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Amy Colton, Executive Director, Learning Forward Michigan
The National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (2011) reports that the most effective comprehensive evaluation systems are those that are designed for both accountability and professional learning. Evaluation systems designed only for accountability run the risk of being nothing more than a sorting mechanism for determining whether to retain or terminate a teacher’s employment and are far less likely to impact a teacher’s practice than those tied to standards-based professional learning opportunities. To avoid such outcomes and to ensure that teachers meet their individual and collective learning goals, policy makers and district leaders need to leverage their existing systems of professional learning to support teachers’ continuous improvement.
According to the Learning Forward Standards for Professional Learning (2011), which were adopted by the Michigan State Board of Education January 10, 2012, the most effective professional learning is collaborative, relevant, sustained and embedded in every day practice. Job-embedded professional learning, as it is often referred to, is based on the assumption that the “most powerful learning is that which occurs in response to challenges currently being faced by the learner and that allows for immediate application, experimentation, and adaptation on the job” (Sparks & Hirsh, 1997, p. 52). When the job-embedded professional learning is embedded within a culture of trust and collaboration teachers are known to willingly acknowledge their struggles and eagerly seek the advice and support from colleagues in creating and implementing solutions to complex issues. Such continuous team-based professional learning provides the necessary supports and structures for teachers to reach levels of teaching effectiveness as defined by their districts’ evaluation systems.
Learning Forward Michigan, therefore, strongly recommends that districts committed to establishing evaluation systems for accountability and professional growth need to pay as much attention to the redesign of their current professional learning program as they do to the logistics of the evaluation system (e.g., student outcome measures, teachers observations). Without ongoing support for teachers’ continuous improvement and professional growth the evaluation system is likely to be viewed as nothing more than a sorting mechanism.
Amy Colton is Executive Director of Learning Forward Michigan (formerly Michigan Staff Development Council). Contact her at email@example.com.
Join Learning Forward Michigan online at http://www.learningforwardmichigan.org/join.html, or by calling 734-645-5995. Annual membership is available to individuals ($40) or to a group of five under a single institutional rate ($100)
Learning Forward (2011). Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning.
National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality (May, 2011). Online Practical Guide to Designing Comprehensive Teacher Evaluation Systems.
Sparks, D., & Hirsh, S. (1997). A New Vision for Staff Development. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.