Author: Diane Smith

Avoid Hit-or-Miss Professional Development

October 9, 2012 by

As a former principal and curriculum director, I can easily tell the difference between good and bad professional development. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have had my hand in delivering some poor quality events in my career. Some of my colleagues refer to past trainings as a “spray and pray” approach to learning something. In other words, we offered a one-time event and hoped that teachers would walk away with some great idea to use. Fortunately we have seen the error of our ways and now use embedded professional development options that have teachers collaborating with peers to learn new skills. Implementing proficiency-based learning options for the long term requires purposeful and specific components to ensure that practices can be sustained and result in a new learning culture that improves student achievement.

Approximately 150 Oregon secondary teachers recently completed an 18-month period of professional development that focused on implementing proficiency-based practices. Their activities resulted in the publishing of It’s About Time – A Framework for Proficiency-based Teaching & Learning. This teacher self-evaluation workbook highlights the six major areas Oregon teachers recognize as critical elements in any proficiency-based experience. Teachers use these elements, called “constructs” in the book, in any order based on student needs. It’s worth looking at each of these constructs through the lens of effective and regularly scheduled professional development.

Construct #1— Target In a standards-based classroom, teachers TARGET the standards as their primary instructional foci. A strong professional development plan has districts scheduling summer collaboration time, as well as regular meetings of content area specialists to identify which standards teachers will address. During these events, teachers practice how to break down a standard into manageable instructional chunks and focus on designing activities around the smaller learning targets.


Changing our Bumper-Sticker Message: My Student is More Proficient Than Your Student!

August 7, 2012 by

On a recent walk, I was stopped by my neighbor who had a complaint about her son’s end-of-year report card.  “See this,” she said, pointing to the bumper sticker on her car that proudly declared her son an honor roll student at Olympia Middle School.  “It’s a lie; it doesn’t match the information from his teachers about what he knows and can do.  I don’t understand.  What should I do?”  Her voice sounded pleading and I could sense a rising frustration with the public school system, a beloved institution that I had participated in and protected for over thirty-six years.

We have no chance at making strategic and systemic changes in our education system if we don’t bring parents along on the change journey.  And, the changes that occur when districts embrace proficiency-based practices (competency-based/standards-based) go against the traditional picture of education that parents experienced and daily use as their frame of reference.  Our parents were batch educated, moving through a textbook from cover to cover with classmates who shared birthdays that put them all at the same grade level.  (See Sir Kenneth Robinson)  Their students, on the other hand, are allowed to progress without any barriers traditionally affixed to the calendar, the clock, or the curriculum.  This means that a fourth grader might be working at a second-grade reading level and, at the same time, be working on fifth or sixth grade math standards.  Or, a high school student may earn credit for learning experiences that occur outside of the traditional school year.  Parents chased points to reach artificial levels of excellence; their students are evaluated against descriptions of proficiency or higher, knowing exactly what they need to know and do in order to be successful.  It’s no wonder that parents have such a hard time accepting some of the new changes that proficiency-based teaching and learning bring. (more…)

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