By Terry Morgan
In recent years, a debate has intensified among educational leaders about whether the best measure of teacher effectiveness is student proficiency or rather growth. Regardless of your belief on this issue, one undeniable truth is that a certain level of accountability is necessary. Fundamentally, this is how we decide the best course of action moving forward. Affirming the need for accountability, however, does not negate concern about the method by which it is rendered. Increased accountability should be met with enhanced support for teachers and adjustments to the infrastructure to ensure their success.
Educators face an immense volume of disruptive change. Changes in academic standards, evaluation metrics, and assessments demand heightened levels of accountability. While the need for more rigorous teaching and learning is warranted, these shifts in expectation should also be accompanied by support for teachers. Unfortunately, the lack of supported change, has left teachers unprepared, unmotivated, and uninspired.
Changes in accountability are largely related to the evolution of the workplace. The price of admission into the world of work has gone up drastically. Workers need more skills today than ever before. We are essentially in a race to build new skills before advancements in technology render them obsolete. To survive in this new economy, students must possess the ability to continuously learn. This sentiment is captured as Piaget describes intelligence as, “knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.” Gone are the days when a great teacher was defined by an ability to ensure students could recite factoids and perform algorithms; now, students’ ability to apply their gained knowledge and skills is paramount. The charge of the 21st century teacher is to equip students with the knowledge and skills to adapt continuously in order to stay relevant in a fast-paced world. Tall order? Absolutely, but with proper development and support and amendments to the infrastructure, teachers will succeed.
If leaders are serious about answering the call of increased accountability and more importantly, preparing students for a successful future, then teacher growth and professional development must cease to be a test of endurance. Teachers who wonder whether they can endure PD long enough to receive their in-service points must be surrounded by a culture of empowerment. Professional growth should be practical, job-embedded, and differentiated; just as our own teaching is expected to be Allowing teachers time to plan learning activities that meet the rigors of the new standards is a must. There is no way around it; the best and most rigorous lessons tend to be planned. Believe it or not, teachers also need time to practice. Through practice, teachers expect students to gain automaticity and fluency, which then supports application. Why do we hold teachers to a different standard? This is not a profession where foundational skills are sharpened to expertise in a six-hour professional development session. Growth isn’t so much about adding new knowledge but rather changing habits that do little to support learning.
As a society, we must accept the movement toward increased accountability to ensure that all students are competitive in our ever-evolving world. In the same breath, we must also honor the work that teachers do each day in light of the disruptive change and heightened expectations in education. We must ensure that we do everything possible to support teachers as they prepare our students in ways not yet seen.