Instructional Expectations: Why Are Wails from the Minarets at Tweed Not Resulting in the Muezzin Spreading their Prayer Rugs? Why Do Teachers Resist Mandated Professional Development?

Every school year the Department distributes an Instructional Expectations document –  basically setting all 1600 schools on the same page, well, that is the intent.

The document embeds a detailed Q & A answering a wide range of questions in elaborate detail. At the June, 2012 all-day Principal Conference the Department facilitated a discussion of “vignettes, school situations, interesting examples of the potential problems Tweed envisioned in schools.

New York City has an awkward structure – affinity networks, schools decide which network they wish to join – about 25 schools each with a network leader and staff of about fifteen. The network provides instructional and management/organizational support, there is no geographic continuity.

Superintendents are geographic, they exist because the law requires it, they have virtually no staff, the superintendents conduct two-day onsite reviews called “Quality Reviews,” make tenure determinations, with the central administration (Talent Office) select principals, work with the Community Education Councils (CEC), which are basically advisory, and investigate low level complaints.

Schools are “measured” by grades on School Progress Reports (for K-8 based on state tests and 9-12 regents grades and credits earned, with a new college readiness metric). Schools “compete” against schools in their peer group, defined as the twenty schools above and below your “peer index.” a composite score. (See high school peer index calculation here).

Principals are faced with a conundrum: fully implementing the Instructional Expectations document and the work necessary to achieve a high Progress Report score. The two goals are not mutually synonymous.

On Tuesday, September 4th teachers will officially arrive for the first day – in most schools a day of euphemistically called “professional development,” a series of meetings to spread the Instructional Expectation message.

In the paramilitary structure that is commonplace in the “old paradigm” administrative structures teachers will be required to attach the specific Common Core standard to relevant sections of lesson and unit plans.

Everyone will “salute,” from colonels (cluster leaders) to majors (network leaders) to captains (principals) and when the kids arrive the privates (teachers) will use their own judgment in classrooms. In my Army days I rapidly came to realize if I saluted briskly, made crisp “hospital corners” on my bunk and kept my rifle clean no one really cared what else I did. Neat, detailed lesson plans and a room with plenty of student work posted and the principal leaves you alone.

In high functioning organizations the messages flow both ways, from the CEO down and from the assembly line up, a lesson the department has failed to learn.

A few sections of the IE document actually recommends teacher input and one hopes that the suggested strategies grow in schools.

How does a network and their schools facilitate teacher “buy-in,” how do they go beyond professional development meeting, grade/faculty conferences and heavy-handed threatening comments in observation reports?

As a recipient of PD I must say I was less than enthusiastic – I always suggested that the presenter model the same behaviors they are encouraging us to use in classroom – a few did, for most it was the ever present PowerPoint and the “read along.” As the presenter I make every effort to “excite” the audience. Will the most involved teachers, the ones who constantly raise their hands, lead their groups, the “smart kid,” translate the PD into classroom practice? Is the star at the PD session the star in their own classroom? Not necessarily. One-shot PDs rarely evoke change – professional development must be a process – the desire to want to work with colleagues to make yourself better – a process facilitated and encouraged by the captains, majors and colonels.

One of the complex issues is the updated Danielson metrics – the Holy Grail – that combination of old/new testaments, the Koran and the Bagavita. As we watch a lesson and try to determine whether the lesson is “proficient” or “distinguished,” we wonder: was the teacher practice proficient or distinguished or was it the performance of the kids? Was the teacher driving the lesson or are the kids?

I uncover the following quote on the whiteboard:

Thomas Hobbes: “… every man is Enemy to every man; …men live without other security, than what their own strength …and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

I wait 30 seconds and ask, “Write a sentence or two, what were your first thoughts when you read the quote?

I called on about five kids to read their reactions, and another five or so to respond to the first reactions, I facilitated a back and forth discussion among the class, asked them to work with their partner: as a result of the classroom discussion how would they modify the quote to fit the world today?

Smart kids, an engaged discussion, the kids argued, got a little heated … the buzz after the bell continued out into the hall.

Next period: same lesson, kids reading a couple years below grade level … like pulling teeth … some great comments, others yawned…

Can you be “distinguished” in one period and barely “proficient” the next?

Ideally I would bring this incident to the network “think tank,” a twice a month after school meeting of teachers facilitated by the network leader to explore the deeper instructional issues. I might have attended a summer institute on the classroom implementation of the Common Core run by the network team.

I would meet weekly during common planning time with teachers on my grade to discuss units and common scoring rubrics and exchange student work.

As a UFT Chapter Leader I might be on the network planning team bringing a teacher prospective to the district planning process.

Yes, in some schools and maybe a network, the troops actually participate in the process. In the vast majority teachers do what is necessary to satisfy the “bosses,” and the bosses worry about their bosses.

An opportunity to meet as a community of learners simply doesn’t exist – just as in the kids’ game of “telephone” as the message is whispered from one to the other it is weakened and garbled.

If you’re an “A” or “B” school no one bothers you, if you’re a “C,” “D” or “F” school you worry, you really worry.

As a principal you know that no matter how much PD you offer, no matter how many classroom visits you make, whether or not you build a community of teacher learners it’s all about results – and no one cares about the gangs or the project or any factor outside of school.

The wails from the minarets at Tweed are not resulting in the muezzin spreading their prayer rugs.

What you do know is the smiling faces will arrive on Thursday and ready or not it’s off the end of the diving board into the pool.

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