Teacher Development: Small Changes Can Mean Big Things

Teacher Development:  Small Changes Can Mean Big ThingsTeachers today have it tough! We’ve blogged repeatedly on their lack of formal time for teacher professional development despite the fact that changes such as the Common Core State Standards are dictating changes in the way they teach. I recently read Hillary Greene’s First Person blog at Education Week titled The Coffee Crisis in Schools: Do Teachers Have to Feel So Alone and thought… here we go again!

As Hillary says…

Without coffee to induce them to linger in the staff room, teachers have lost their kitchen space. And gone are the conversations that used to occur there, where the most productive (and completely unscheduled) meetings would often occur. Somehow, encounters in front of vending machines tucked in some tiny, darkened room do not produce the same effect.

What effect? In spite of a lack of formal teacher professional development, teachers do collaborate. They discuss what’s working in their classrooms, what isn’t, and how they’re able to reach difficult students. These informal teacher gatherings are a more vital part of professional development and learning than most think and the opportunities for them are being stripped by people who aren’t on the front lines; by people who aren’t privy to their importance.

She goes on…

…my school offered none of the opportunities for collaboration and informal conversation among teachers that I had experienced in my training program. I tried to figure out my next social studies unit during 30-second conversations in the copy room. A 20-minute conversation with a social worker seemed like a rare treat. I spent most hours at my computer, drowning alone.

As small perks such as coffee, and the opportunity it provides to remove teacher isolation and spur collaboration, disappear, I’m afraid so, too, will the teachers. While many companies provide not only free (and decent) coffee, some provide much more – including games, food, free time – designed exactly for that collaboration which spawns new ideas and improves overall productivity.

Is it time for schools to start thinking differently? This is a tough question given the budgetary constraints and lack of directional freedom they have, but it feels like it needs to be asked. I’d love to hear what small changes you’d make to your school that would improve and encourage teacher collaboration, so drop a comment below.