Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ridder on professional development: Let's ask the teachers what they need

The formula to create an excellent school system, contrary to the jargon-filled insomnia cures that some of former Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff's remaining administrative team inflict upon the Board of Education, is a simple one.

Hire good teachers, give them the tools to succeed, then get out of their way.

That approach does not guarantee increased test scores every year, but it certainly would never allow the kind of multi-year decline the school district has seen during Huff's tenure.

The Huff leftovers provided some evidence Tuesday night of why district scores were low again this year. Executive Director of Secondary Education Jason Cravens talked about the lack of experienced teachers, an ironic comment since the Huff Administration demoralized and decimated the system to such a point that the faculty has had a more than 50 percent turnover in the past four years, leaving a faculty top heavy with teachers with less than five years of experience.

Executive Director of Elementary Education Jennifer Doshier, who needed a high-powered microscope to see some of the scores in the grades she is responsible for once again floundered through a presentation filled with educational buzzwords that at one time may have impressed the Board of Education, but not this Board of Education.

Both she and Cravens spoke of "learning intentions," "stakeholders," and the educational bureaucrats' sentimental favorite "rigor."

By the time Doshier was finished, the rigor seemed more like rigor mortis.

You couldn't have blamed any Joplin teachers who watched the board meeting if they thought that C. J. Huff may be gone, but his vengeful spirit lives on.

Then Doshier was asked about what professional development was being done. She stammered, she sputtered, then she started to male an excuse about the district changing course when the board booted the high-priced Core Collaborative consulting firm, saving more than $100,000.

Doshier indicated they had to change course, but they would come up with something.

Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder cut her off and then said the words R-8 teachers have been waiting to hear for the past seven years. "We need to talk to the teachers and see what they need."

It is that simple.

In the best school districts, the professional development is teacher-driven. Under C. J. Huff and his long-time assistant superintendent Angie Besendorfer and their administrative team, the professional development has never been about the teachers, but about the administrators. It has always been a new initiative, meetings that spend more time on meaningless data and the accompanying paperwork, and of course, infuriating team-building exercises in which teachers are treated like children instead of adults.

Adding to the resentment was the perception that many of those who were putting the teachers through the paces were people who had little success when they were in the classrooms or as principals.

Hopefully, this is a sign that a much needed change is here.
A couple of weeks ago, I corresponded with someone in the education field about professional development and what form it should take. The discussion was based on an article in the Denver Post that said most professional development for teachers was meaningless.

This is what I wrote to that person:

I have noticed quite a few articles on this topic lately and I am almost completely in agreement with the critics of the types of workshops and training that teachers receive. After No Child Left Behind was passed during the Bush Administration, hundreds of fly-by-night operators realized there was a killing to be made from this type of professional training. You have people like Bloomberg at Core Collaborative who take others' ideas, repackage them, and then present them as some sort of cure all for everything that ails education. For the most part, the ideas were not that good in the first place.

You also have the indoctrination meetings and that there are specifically to collect and work with data. There is nothing wrong with using data to improve education, but much of the data that is being reviewed at these meetings is meaningless.

As an example, I recall a few years ago that the teachers at North Middle School, threw themselves completely into the Acuity tests, to the point of designing all of their teaching around these tests. All remediation was based on Acuity. When the Acuity tests were given that year, North had the highest scores. That did not turn out to be an indicator of potential success on MAP. North was at the bottom that year. Meaningful data in this instance would have been the poverty levels in North. Poverty levels have always been more indicative of how students will fare on standardized tests.

Instead of spending hundreds of thousands on professional development that appears to be designed to make all teachers the same no matter what their strengths and weaknesses are, workshops and seminars should be devoted to things that would make it easier for teachers to succeed in the classrooms.

Rather than spending countless hours going over data, why not have workshops that help younger teachers deal with discipline in the classroom. Cutting down on the time spent trying to corral unruly students would do more to increase the level of learning at classrooms than any pre-packaged system.

Instead of talking about the need for classes to be relevant, why don't we have workshops designed to help teachers with ideas of bringing current issues into the classroom?

Why not have workshops to help teachers on methods to connect with parents.We spend so much of our professional development time working on pie-in-the-sky programs that we neglect areas that could do much more to improve students' learning and make classroom teachers more effective.

Why is it necessary to spend so much money on outsourced professional development. Even with the number of experienced teachers who have left the district over the past few years, there are still many veteran teachers in our district who could provide meaningful professional development without having to send people all over the United States and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars.Why not offer stipends to these veteran teachers and see how much more relevant the professional development time would be for the teachers.

Why not work out exchanges with area school districts where we save money by having their experienced educators who have knowledge in some specific area come to Joplin, while we send ours to talk to them? This type of exchange would benefit Joplin and area schools since it would provide the required professional development at a savings. Or how about the possibility of using today's technology to hold professional development via Skype. A few years ago, someone in the district had the bright idea of having the middle school teachers in each area have the 7:15 meetings together at one school. While it did offer the opportunity for the teachers to get together, it created havoc for those who had to get back to their schools by the time classes started. I suggested Skype at that time, but it was never seriously considered and we had problems with those meetings all year.

Another thing that localizing the professional development and making it more relevant to the teachers would do would be to increase teacher buy-in.

Useless professional development and requirements to supply more and more data of the useless variety are among the reasons that excellent teachers have been checking out of Joplin and checking into other school districts.

Copies of my book, Let Teachers Teach, will be available Saturday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. when I have a signing at Always Buying Books. Silver Lining in a Funnel Cloud and my other books will also be available. The book is also available in e-book and paperback formats from


Anonymous said...

I agree with some of this. The problem with this blog is that everyone is right in their own eyes. It's so easy to have all the 'right answers' when you're not actually in an administrative position. Then when you actually get into that position, you realize there's much more to it than you thought. And no matter what decision you make, half of the community will always be upset with you. Whole different ballgame than just writing articles about it.

Anonymous said...

Randy is right on target with this article, whether 7:37 thinks so or not. As a teacher who was involved in the Professional Development Committee for years, Besendorfer and Huff turned our district's professional development into a pre-packaged, cram it down our throats kind of propaganda. Prior to Besendorfer coming to Joplin, our Professional Development Committee, which I will now refer to as the PDC, was an elected committee. This committee of a dozen or so members across the spectrum of all grade levels, worked with each individual building to help guide them in developing individual building plans that fit the needs of each building's unique PD needs. The PDC plans were presented in the fall each year, approved by the PDC, and were tweaked as needed. Some buildings focused on improving reading, and some focused on math or written expression. Some needed guidance in the area of behavior management. It was different for every building. Each school was represented by a small group of teachers who coordinated with the PDC. Imagine, professional development that was developed by and for the teachers of each building! And guess what? It was a program that worked! Teachers had buy-in of their professional development, because they were all involved in developing it. And believe it or not, each building improved. It was powerful, because it was teacher driven. Who knows more about what a building's needs are than those who actually teach there? Novel concept. However, when Besendorfer swooped into town, she didn't like each building having input. She also did not like releasing ANY of the 1% PD funds to the PDC. She did away with the elected PDC, created the TLCs, teaching and learning coaches, and the TLCs then took control of all PDC, under her control. The TLCs controlled every aspect of professional development. From that day forward, our scores began their downward spiral. TLCs were sent on many trips, spending tens of thousands of dollars, to learn the latest and greatest dog and pony shows, and then come back and cram them down our throats. The TLCs became the eyes and ears of Besendorfer, going from building to building, making sure we teachers were jumping through the ridiculous professional development hoops that did not work in our buildings. Needless to say, the teachers were resentful, and distrustful of the TLCs. Many teachers lost total confidence in building progress, because we were not valued enough to be allowed any input. It was as if we didn't know what our own buildings needed. I am so encouraged to hear Mr. Ridder say, "Let's ask the teachers what THEY want." What a breath of fresh air. It gives the teachers hope that FINALLY, someone will value their input again.

Anonymous said...

Our host said:

Rather than spending countless hours going over data, why not have workshops that help younger teachers deal with discipline in the classroom.

Before that, the administration has to see discipline as a necessary prerequisite to learning, rather than an obstacle to maximizing the graduation numbers.

For that matter, as the recent history of test scores show, learning is largely irrelevant to that goal.

I don't recall, has Ridder made it clear that learning is one of, if not his highest goal?

Anonymous said...

Great article! Thanks Randy.

Anonymous said...

Goodbye TLC's. Goodbye Executive Directors.

Anonymous said...

I always ask myself WWcJD...
What Would cJ Do?

Anonymous said...

The PD in the Joplin School District is awful. We just suffered through another five days of endless meetings and trainings that will not make one teacher better. Or, if we have teachers who are improved by that BS then we are really in trouble. In the meantime, hourly workers like bus drivers and cooks got screwed for a few days' pay.

The worst part? Tina looking at all of us, including the staff that got screwed for a few days' pay, and telling us to smile and be patient. This from the hatchet woman for Huff and Besendorfer. That made me angry. She should have been fired right off the bat for her part in the destruction of the district. I wonder if she got a loyalty raise like Huff's other puppets and pets? I'm betting so. And they are all still there.

Anonymous said...

I just got around to watching this since I was a little busy this week trying to learn and implement the latest bit of ridiculousness that Sarah purchased with the blessing of the Board of Education. For Jason Cravens to now be using the teachers who fled out of here as an excuse for the scores being down is a slap in the face to this district and its patrons, since he was also part of the administration to cause the departure to begin with. If these incompetents are not gone very quickly, then I will be gone the second my contract is finished. That ranks up there with Tina reminding us all to be kind to one another. I keep hearing it's going to be a great year, but so far it feels like business as usual. I have more work to do and less money to live on. That's the norm in R8.

Ludicrous. Ridder should not have let that comment go unaddressed. What an insult to all of us.