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“You’re not done when you finish teacher prep”: Janet Carlson on professional development for teachers

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It takes two years of continuous professional development for new teaching practices to become ingrained, says Janet Carlson, an associate professor at Stanford GSE. (Photo: EtiAmmos / Getty Images)
K-12 | Teaching

“You’re not done when you finish teacher prep”: Janet Carlson on professional development for teachers

On this episode of "School’s In," a Stanford education professor talks about ways to help teachers learn.

“You don’t want your dentist or cardiologist to only have the education they had when they left dental or medical school,” says Janet Carlson, an associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education and director of the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching (CSET). “The same is true with teachers.”

CSET runs the Hollyhock Fellowship Program, a two-year professional development experience for early-career high school educators. In this episode of School's In with GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope, Carlson discusses the importance of professional development for teachers and how to make those experiences more meaningful.

Listen to the full episode at the link below and find more episodes at Stanford Radio. School’s In airs weekends on SiriusXM Insight channel 121.

Applications for the 2019 cohort of the Hollyhock Fellowship Program are due January 15, 2019.

Interview highlights

Focusing on specific disciplines

The teacher's understanding of content is sort of a gatekeeper for how well they can convey and help students learn that content. If we don't situate other professional development in that content area, we're not doing a good service to the teachers in helping them think about, “What does it mean to really understand mathematics? What does it mean to teach biology so students understand?”

There are a handful of things that you do in the classroom that are somewhat generic and are good to do across disciplines, so you build collegiality with others in your school. But for the really deep dive that relates to learning, it's better situated in the content area.

Continuous professional development

We're finding that in order to change practice, it's taking upward of two years of continuous professional development—starting with very intensive face-to-face professional development on the order of anywhere from five to ten days, followed by periodic instructional coaching that might be done via video or via a professional learning community, a group of teachers with a common interest. That’s followed by another face-to-face summer experience and another continuous year.

We see beginning changes within a year, in terms of changing practice. For those practices to really take hold, it's taking upward of two years. Then it becomes an ingrained part of practice, which means we're on the cusp of actually making a difference for student learning.

Supporting professional development for teachers

We treat it like it's not part of the core job, and I think we should be reconceptualizing the nature of the year for teachers. I realize that's a big ask and not something that's going to happen overnight.

So in between, what can happen? Parent-Teacher Associations could use language that values that time and tells their teachers they care about them as professionals and they're going to support those days. Maybe they'll even supply lunch or cookies, so the teachers can have an actual professional experience – not running around finding their brown bag and eating in the back of the classroom while they're rapidly learning some new technique and formative assessment.

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