A New Mission: Support The Teacher, not just the Teaching

December 28, 2020 | Hugh Norwood

I’ve been in and around the area of teacher professional development for nearly 25 years.  In all that time, the focus of virtually every PD effort has been to improve the effective practice of teaching and improve the performance of more teachers in more classrooms.  At the federal level, we’ve spent the entire 21st century obsessed with the idea of “research-based” PD, tying funding to scientifically validated methods of improving student learning through pedagogy and practice.    


“We focus all of our professional development on the teaching, and precious little on the teachers.”


So we have spent the past 20 years treating the professional development of teachers as a means to an end.  We focus all of our professional development on the teaching, and precious little on the teachers.

Yet as new research reveals the relationship between a student’s socio-emotional wellness and capacity for learning, the importance of the teacher stands in sharper relief than ever before.  

Aside from the essential role of the home environment, nothing compares to the academic impact of a prepared, equipped teacher! And thanks to the pandemic every parent in the free world now knows it.  (Ironically, it took schooling our own children in our own homes for administrators and “ed experts” to also realize this truth).

COVID 19 has revealed a whole host of flaws in our systems, our processes, and our assumptions.  In Education, specifically, the relentless isolation has revealed and highlighted the importance of the humanity of school, the innate social structure of students learning in the company of peers, and led by a caring and well-adjusted adult who is equipped--every week day!--to encourage, energize and engage kids. 

COVID 19 has also revealed the humanity of our teachers and administrators who present themselves to their students--in person or online--every day with a smile, a warm word, a brave face.  These humans are just as scared, just as tired, just as uncertain of the future as the rest of us, but they pour their confidence and strength out each day to their students like water.  


“In an era of pandemics, social unrest and political division, we can no longer afford to treat teacher professional development as a means to an end.”  


In an era of pandemics, social unrest and political division, we can no longer afford to treat teacher professional development as a means to an end. It’s time for restoration. It’s time for renewal. And it’s time to acknowledge that while public education must be accountable to every student for equity and access to quality instruction, public education is an innately human endeavor. An endeavor where the participants: students, staff, teachers and parents-- are the reason, the purpose, and the end result of our policies, procedures, strategies and goals.

To be human, to be engaged, to endeavor together, and to support one another in the active pursuit of learning--that is not a means to an end.  It is the greatest good itself.  

This is my new mission: to focus less on the improvement of teach-ing, and instead strategize new modes to support the very human, very necessary, and utterly valuable role of the teach-er.


“All the great texts and publisher content, learning videos and hand-delivered packets can’t engage kids the way a teacher can.” 


Not laptops and wifi, not LMSs, assessment banks, and adaptive learning apps.  All the great texts and publisher content, learning videos and hand-delivered packets can’t engage kids the way a teacher can.   

Installing plexiglass barriers,  6-ft hula hoops and carpet squares at the right  social-distance won’t be enough to give kids the shelter and stability to learn again. It’s going to take teachers being brave, being bold, laughing freely and connecting authentically with kids.  We must offer our teachers a totally different kind of professional development if we want them to show this kind of spiritual courage: because teachers are, themselves, in need of sustenance, support, and rescue.  

The development of informed and productive citizens is based on a very reliable, research-proven “supply chain”:

Physically, mentally and emotionally ready Teacher → highly effective teacher → engaged & equipped learners → improved student performance → more qualified graduates for college or career.

If we do lose the physical, mental and emotional stability of our teacher workforce, we have lost the game.  No learning app or LMS can do what a teacher can.

To Administrators: You have taken your teachers’ mental and emotional health for granted, and you’ve relied on their innate resilience, resourcefulness and social supports--their Duckworthian “Grit”--to fill in the gap between a ready teacher and a highly effective teacher.

Prior to the pandemic and its isolation, I truly believed in the power of “personalized learning” and the ascendance of online learning.  

I was wrong.  

Prior to the pandemic and its disruption of the basic functioning of schools, I truly believed that the paramount goal of public education was the raising of an informed electorate.

I was wrong.

Public education needs a new strategy: a strategy of restoration.  How do we pull the threads of our stretched and fatigued social fabric back together?  More than just recovering learning gains of “COVID melt”--how do we restore our students to wholeness, and how do we resuscitate Hope?  

 

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