Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gwinnett's Wilbanks promotes teacher quality

An Opinion Piece to the AJC
By J. Alvin Wilbanks and Stephanie Hirsh

The debate on how to best improve student achievement continues in communities and school systems, among state and national lawmakers and in the media. Is class size the answer? How does technology figure in? What about charter schools?

However, in these discussions, a critical piece often is missing or glossed over during the conversation — teacher quality and how we should go about improving the quality of teaching in every single classroom.

Research supports that a key factor in a student’s academic success is the classroom teacher. That is why a growing number of school districts, including Gwinnett County Public Schools and others in the metro area, are implementing effective solutions to improve teacher quality.

The focus must be on helping struggling teachers become better teachers and helping good teachers become great educators.

I am proud of the investment our school district has made in professional development. Our commitment to improving the quality of teachers is making a difference and was noted by The Broad Foundation when it selected our district as the 2010 winner of The Broad Prize for Urban Education, the nation’s largest and most prestigious education award.

The value of professional development is far-reaching and is not confined to just one teacher or one classroom.

It occurs throughout the school, every day, and even touches other schools. It takes place during meetings where successful teachers share best practices.

You find it as teachers work in collaborative teams across grade levels. We see it in classrooms when teachers are supported by coaches and participate in other forms of just-in-time learning. And it occurs in conversations with supervisors in which teachers receive valuable feedback on how they can improve their instruction.

Professional development also occurs when educators have access to the latest research and best practices of other school systems.

This week, close to 3,000 educators from around the world were in Atlanta as part of the Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) Annual Conference.

However, it is not enough to set aside a day or two each year — or even each month — for professional learning. That only gets things started. The true difference and the most powerful improvements occur when professional development is embedded into the daily work of every educator. That must be our goal.

While motivated and committed school and district leaders are taking key steps every day to advance this vision, others play a key role as well. State policymakers share the responsibility of ensuring a quality and effective education for every child.

Rather than reducing support for professional development, we should work together to encourage policies that reward school systems and educators who use professional learning to advance the quality of instruction and who demonstrate the impact of professional learning in terms of improved student achievement.

As discussions continue on how to improve Georgia’s schools and how to help students reach their potential, we cannot underestimate the power of caring, dedicated and highly effective teachers.

An investment in their professional development is a strategy that will help ensure all students experience great teaching every day.

J. Alvin Wilbanks is CEO and superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools.
Stephanie Hirsh is executive director of Learning Forward.

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To link to the discussion on this opinion piece at the GetSchooled blog at the AJC, click here.

To link to Maureen Downey's interesting discussing about Teach for America, click here.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree that staff development can open teachers' eyes to strategies and practices that will transform their classrooms.

I hate to be the "DCSS hater" but I have to tell you that by and large, the "professional development" with which we are provided falls short. I have sat through prsentations that presented volumes of data that supported what I had already observed in the classroom (e.g. that placing kids into cooperative groups is effective). Of course, I teach in a trailer, and there is no room to group, but thanks. The speaker are generally "preaching to the choir" and offering little that I can actually implement.

Some of our training session are so inspiring--new technology that can be used to engage and challenge our students. But with little access to computers within the schools, we again are not impacting actual teaching.

The very best "training" I have attended--which are alluded to by Wilbanks--are ones in which teachers get together and share ideas. Put me in a room with those who do what I do and give us a chance to share.

That's where the magic happens--not sitting listening to someone who has been out of the classroom for a decade or who never taught my subject area. We need opportunities for true collaboration, within both the building and the county.

I often hear from students of a great project or activity that their peers have been assigned by one of my colleagues. She and I don't share planning or lunch; we have no time to just sit and throw ideas back and forth. Once in a while, I see her in the hall and say as I walk by, "Hey--gotta get together and find out more about . . ." and we are gone. A couple of hour just to share-"How do you teach this concept? What project worked best for your struggling kids?"

Pay for a sub for me one day and let me visit another school and see what they do that I am not doing.

No, it's not fancy; you can't cite which experts were brought in to speak about what strategies and how many attended. No one at the county office will be able to pat themselves on the back for putting together a day-long seminar. But it works!

Self Storage Dekalb said...

Not once did you mention "parents" and their roll in your piece. That sums up everything about many teachers today.

Kim Gokce said...

Just to echo what anonymous teacher said above, one of CK's many standout teacher's was quoted recently in a GSU publication:

Regarding teacher-to-teacher mentoring and collaboration: "This is the only way you should train teachers," says Lee Mahavier, an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) math teacher at Cross Keys High School in DeKalb County, who is mentoring GSU graduate student Josh Wilkinson. "You can't tell someone how to teach. You have to show them."

Full Article:
Making the Grade

Kim Gokce said...

@self storage: "Not once did you mention "parents" ..."

Well, the topic was/is "teacher quality," I believe. So, I say we forgive him/her for not mentioning the role of parents in a child's education. I've been participating here at this blog for something close to two years and NEVER once has anyone diminished the role of parents.

On the contrary, the importance of parents to education at every age in student's life is often high-lighted by our commenters. I don't think this poster intended to imply anything by the omission of this perspective.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 2:46

"But with little access to computers within the schools, we again are not impacting actual teaching."

Why has DCSS spent over $200,000,000 on technology (salary - $100,000,000 alone, hardware, software and a private fiber optics network) in the last 5 years, and students have little access to technology? This is a prime question that Ms. Tyson and the DCSS administration needs to answer.

While technology is no panacea, it is the way educational strategies and practices are headed. This is an enormous amount of taxpayer dollars.

Why are there only 2 computers in the classrooms for 30+ students?

At this rate, we will have spent another $200,000,000 in five years and will have absolutely no instructional benefit to show for it.

Anonymous said...

""You can't tell someone how to teach. You have to show them.""

EVERY Central Office employee involved in instruction should be modeling lessons for teachers. This includes Assistant Principals and even Principals. EVERY Instructional Coach should be modeling lessons for teachers EVERY day. If you can teach the lesson, your credibility is so enhanced. Seeing really is believing.

Cerebration said...

Interesting comment, Anon 2:46 PM - I certainly noticed the irony in the fact that teachers are supposed to encourage students to work collaboratively in groups (having been proven an effective method of learning), yet teachers themselves work in isolation. Seems that is a recipe for stunted teacher growth...

Cerebration said...

BTW - just to clarify - this is not a post written by anyone here - it's a reprint of a letter to the AJC written by Alvin Wilbanks, superintendent of Gwinnett County Schools.

Anonymous said...

Sadly the leaders of DCSS may not have a clue of how much great talent they have driven away by shoddy policies, busy work and intimidation. Nor do they have a clue that DCSS is seldom the first choice of teachers looking for work. Unless you are at a site that functions well and you want to be there, you will want to leave as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

The primary reason that Teach for America teachers are head and shoulders above Ed school grads is not the professional development they receive at TFA but the fact that TFA recruits top students from the nation's best colleges. All the professional development in the world will not make up academic deficits of our teachers (or lack of innate intelligence, for that matter). Professional development is simply a band-aid on a problem that needs be addressed at the level of who becomes a teacher in the first place.

Raise academic requirements and elevate the profession to one of respect and prominence. Entice grad of our top colleges to become teachers, provide a simple path for them to become certified, and pay them decent wages. The intelligence and academic preparation of our teachers is ultimately more important than the "how to teach" coursework they must slog through to get a certificate and the dumbed down teacher tests they must pass.

Sci said...

I cannot tell you how tired I am of the teacher bashing. Do you honestly for one moment think that the MAJORITY of teachers are BAD? The 80/20 rule holds true in this profession as well as any other.

Most of us work our rear ends off day after day for these kids and all we get is more paperwork and even more bashing. Every teacher in every school knows who the "20%" are and if the admin in this system had any real desire to change things those teachers could be remediated or dismissed and new ones hired.

Until we spend as much time addressing what takes place in the home as we do on teacher bashing nothing will change in this system or in any other (well, unless you want to try changing some of our schools into boarding schools).

Here's something few are willing to say; but I'll say it tonight because I'm absolutely fed up. Gwinnett is the number one school system because they have a high population of students from cultures that actually still place a very high value on education instead of STUFF!

How do you teach a kid that comes from a house where there is not even a bookshelf let alone a BOOK?

I could just barf...I really could.

Anonymous said...

For the City of Decatur school system, each principal must sit in for one class a day. Different class and teacher every day.

Can you imagine Frankie Callaway ever sitting through an entire class? Clarence Callaway? Ralph Simpson? Yvonne Sanders-Butler? Anyone from the Central Office? When was the last time Morcease beasley, Audria "out of the country on the p-card" Berry, Tony Hunter or Bob Moseley sat through an entire class (let alone without a balckberry buzzing for the entire class).

STOP BASHING TEACHERS! The majority of the problems with DCSS are directly linked to the Central Office and the BOE which enable sthe madness.

Anonymous said...

I cannot tell you how tired I am of the teacher bashing. Do you honestly for one moment think that the MAJORITY of teachers are BAD? The 80/20 rule holds true in this profession as well as any other.

A single year with a bad teacher can put a child so far behind he may never catch up. My child had an incompetent long-term substitute for most of his 1st grade year and four years later, he is still struggling to make up some of the deficits.

According to your assessment, 20% of teachers are bad teachers. Until the teaching profession gets very serious about teacher training and removing poor teachers from the profession, the good teachers will have to put up with teacher bashing. Incompetent teachers do an enormous amount of damage, and are allowed to continue doing it year after year. The incompetent teachers are certainly the minority, but the harm they do to their students and to their profession is huge.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher, I am not sure why other teachers take the fact that there are bad teachers to heart. The fact is that there are bad teachers. One bad teacher, can screw a child up for life, just as one superb teacher can affect a child positively for a life time.

Until teachers get honest about their profession and that their are bad teachers and that they can have a negative effect on children, the public will always look down on teachers.

Yes, there are bad doctors, lawyers, and plumbers, but the effects that they have are not necessarily life long and if they are patrons can sue and get money for the suffering they have encountered. What does a child do who has gotten to third or fourth grade and is unable to read do? What course can his parents take, when they have complained to deaf ears.

Yes, the administration in DCSS has huge problems and is to blame for much of what is wrong in DCSS. Having sat in faculty meetings for 3 years in DCSS, teachers are also to blame, as they have not fought against the ridiculous no zero rules, giving children multiple chances, not having children master any math but expose them, expose them, expose them, passing kids on who have not the ability for the grade that they were in, and the lack of professional development for new programs (academic and computer related).

The administration is to blame for the state of DCSS, for putting friends and family members into positions that they are unqualified for. The voters are to blame, for voting in incumbents who do not have the children's best interests at heart. The parents are to blame, as ones that care don't scream loud enough for better for their kids, and then there are those that don't care what happens to their children as long as they are at school and out of their hair. The teachers are to blame, because they have sat back and allowed the lack of discipline, the programs pushing students on, the grade inflation, and the hiding of bad teachers. I also see the government meddling in schools a huge problem. They are allowing for our children to remain under educated despite what they may say.

Ella Smith said...

December 11, 2010 9:12 PM

Teach For America has had some success. However, I have done tons of research on highly qualified teachers and the literature actually tells a very different story. Teachers who do not have the Teacher Training as other teachers need losts of training and continued support over the years to continue success. It is not that easy to just stick someone in a classroom just because they are smart.

In fact, I have found that some of these teachers that I have team taught with who are extremely smart in science with the degrees to back up their knowledge also do not always have the ability to do what is necessary to teach average students today. Now they probable do well in college settings, and they do well in advanced classes but many times they struggle in rural areas and urban areas where students may have other needs also. Teacher is not always about just going in and providing information to students. Teachers is being able to present material on a level that all students can understand and from experience over and over again as a team teacher in Science I have seen teachers without teaching training through college have sinificant problems meeting the needs of average students. The literature shows the same thing. Currently you could look at our Biology test scores and you can see the difference in test scores. I have seen this data over and over again in the literature. Data does not lie. However, some teachers without the training can be very successful with continued PLU support. To cut down teachers with training in Education is not necessary on this blog. There are bad teachers and good teachers. However, just because you went through a certain program does not make you a good teacher. Teacher training in colleges is changing and the new teachers coming out appear to be changing also. I have not seen any bad student teachers at our school. They all appear to be well trained in science and teaching.

Ella Smith said...

The biggest problem appears to be according to the literature how to determine if a teacher is truely a highly qualified teacher.

This is determined currently by the classes taken, tests past and the highly qualified certification. However, the debate now is should achievement of the teachers' students also be considered as to whether a teacher is highly qualified? The whole debate now is over achievement regarding test scores and should test scores be determining who is highly qualified? We all know that other things other than achievement are also important, but achievement is the most important thing.

Ella Smith said...

I read the AJC article. I guess I need to do a little research and look at this data. It is interesting. I am very curious about the data and the reliablity.

Anonymous said...

Having worked with Teach for America teachers, I would take a chance on a teach for America Teacher than a certified teacher who only works the 8 hour day and has little care or concern for their students.

Teach for America teachers are more likely to find solutions to problems, work with parents and students to meet the child's needs, and not give up until the problem is solved.

Some of the best teachers I have ever seen are Teach for America teachers. Yes, most only stay 2 years, but how long do really good teachers stay in the teaching profession these days? About as long, as they see what they can't do because of the obstacles in front of them in many schools and districts.

Teach for America teachers are also some of the brightest teachers that I know. Again, most bright people leave teaching after a few years for another career, as they can see that intelligence of a person isn't something that is valued in the average school system.

For me, a former teacher, it was never about money, it was always about being respected by the administration and parents where I taught, being able to do the job to the best of my ability, problem solve, collaborate with others, and give my students the best education possible. When I couldn't do that in DCSS, I left.

Anonymous said...

High teacher turnover is ruinous to a school system so I question the value of good teachers who stay only 2 years. There is an administrative problem when there is high teacher turnover, and taxpayers are left to pay the tab for their mistakes. More importantly, students, especially in transient situations, need a stable faculty.

Anonymous said...

We need to recruit and retain bright and motivated teachers. Sure, there are many excellent teachers in DCSS but there are plenty of others who are not. This is not about "teacher bashing" but being honest with the state of education in DCSS and across the nation. Study after study showe the US falling WAY BEHIND other countries in education. These same studies show that in other countries, teaching is a respectable profession and that it is a competetive process to become a teacher, with very high standards of achievement for potential teachers to meet, at the college level and beyond. Until we raise our standards, we will have a sub-standard teaching force.
Again, this is not "teacher bashing." I am married to a teacher, an excellent teacher, who would attest to the low levels of competence, motivation, and academic achievement of some of her colleagues.

Anonymous said...

I know this isn't on topic...anyone know what is going on at Arabia Mtn. High School? Principal position is being advertised on PATS...

Anonymous said...

Training is only part of the equation. Teachers, particularly at the high school level. must have depth of knowledge in the field they are teacher. A chemistry teacher, for example, should have studied (and done well in) college level chemistry more advanced than the highest level he/she is teaching. One can be certified as a high school science teacher, and qualified to teach biology, chemistry, and physics, without having studied much science his or herself. All the training in the world will never make up for this.

Anonymous said...

Agreed 1:03. Shocked to see what my teaching certificates from other states and college transcripts qualified me to teach in Georgia. The bar is not very high.

Dekalbparent said...

My $.02:

The issue here is about treating teaching as a PROFESSION. In any profession, you want to get better. You do this by taking classes/training, which you help choose, and by working with others who are more experienced and/or have special abilities (this is true everywhere - some are naturally better than others at a task - but it doesn't mean every person can't get good at it if they want to). This is called collaboration and mentoring. These things are missing from DCSS business-as-usual.

Another aspect of treating teaching as a profession is according respect and assuming teachers know what they are doing. Leaving them to do their jobs. I really think if this were the case, and teachers felt they were professionals, they would, as a group, make sure those who were not acting professionally would not stay in the profession. This is called professional pride. If teachers did not feel they had to circle the wagons, we would see self-policing.

Anonymous said...

@anon8:46,
I strongly agree that lack of discipline is detrimental to our ability to teach and to enforce high standards, but I am not sure how teachers can refuse to allow it.

If I write a kid up and nothing happens, and I call home and nothing happens, I can't refuse to teach the child. I sometimes nag the admins until they take action, but I just don't have time to constantly do so.

As for the "no zeroes," I grade as I always have. If the principal or the county wants to overrule my grade, that's on them. I do give reasonable opportunities to make up the work but am not going to go to ridiculous lengths to make sure kids pass.

Dekalbparent,
Love the concept, but how would "self policing" take place? I have colleagues whose lack of knowledge, ill-prepared lessons and poor treatment of students are well known to the administration. We aren't circling any wagons--we want the bad teachers OUT because we may have to teach those students the next year.

Anonymous said...

so i guess I am a worthless teacher since I didnt do Teach for America...


I am a damn good teacher and take my students progress very seriously. Dont degrade my success when you dont know what I do everday to push my kids beyond the envelope to succeed.

Can anyone of you intelligent taxpayers come into my classroom and teach for one day and maintain the focus of 35 student. Please!

This is why I am debating leaving DeKalb at the end of the school year.

Dekalbparent said...

Anon 4:33 -

I intended the "circling the wagons" metaphor to describe the current situation - the teachers are devalued, and administration is 1)telling teachers what to do and how to do it and 2)blaming problems on the teachers that teachers have no control over. Teachers are in a "hunker down and protect ourselves" mode, and outing poorly performing colleagues would only aggravate the situation.

I was envisioning a situation where the teaching profession is respected, and teachers (along with the direct administrator of their school) decide how the school operated. If a poorly performing colleague is counseled and mentored, and still does not cut it, then that person is ushered out. It no more reflects on the rest of the teachers than it does in any professional situation. When I supervised programmers, and I had to let one go, it never crossed my mind that all the people I supervised were incompetent - just that one.

Ella Smith said...

I guess I am worthless also as I am not a Teach For America Teacher.

I disagree strongly regarding knowledge of chemistry being a highly qualified science special education teacher in high school. I have been in classroom in many schools in many counties. I have seen repeatily that the teachers with the knowledge of chemistry (the super smart chemistry individuals) do not make always the best high school chemistry teachers. Many of these individuals have problems teaching average students. They do not have the understanding of why average students do not just get information that they find so easy. Good teachers can break down the information and present the information in wayt the students can learn which is not always the way the smart chemistry teacher learned the material as learning of the material came easy for most of them and many times they do not have the patience or understanding of average students. They present notes too fast many times. They normally do not want to use the railroal method of teaching the math problems in Chemistry which helps the average student.

I have a very different prospective. The best teacher I have seen in Chemistry in years is a teacher who was not originally certified in Chemistry when she started teaching it and she use supper methods of teaching the Chemistry and most of the students understood everything she taught. She was real big on the railroad method of teaching in Chemistry which sold me on the method. I do not know what other individuals might call it but that is what I call it.

I am for having good teachers in the classroom regardless of where they come from. However, I do know that the science student teachers we have gotten from Georgia State, and Kenasaw State have been excellent the last two years. I would love to have any of them as my son's teacher.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting study. Adults are overwhelmingly likely to label parents as the biggest problem in education today.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=131988387

Blaming teachers for low test scores, poor graduation rates and the other ills of American schools has been popular lately, but a new survey wags a finger closer to home.

An Associated Press-Stanford University Poll on education found that 68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what's wrong with the U.S. education system — more than teachers, school administrators, the government or teachers unions.

Cerebration said...

Good article.

Children are tired, they're hungry and they need someone to help with their homework. Some kids face violence at home or in their neighborhood. Some parents are trying so hard to keep a roof over their family that they can't help with school.

More than half of those polled said student discipline and fighting, violence and gangs were extremely or very serious problems in schools. Nearly as many expressed concern about getting and keeping good teachers.


Believe me, we have a gang problem in some of our schools. This is why we have such a need for a large school police department.

Anonymous said...

My kids have encountered too many highly certified math and science teachers (gifted and AP level), in high school, who might be good at presenting material but simply do not have a strong grasp on the material they are presenting. When asked a question, they cannot give a good answer. The deficit of math/science instruction has been thr primary reason several friends have defected to private schools. I am not saying there aren't some good teachers out there but we should be honest and not defensive that there are some who are not.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is time to rethink how we are training teachers. The best teachers, at the high school level are often those with a bachelors degree in an actual subject area, not in education, and with graduate work/certification from a Ed school. Undergraduate degrees in education may work well for elementary education but may not be the best model for high school teaching.

Anonymous said...

What about administrator quality? DCSS just hired Dominque Drew-Tarrell, AP from Midvale Elementary, 356 students, no ESOL, to be the new principal at Dresden, 842 students, 90% Hispanic. Does this make sense? If you're not going to hire one of the APs already at Dresden (familiar with school/comunity), why not hire someone within/without the system who has worked with a high ESOL population? This makes NO sense at all!

Anonymous said...

How about we change the way we do Professional Development in DeKalb? The current "in" thing is to have the entire staff participate in a book study. The books are chosen by the administration and there has yet to be a book chosen by the admins at my school that is relevant in any way to actual teaching. None of them have been about improving instruction.

All the professional development is top-down. The CO or school admin decides what I need. Well, what everyone in the school needs, we all have the exact same strengths and weaknesses. At least that's what their plan assumes.

Anonymous said...

In Gwinnett, professional development is fairly universal. And it appears to be working.

In other words, the same workshops are given to all Math I teachers.

And I agree in principal (no pun intended) with the fact that to many principal appointments in DeKalb are made badly.

Anonymous said...

Are all the Math II, Physics, Social Studies and Language Arts teachers attending the same training as the Math I teachers?

Of course not.

That's the problem in Dekalb. EVERYONE is receiving the same training. I sat through a 30 minute presentation that had 3 main points. The first point was to encourage students to be better note-takers.

I'll get right on that. Just as soon as I finish teaching my students their letter sounds and correct formation of letters. I'm sure note-taking will be of tremendous value to my Kindergarten students.