Chief Instructional Officer Jeff Wilson have already institutionalized elements 2-5 from Darling-Hammond's list above.

It is hard to imagine why any school district would not want the learner to own their own learning.  It defies logic.  It's what we encourage our teachers to do with their students.  Yet, I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to building PD models that are built from the top down instead of the ground up with pressure from the sides.   

What's up with that?  Tradition?  Hard-headedness?  Laziness?  Go with "it" instead of against it? I'm not sure why, but it bothers me as a leader of leaders committed to inspire the next generation of education "inspirers" that we are not pushing hard enough.  

A close friend of mine and former colleague when we both were high school principals in Saddleback Valley, presented to my doctoral students this past week.  He was magnificent.  He shared how he has set up PD to support un-tracking his hugely successful high school in an affluent community to ensure all of his students are well served, regardless of their birthright.  I am proud of him. Who wouldn't be?  He is leading boldly.

But wait.  Don't crown him yet (see this to accentuate message).  While I was inspired by his presentation,  I asked him one question: "What the H, E, double tooth picks took you so long"?  I took it personally because Dr. Boulton worked for me and/or with me for the last  20 years. I may have failed him.  Why else would he have waited so long to take decisive action? 

I've asked him.  Next post will be his reply. If he is bold enough to reply.  Stay tuned......


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