District Administration December2017 - 90
Getting smarter about teacher PD
How rigorous professional development can close learning gaps
By Tracy Epp
teacher's time is precious-I
can attest to that as a former
teacher and school principal.
School years are jam-packed with teaching, planning, data analysis, testing, and
supporting students as they meet their
learning goals. Throughout, teachers
make time to hone their skills and to stay
current in their subject areas through observation, feedback and practice.
And yet, despite billions of federal
and local dollars spent every year on PD,
far too many teachers say the experience
does little to help them support their students. From the classroom to the district
level, teachers want more from their PD.
They want, and deserve, professional
development experiences that challenge
them and translate directly to the classroom in meaningful ways.
Fortunately, the education community has come a long way in its
understanding of valuable PD. Teachers
must have the opportunity and support
to connect with worthwhile programs.
Anything else is a lose-lose.
Linking content and instruction
The most effective programs provide
content-rich instruction for teachers
across all grades and subjects. Too often
we try to solve complex college-andcareer-readiness challenges in high
school-the tail-end of a student's K12
academic career. By providing teachers
in elementary and middle school with
rigorous PD, we can close, and possibly
prevent, learning gaps.
Additionally, effective PD under-
90 December 2017
lessons and they must
practice applying what
they have learned.
stands that content and instruction
are inextricably linked. This cannot be
overstated. If we expect teachers to meet
the challenges of college and career-ready
standards, and to deepen student understanding of key concepts, PD must
include "what" and "how" to teach. This
dual emphasis, particularly in math and
science, is especially important for earlyelementary teachers, who face the tall
order of mastering content across almost
Teachers in middle and high school
must strengthen their knowledge and
skills to meet another equally important
set of challenges-they must dive deep
into specific subjects. Yet nationally, only
30 percent of eighth-graders are taught
by math teachers with undergraduate
degrees in the field.
The National Math and Science Initiative's Laying the Foundation program
spans three years for participating
schools, so teachers can build on their
learning from the prior year.
Teachers must understand how students experience lessons and they must
practice applying what they have learned.
They must be allowed to embrace the
hands-on nature of the work. As Laying
the Foundation teachers practice new
skills, they also receive feedback from
the master teachers leading the session.
This mentorship-with opportunities
for real-time improvement-provides
the evidence of learning that is too often
missing from professional development.
Laying the Foundation teachers also
practiced instructional strategies that
have the potential to excite and engage
students. For example, some teachers
used lab instruments and soda cans
filled with water to measure heat transfer. Calculus teachers used Wikki Stix
and yarn to plot slope fields. Algebra
teachers used Barbie dolls and rubber bands to evaluate linear functions.
These are just a few examples of effective and rigorous lessons that teachers
are now taking to their classrooms.
Fund effective programs
If our nation's students are to develop
the knowledge and skills to succeed in
college and career, they need to learn
from teachers who receive deep content
knowledge and ongoing support beginning in elementary school. Teachers can
get PD through all sorts of conferences
and mandated trainings, but they don't
want-or benefit from-sessions simply built around a handful of strategies
With the school year underway
and full of possibility for students and
teachers, we must insist that states and
districts fund high-quality PD that has
immediate and lasting results. When
we empower our teachers with topnotch professional development, our
students win. DA
Tracy Epp is the executive vice president and
chief operating officer at the National Math
and Science Initiative.