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teacher development

The Mirage Report

The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development, a new report from The New Teacher Project (TNTP), should be much discussed. It is a study of teacher professional development that surfaces stark data about the failure of an $18 billion dollar investment to have much influence, according to school administrators, on improving most teachers’ practice.

Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) responds by accepting TNTP’s recommendations and adds that they are “not surprised that someone would call effective professional learning a mirage at this point…while we have thought for  years that we know what it takes to help people improve, the evidence doesn’t support it”. While it is true that there isn’t much empirical evidence to support our effectiveness in helping people improve, it doesn’t mean we don’t know how! The Mirage report reinforces that we do know what it takes:

  • All staff share a “vividly clear vision of instructional excellence that can be observed and measured” (p.35).
  • The bar set by this vision of excellent instruction is high, “an ambitious standard”…higher than what is tolerated in most schools in the United States (p. 35).
  • Teachers get weekly feedback about where they stand in relation to that high bar from trusted leaders, and debriefing from his or her coach for 30-45 minutes (p. 32).
  • The feedback is honest, rigorous and viewed as credible by the teachers (implications for training and certification of coaches and evaluators!). There are clear assessments without blame about their strengths and weakness for all teachers, as opposed to being “told in innumerable ways that their level of performance is good enough” which is what happens in most American districts (p. 36).
  • A culture of continuous learning about a complex knowledge and skill base where everyone is expected to improve no matter how experienced or high performing they already are. 80% of the teachers acknowledged they still had room to improve (p. 32).
  • Teachers spend two to three hours a week with other teachers reflecting on instructional practices (p. 32).
  • “Everyone in their school community is constantly working toward better instruction and pushing each other to do their best work…there is always going to be somebody to push you. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stagnate here” (p. 31).
  • There is “a culture and organizational structure centered on teacher development and its impact on student learning” (p. 33).

These are school settings that “make a more fundamental shift in mindset and define ‘helping teachers improve’…[as] providing them with information, conditions, and a culture [ital. not in original] that facilitate growth and normalize continuous improvement” (p. 35). Strong Adult Professional Culture (see my blog post of June 22, 2015) is the surround-sound that empowers professional learning. It’s not a mystery; and not something we haven’t known for a long time. It appears that we have to keep reminding ourselves what we know works. An important question is: what prevents us from doing it? How do we close the “Knowing-Doing Gap”?

15 Minutes to a Transformed Lesson

I recently had a 15-minute conversation with a very capable middle school science teacher that radically transformed the 3-lesson mini-unit she was about to teach on the human respiratory system. The credit for this belongs entirely to the teacher.

I have found spending 10 to 15 minutes conferring with a singular focus on the actual content and no dialog at all about the activities or other aspects of the lesson can yield huge dividends. Such a conversation may be called “digging deeply into content” for the relationship of ideas in it, and the items that should be isolated and highlighted because they are difficult, easily missed, and/or especially important.

A 10 to 15 minute content-analysis conversation, whether or not followed by observation and feedback, can be immensely helpful to teachers and thus their students because they generate clearer thinking on the teacher’s part about objectives. They also make clear what ideas should be highlighted and what the relationship of ideas in the content is. West and Staub first described the value of conversations similar to these a decade ago in Content Focused Coaching (2003).

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The Nation’s Education Workforce Supply Chain Needs an Overhaul!

Ten Disconnected Processes Form the Human Resource Pipeline for Teachers


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Good Schools?  Simple, it’s Good Teaching!

It’s simple to say but hard to do.  A decade of research replicated all over the country confirms that individual teacher knowledge and skill are the most significant variables in student achievement.  It’s the most important place to focus if we really want to improve student achievement.

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Common Core State Standards Raise the Bar for Teachers


The Common Core State Curriculum is a big step forward, but also an enormously demanding one. These standards raise the bar significantly for students’ ability to read, write, think, analyze, argue for, and organize their thinking. More than anything, these standards demand that all teachers teach all students the metacognitive thinking skills. The sub-elements of that larger mission permeate every single curriculum area for which there are common core standards.
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