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February 2010
This Month: Teacher-Centered Professional Development

This month, we focus on a professional development movement that is proving to be the most effective way for teachers to learn, grow and improve in their practice.

From the Field: School Reform Initiative Winter Conference

Held January 14-16 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the inaugural School Reform Initiative (SRI) Winter Meeting is a vibrant example of how conferences and seminars can nurture teacher-centered professional development.

SRI is a new national organization that was established to support the development of collaborative, reflective learning communities in schools.  The entire agenda for the two and a half day Winter Meeting breathed life into the organizational values of choice, relevancy, and passion.

Unlike an in-service day in which a faculty all does the same thing, this conference provided many opportunities for participants to choose what would be most relevant for their own practice.  For example, the meeting opened with a whole-group assembly where each person reflected about “What brings you to Winter Meeting?  Why did you choose to be here, and who stands to gain from your work here this week?” 

Participants also brought samples of their own work or their students’ work to examine, and small groups of five or six participants used a variety of protocols to learn from the work.  One small group addressed wide-ranging questions such as:

  • How can I motivate this special education student who is falling through the cracks?
    Download Descriptive Review of a Child

  • What strategies can I use to improve responses on a writing exam?
    Download ATLAS

  • How can I fairly evaluate these writing assignments in a way that doesn’t take a toll on my personal life?
    Download Consultancy

  • How can I achieve balance between what my principal expects of me and the claims that a superintendent is making on my time?
    Download Issaquah

  • How can I publish this report in a way that is appealing to teachers?
    Download Charrette
  • How can I find a balance between high standards and mercy?
    Download the Onion

Each person walked away from these small-group sessions brimming with new ideas and equipped with specific strategies to try when they returned to work.

Another outstanding feature of the Winter Meeting was the use of Open Space Technology to connect people with similar passions.  In this self-organizing process, the sessions were not scheduled in advance.  Instead, over 40 participants shared their own passions or questions and inviting others to join them to focus, brainstorm, explore, and learn.

One Winter Meeting participant later wrote: “Rarely do we have the opportunity in our lives to really say ‘Today I have learned.  Today I know more than I did yesterday.’  Engaging in this work is an opportunity to say this more and more.”

You can learn more about SRI and join their e-mail list at http://www.schoolreforminitiative.org

From the A+ Office

Teacher-Centered Professional Development
by Gabriel Diaz-Maggioli

It’s no surprise: professional development as it has been provided in many schools and school districts does not work.  In his highly useful and insightful book, Diaz-Maggioli starts here and asks the logical follow-up question, “So what does?”

The answer?  Teacher-Centered Professional Development.

For Diaz-Maggioli, professional development “should be understood as a job-embedded commitment that teachers make in order to further the purposes of the profession while addressing their own particular needs.  It should follow principles that guide the learning practices of experienced adults, in teaching communities that foster cooperation and shared expertise.” 

Diaz-Maggioli describes how schools can move from a traditional model of professional development to one that is teacher-centered – that is, one where teachers empower themselves and each other by engaging in structured professional development that they lead on their own campuses.  In this teacher-centered approach, for example, teachers engage in peer coaching and peer observation, small team feedback sessions and sharing of instructional practices directly related to their own classrooms with their own school data. 

By illustrating effective methods and strategies with real-life examples, the book acts as a “how-to” guide for schools interested in transforming their approach to professional development.  Closely aligned with the work of Houston A+ Challenge, this book is a must read for school leadership teams interested in improving classroom practices by empowering teachers.

Understanding Teacher Development in Houston
This past year, Houston A+ Challenge held a series of teacher focus groups to assess what format, structure and content produced the most effective professional development for teachers.  From these discussions, several key themes emerged.

First, teachers need and desire sufficient time to work together on central classroom issues including student learning, instructional delivery, content and planning.  Teachers in the focus groups asked for control over the time allotted to them for professional development.  Canned, external professional development opportunities were seen as far less valuable than opportunities to work with peers on real issues at the school.

Second, teachers observed that typical professional development tends to lack variety in instructional delivery methods, and thus does little to model effective instructional practices – much less help professionals translate what they learn to their own specific circumstances and settings.

In addition, teachers indicated that professional development decisions rarely seem to take into account the level of expertise already present within the school.  Many teachers in the focus groups observed that professional development decisions made by school-based leadership and external professional developers assume that most teachers have little conceptual understanding of their own practice.  This erroneous assumption, in turn, often leads to ineffective professional development that either mirrors or repeats prior development they have received or does not address their individual needs.

Houston A+ Challenge will continue to share results from these teacher focus groups in this newsletter as well as in an upcoming report that calls on schools and school districts to move to a teacher-centered professional development model in which teachers have a voice in their own development decisions, delivery and forum. 

As A+ moves forward in the development of teacher academies that foster the continuous improvement of classroom instruction, we urge schools to begin assessing how they involve teachers in the professional development decision making process, how schools can engage teachers in meaningful conversations with one another about their classroom practice, and how teachers can access professional development that meets their needs.

Spend Seven Minutes with A+ National Speakers
To share our learning with the wider community, Houston A+ Challenge has begun compiling a video library featuring brief interviews with national speakers who have recently spent time with our principal and teacher networks.

Let us know what you think about these video clips:

  • Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy, and Culture, School of Education, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  • Gloria Ladson-Billings, President of the American Educational Research Association and Professor of Urban Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Anthony Muhammad, Founder of New Frontier 21, on how teachers and school leaders can build real Professional Learning Communities and momentum for student-focused school change.
  • Lorraine Monroe, author and founding principal of Harlem's Frederick Douglass Academy, on instructional leadership.
From the Headlines

Teachers Teaching Teachers:  Don’t take our word for it.  Here’s great example of how teacher-centered professional development in Portland, Oregon is having lasting effects on teacher performance and improvement.  Rethinking Schools

Hot Off the Press:  Published in December 2009 and keeping conversations fresh here at the office, Teacher Collaboration for Professional Learning: Facilitating Study, Research, and Inquiry Communities, by Cynthia A. Lassonde, Susan E. Israel and Janice F. Almasi, offers practical ways to apply teacher-centered professional development ideas on your campus.  Click here for information.

A Valuable Resource:  An offshoot of the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF), the School Reform Initiative, Inc. focuses on the professional learning of educators through collaboration, best practice sharing and reflection.  Schools interested in pursuing teacher-centered professional development models can find many valuable resources here.

If That’s Not Enough…  Still wanting more information and ideas on teacher-centered professional development?  Check out one of Doug Reeves’ latest books, Reframing Teacher Leadership to Improve Your School.  Gathering data from a large-scale study in Clark County, Nevada, Reeves targets the same kind of professional development that Diaz-Maggioli and A+ advocate.  Reframing Teacher Leadership speaks to the tremendous impact that teachers have on one another’s practice.  In addition to exploring how teacher leaders can mobilize this new type of professional development, Reeves discusses action research as a main component of such development.


Houston ISD Seeks School Improvement Officers and Principals

Houston ISD is looking for individuals to fill the following two positions. Follow the instructions indicated to apply for each respective position.

School Improvement Officer
Team HoustonISD is looking for highly motivated, highly energized, reform-minded individuals to be School Improvement Officers.  School Improvement Officers (SIO) will be responsible for a group of schools by school level (elementary, middle, or high school) and will be directly supporting and mentoring the Principals that lead these schools.  The SIO will be responsible for maintaining high-quality instructional teams and programs which allow our students to attain the great education we strive to offer.  If you have previously been a principal or other related position and want to help lead and coach other principals, we encourage you to apply online for this position. Log on to www.houstonisd.org (click Employment) to complete and submit your online application and cover letter. For questions, e-mail SIO@houstonisd.org.

Principal Position
Team HoustonISD is looking for qualified, highly motivated, highly energized, reform-minded individuals with the right skills to be a part of our Principal Pipeline Pool.  Selected candidates will be ready to take on the leadership of a school as the position becomes available.  At Team HoustonISD, we believe that school leadership is directly related to the success of our children.  Having great principals ready to meet the challenges facing HISD schools is critical to attaining the quality education we strive to offer.  If you are interested in making a difference in the lives of the children within Houston and impacting our state, the country and the world, we hope you will apply to be a part of our Principal Pipeline Pool.  Please log on to www.houstonisd.org (click Employment) to complete and submit your online application and cover letter. For questions, e-mail PPP@houstonisd.org.



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Houston A+ Challenge

2700 Southwest Freeway, Suite B
Houston, TX 77098-4607


Contact Mike Webster,
Teacher Leadership Coach

Houston A+ Challenge's support for teacher leaders is made possible through grants from:

The Brown Foundation

ExxonMobil Foundation

and other supporters