Upgrading Educational Culture: Rhee Plans Shake-Up of Teaching Staff, Training – washingtonpost.com

Michelle Rhee highlights a good practice for achieving educational excellence: train teachers to teach.  She’s proposing to do this by 1) providing new teachers with a competent mentor whose task is to help the new teacher become competent, 2) only retaining teachers who demonstrate that in fact they can teach effectively, 3) making decisions based on evidence of results, and 4) supporting teachers with further training that helps them use best practices based on good research to guide teaching practice.

Here are some excerpts from the story in the Washington Post.

“[District of Columbia Education Chancelor Michelle] Rhee plans to move the District away from the regimen of courses and workshops that have defined continuing education for teachers. Borrowing from best practices in surrounding suburban districts, she is building a system of school-based mentors and coaches to help instructors raise the quality of their work. She also wants to import a nationally prominent Massachusetts consulting firm with a reputation for improving teachers’ skills.

“But budget uncertainties, labor tensions and the timetable for the program’s rollout have sparked questions from teachers’ advocates about its effectiveness. At the same time, Rhee has dropped the school system’s direct support for instructors seeking certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a rigorous one- to three-year teacher development program, citing a lack of evidence that the training improves student achievement.

“Rhee’s five-year plan flatly stated: “There is no comprehensive professional development program for teachers.”

“George Parker, president of the teachers union, said this is especially true for first-year teachers, who sometimes struggle. “Great teachers don’t come into the system pretty much as great teachers,” he said. “They are developed. It’s going to take a teacher around three years to hit a stride.”

“Under Montgomery [County]’s program, operated jointly by the school system and the teachers union, novice instructors are paired with master teachers who visit them in the classroom regularly and monitor their progress. Within the first five years on the job, most enroll in The Skillful Teacher, a program of six day-long sessions devised by Jon Saphier of the Massachusetts-based Research for Better Teaching program.

“Saphier said the program fosters teachers’ belief in their power to lift student achievement despite conditions outside school.

via Rhee Plans Shake-Up of Teaching Staff, Training – washingtonpost.com.

It looks like the Montgomery County school system, and under Rhee maybe D.C.,  is upgrading its tribal culture, as per the model articulated by David Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright in Tribal Leadership (henceforth TL).  whether they know it or not.   To become successful, new teachers, who in their gut feel overwhelmed and incompetent, need to develop the skills necessary to be a competent classroom teacher in a hurry. They learned about some of those habits and practices in college, but they didn’t really learn them, because the were taught them in a largely de-contextualized environment.  Pairing the new teacher with a master teacher helps upgrade them from stage 2 (my life sucks)  to stage 3 (I’m Great) on the TL scale.  The Master Teachers, if they are forming teams to promote system-wide best practices that get results, then these competent teachers are upgrading to TL stage 4 (We Are Great).

I wonder if upgrading the culture of the teachers translates into upgrading the culture of students.  The last sentence about Jon Saphier seems to suggest that maybe it does.  That goes to the expectation of nation-wide education reform…except in unique situations, only competent teachers can help make competent students.

With the emphasis on 21st century skills (teamwork, critical thinking, communication, etc), it will take this kind of teamwork to model for teachers what they want their students to be doing in class.

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