Monday, January 3, 2011

Empowering Teachers

My Google Docs session at TSETC

So much of today's discourse around education is focused on putting good teachers in the classroom.  This is both a vital and complicated endeavor. Most 'professional development' revolves around an expert relaying his or her expertise to a group of teachers sitting in a room looking at a PowerPoint.

We would never expect our students to stay engaged in this kind of setting, and many teachers fail to stay engaged in these kinds of sessions (picture teachers grading papers, texting and whispering at the back of the room).

Just as we talk about empowering our students, this can only happen when they are led by empowered adults. No highly-educated professional would want to be told how and what to do every minute of every day. Teachers are no different, yet many educators must follow strict pacing schedules and mandated, scripted programs.

So how do we empower teachers to be the best they can be in the classroom while ensuring that they are following best practices?

1.) Ask teachers what they want to learn.

This may seem obvious, but ask a teacher you know the last time they got to decide the topic of their last professional development day.

2.) Use teachers as your most valuable resource.

There are hidden gems on your staff with creative techniques and methods that they can teach each other. Who else knows your student population and what works with them better?

3.) Support your teachers in building a Professional Learning Network.

Help teachers build a network among their colleagues for learning. This could be in the form of a book club, or observations with constructive feedback sessions.

4.) Bring in experts who are known for their interactive and inspiring presentations, not just because they are 'experts.'

Sometimes an expert is the right person for the job, but do your research and talk to people who have had great sessions or attended great presentations and get those experts into your school.  If you attend a great session, get the presenter's business card and share it with your leadership team!

Who, you may ask, is in charge of making sure teachers are well-served with their professional needs?  The obvious answer is administrators, but these kinds of initiatives can also be pulled together by the staff itself.

Empowered adults teach empowered children. Let's trust teachers to build learning networks and guide their own growth.

Mary Beth Hertz is a Technology Teacher and Technology Integration Specialist at a K-6 public school in North Philadelphia. She blogs at Philly Teacher and you can follow her on Twitter as @mbteach.


  1. Couldn't agree more! Planning professional development with our own resources (meaning working with educators of our area e.g) is very rewarding and effective. Much more than inviting an expert who hasn't been in a classroom for years on end and has the kind of sterilized academic knowledge we all detest!
    I recently blogged about PD too, at I think you will find we agree at many points!

  2. Anna,

    I'm glad you mentioned Twitter in your post. I did not include Twitter, but it is obviously (to you and me) a powerful tool for teachers.