Effective teaching: Developing the teaching practice

11/15/2012
classroom management
DR. JOSEPH CAMBONE

Increasingly, teachers are under scrutiny to prove that they are effective in the classroom, be it through the standardized tests results of their students or other measures being developed in school districts.

However, for many teachers, the period after their entry into the profession and early mentoring leaves them with few opportunities to improve on their craft except through district provided professional development programs – often on short budgets.

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However, for many teachers, the period after their entry into the profession and early mentoring leaves them with few opportunities to improve on their craft except through district provided professional development programs – often on short budgets.

Lesley University has launched a new online Masters Degree program in “Effective Teaching” that seeks to fill this gap. Dr. Joseph Cambone, Senior Associate Dean at Lesley’s Graduate School of Education, discusses the program and its goals.

What does the term “Effective Teaching” mean in this context, and shouldn’t all programs achieve it?

Naming this was difficult, and in a sense, yes, all teacher education and preparation programs should reach the goal of effective teaching. But this is really designed for people at a distinct point in their career.

When teachers first enter the profession, for the first year or two, there’s often support and mentoring, but it’s not sustained over a long period. When that’s over, the teacher is really left to his or her own devices. If you equate that with other professions that use the term “practice,” it’s not enough. Doctors or lawyers, for example, are supported and mentored for years and years — enabling them to continue learning, getting feedback on their actual work in real time and real life situations.

Experienced teachers, the best teachers in the profession, will invariably tell you that it took many years of practice — years beyond licensure and mentoring — before they felt truly confident about their skills in the classroom. A teaching practice is just that — a “practice” where the goal is to continually improve, innovate and develop a vast toolbox of skills to reach each kid. Early and mid-career teachers know this, they feel this, and many are voicing to us that they’re looking for the means to do more than earn a degree or designation. What they really want is sufficient practice to achieve what everyone wants: better student outcomes.

The program we’ve developed does just that — it makes the teachers’ own practice and improvement the primary component of their study with the goal of better student incomes. How am I interacting in a real classroom? How well are my students learning? Where can I improve, capitalize on strengths, strengthen weaknesses? How do I evaluate my own success in reaching kids, and how do I share that with others? The program aims to give teachers the tools to answer those questions, but not in the abstract -- with their actual practice of teaching, in their actual classroom.

How does the teacher achieve that, especially working in an online program with faculty and other colleagues far from their own classroom?

Technology creates solutions — and video and online technology has improved to a point where you can capture classroom work and securely share it with university faculty and fellow classmates. It’s improved to a point where an iPhone-based system can adequately capture a classroom.

Using video evidence of a teacher’s actual practice in the classroom, Lesley University faculty can support new knowledge in content, and also in the areas of assessment, classroom culture and climate, and instructional design. More importantly, it’s a manageable tool to capture and document improvement.

Pressure for better student outcomes is increasing constantly, but it’s increasing much faster than supports for teacher development. Meanwhile, teachers’ classrooms are more variable than ever year to year, even period to period.

Those pressures cause us to ask hard questions about what happens in the classroom, but ways to improve classroom performance for teachers aren’t keeping pace with new demands. Using video, with a structured approach with real support from faculty and colleagues, teachers can develop strategies to get to the real goal of all those education policy initiatives — better student outcomes, more learning.

Just as important, teachers can document their own progress and play a powerful role in creating their own plans for continued improvement – because they emerge with a portfolio of their work, their progress. You can think of it as a Masters’ program where the thesis is an in-depth study of one’s own practice aligned and focused on driving high levels of student learning.

That’s the real challenge to students in this program — this is a masters’ program where the degree isn’t earned simply by coursework and a professor’s assessment of the teachers’ content knowledge, but based on what teachers actually do in their classrooms, the outcomes of their students. It’s taking the notion of clinical practice to a whole new place. While you continue to do many of the things done in traditional masters programs — read the research and experiment with different teaching methods — you do that in response to what is occurring in your classroom with your students.

At the end, earning a Masters’ in Effective Teaching, you emerge not only with a degree but real documentation of your individual improvement assessed using rubrics tied to state and national standards. We’re currently offering it as a K-8 with concentrations in Mathematics or Elementary Education, and we’ll soon be offering it with concentrations in English Language Arts, Science, Early Childhood, Special Education, and Teaching through the Arts.

How did this program emerge?

Lesley’s been among the largest providers of post-licensure teacher education in the country. We have a unique perspective given that we operate in 23 states and online and have decades of history with that kind of national perspective.

One common denominator between districts, states, and over time, is that good teachers share something truly profound: the desire to be better teachers. No one enters this profession with a desire to do the same thing year in, year out. Teachers are attracted to this remarkable opportunity to work with and impact the lives of individual children. No child is like any other, each classroom full of kids is unique – it’s always changing.

But where it really emerged is from this notion that traditional paths to the profession place people in the classroom equipped to begin a practice, but seems to fail in truly supporting the development of that practice over time. Professional development programs are good, but they’re not enough. Mentoring relationships in schools can have a profound impact on success in early years, but aren’t supported long term. Traditional masters’ programs are good and serve a real purpose in providing content knowledge, but those structures can’t offer real classroom feedback because they can’t see it.

Meanwhile, technology has evolved and creates a means through video to allow a hard and objective look at what a teacher does day to day with the overt intention of improving the performance, increasing student outcomes. That’s the exciting part — going further than texts and case studies and evaluating the most important classroom in the world, your own, the focus of study.

Dr. Joseph Cambone is Senior Associate Dean at Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education. For more information, visit www.lesley.edu.
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