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© 2017 by LOU MATTHEWS

Op-Ed: Committing to 'Real' Teacher Professional Training

February 21, 2018

Recently, 2018 Bermuda budget increases to education have pointed to focus on teacher training. After several consecutive years of little to no professional development monies, or on/off/stop/go/partial efforts, any emphasis on teacher training is welcomed. Yet, as I have seen echoed in my recent travels, a more fulsome focus, commitment and conversation about teacher training is needed. In the past teacher training has also been targeted by past administrations and for the most part educators respond favorably. Each year the importance of high quality teaching is touted, and yet, subsequently, and almost without fail I have seen several realities play out in the course of my experiences in public education. 

 

(1) Approaches to teacher training are not sustained through multiple years needed to track and sustain teaching shifts systemically. An annual approach really amounts to a chaotic approach to development and ultimately burns our teachers and leaders. 


(2) Approaches to teacher training are not intense or comprehensive enough to really give teachers the time, support and resources they need to apply shifts across curriculum, schools and student contexts.  Leading experts articulate that the best 'professional development' or teacher training must be content focused, active, collaborative, coaching-centric, reflective, and sustainable (source: Learning Policy Institute). Bringing in experts from overseas will provide a short-term injection but cannot provide the longer-term boost of culturally responsive teaching and leadership needed to take root in schools. We love experts but either overlook local wisdom and leadership, or do not invest enough in having experts stay and get rooted in local genius and structures to sustain growth.


(3) Approaches to teacher training have (all of them) been typically defunded when improvements don't happen fast enough or a new round of test results points in different direction. As fragile as it seems, we must look beyond test results and focus on real change that can be felt and seen. Following test results blindly is like sitting at a slot machine waiting for your turn. Teaching shifts are difficult, happen over time and with sustained commitment and support. We ask teachers and leaders to do more than we have ever have in the last 25 years with tech, standards, behaviour, health, etc. They need the time to reflect, debrief, share, coach and adjust to the many challenges of the country (note: this is known as the Reflective Teaching Cycle which frames how teaching changes takes place).


Lastly (4) Approaches to teacher training are easily short circuited by the number of teachers that leave because of working conditions, or because contracts have ended because of the high percentages of teachers that are on foreign contracts at middle and senior levels. Perhaps for another conversation, we have a recruitment and retention problem which inevitably impacts the quality of teaching and learning. My personal belief is that Education as a civil service function is underserved by the larger civil service structure of recruitment and hiring.

 

  1. We need a national fiscal commitment to teacher training over a 4-year period. 

  2. We must invest at least 3-5 million dollars per year ($20 million) for year-round professional training (summers included).

  3. We will need actual structures that support teaching change: fully funded summer institutes, flexible schooling hours, a system of instructional coaches on the ground -- that will allow true professional training to occur IN schools.

  4. We will need to revamp recruiting structure to lure the best from across local industries to decrease our reliance on short-term foreign labour. There is enough local talent to cross train into teaching at significantly less long-term costs (certification vs. relocation and recruitment).

 

I add this voice to support those who for reasons of employment need to challenge our leaders and narratives about how to improve the work. Would love to hear from teachers and other educators from all over.

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