How many of us have heard someone ask the question in the title of this blog? How many of us have heard ourselves or others claim it seems like kids today are “never in school”? While many of us have thought or said this at one time or another, there are very important reasons a school district chooses an early out or late start model to give teachers time to engage in professional development.
One of our school improvement goals is to raise our student achievement scores. This goal includes closing the achievement gap that occurs between our general education students and our students who come from homes of low income and between our general education students and those who receive special education instruction. One way to accomplish our goal is to improve instruction in every single classroom in our schools. We know we raise the achievement of all students by creating classrooms that are based on current research about how students learn, as well as classrooms based on best-practice strategies that fit our new knowledge about neurology and learning.
Teachers are the most important factor in achievement, so as a system we must find ways to ensure teachers continue to learn. Research has shown that teachers who receive substantial professional development can boost their students’ achievement by 21 percentile points. This typically requires many hours (75-100) of professional development to make the biggest impact in changing practice in the classroom and making gains in student achievement.
In the 21st century, schools face challenges that we have never faced before. We are asked to meet the needs of students who live below the poverty line and may not come to school ready to learn, we face the demands of integrating technology in the classroom to meet the needs of our students who are digital learners, and we are asked to do this while meeting the standards that have a level of rigor we have not seen before in our nation’s schools.
As we begin to recognize that we are no longer serving our students so they can compete in the workforce in Fort Dodge, but also in a global economy if they choose, it brings to mind a question. Can we do all of this and keep up with our global competition? The quick answer is yes, we can. But, in order to keep up and excel, we must continue our quest for improved professional development in Fort Dodge.
In order to meet the demands listed above, we must offer our teachers professional development with four key components in mind:
1) Keep teachers up to date on current research about how children learn,
2) Provide a strong foundation in pedagogy to meet the needs of our students,
3) Provide information on technology tools for the classroom and
4) Provide information about the best-practice strategies that are known today.
In order to do this, we must make decisions about our professional development based on student achievement data and feedback from staff while moving away from the old system of sitting and getting to a new system of ongoing and collaborative work between colleagues so the learning becomes the work.
In Fort Dodge, we are working hard to create student (learner) centered environments which create classrooms where educators facilitate learning experiences such as collaborative discourse that explicitly link to critical concepts of the content.