School-Based Professional Development

NOTE: This blog post is cross-posted with naea.typepad.com

Schools often require art teachers to take part in the professional development workshops that take place in their school buildings. These experiences, like the one described in my previous post, are often used by the district or school to advance a new initiative such as Response to Intervention (RTI), Understanding By Design (UBD), or Reading Apprenticeship (RA).

In 2007, Bill Hawley and Linda Valli described principles of effective, school-based professional development (listed below). The type of professional development they describe calls into question the effectiveness of one-day workshops and seminars. When schools employ Hawley and Valli’s principles, the professional development usually involves teachers in professional learning communities viewing student work while planning, implementing, and reworking assessments of student learning. Teachers may be organized into learning communities based on the grade level or subject matter they teach, or assigned to interdisciplinary teams.

Because art educators share students with other teachers, it is plausible to think that they may contribute substantially to any assigned group. However, because art is almost never the focus of the professional development, grade level and subject matter groups often do not reciprocate the same level of content-specific professional learning back to an art teacher. The art teacher may help identify weaknesses in a piece of student writing, but if the focus of the group is improving a fourth grader’s writing, the fourth grade teachers are not responsible to provide the same feedback on a fourth grade student’s painting.

It is not my intention to claim that it is impossible for art educators to be meaningfully involved in a school-wide improvement in the ways described above. Stewart and Davis (2007) describe both the advantages and disadvantages of having art educators on disciplinary teams. Certainly, an art teacher is very much concerned about the overall school goals and should be expected to participate in and contribute to professional development opportunities related to the school at large. However, districts that always require art teachers to take part in learning communities organized by grade level or interdisciplinary group are not providing the same quality of content-based professional development to the art teachers that is regularly afforded to other teachers.

Art teachers who lack art teacher colleagues in their school building may find that participating in school-based professional development does not meet their need for content-specific professional development. Not surprisingly, then, art teachers who seek out content and pedagogical content knowledge often turn to sources outside their school. My next post will explore some of the professional development opportunities art teachers value that take place outside of school districts.

Characteristics of Effective School-Based Professional Development
1. Focus on what student are to learn and how to address the different problems students may have learning that material;
2. Be driven by analyses of the differences between (a) goals and standards for student learning, and (b) student performance;
3. Involve teachers in the identification of what they need to learn and, when possible, in the development of the learning opportunity or the process to be used;
4. Be primarily school based and integral to school operations;
5. Provide learning opportunities that relate to individual needs but are, for the most part, organized around collaborative problem solving;
6. Be continuous and ongoing, involving follow-up and support for further learning—including support from sources external to the school that can provide necessary resources and an outsider perspective;
7. Incorporate evaluation of multiple sources of information on (a) outcomes for students, and (b) processes that are involved in implementing the lessons learned through professional development;
8. Provide opportunities to engage in developing a theoretical understanding of the knowledge and skills to be learned;
9. Be integrated with a comprehensive change process that deals with impediments to and facilitators of student learning (Hawley & Valli, 2007, p. 87-91).

References
Hawley, W. & Valli, L. (2007). Designing and implementing school-based professional development. In Hawley, W. (Ed.). The keys to effective schools: Educational reform as continuous improvement (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Stewart, P. J. & Davis, S. (2007). Including middle school art teachers on interdisciplinary teams: a case study. In Hall, N. (Ed.) The Proceedings of the 17th Annual Conference of the European Teacher Education Network. Retrieved 5/26/09 from
http://www.eten-online.org/eten.publications.php.

-Leslie Gates

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