Teacher development is directly linked to teacher retention and effectiveness. So why doesn’t teacher development get the attention it so desperately needs? A misunderstood and difficult topic, teacher development should aim to create culture, not simply teach teachers.
Ultimately, the entire purpose of teacher development is not to make the principal look good for bringing in special programs or to make parents feel that the school is the most modern, progressive institution possible. Rather, when dealing with teacher development, we should have a singular aim in mind: to create a better environment for students to learn. If the students succeed, the teacher development has succeeded.
When it comes to Judaic studies, teacher development becomes both more complicated - and arguably more important. In this field, carefully defining the terms before beginning any work is of paramount importance.
The definition of “student effectiveness” in Jewish studies may differ from that in math, science or English. Unlike general studies, we cannot measure it simply by the amount of material memorized or the number of projects sent home.
Because Judaic studies strives to instill meaning, rather than simply knowledge, we must define effectiveness much more qualitatively. After all, one cannot pronounce a Jewish education effective if the student has a very good understanding of the religion, yet chooses to live a life bereft of our tradition’s values and practices. As such, the stakes for teacher development in Judaic studies become even higher because proper development empowers teachers to make the students partners in their own education.
It is crucially important that teachers understand the school’s underlying vision, how it functions and its unique culture. This knowledge guides a teacher, enabling them to behave and to act in ways that are advantageous to themselves and to their students. But the teacher is not responsible for creating or articulating this vision. That responsibility falls on the head of school, and it’s one of the most important roles that individual must play. That vision must be clear – the product of a great deal of intentional thinking.
Mandates from administration are no substitute for an effective cultural vision. Likewise, if a math teacher attends a teaching development where she learns new exercises or a new paradigm for instruction for a given topic, she might make a little headway. But in all likelihood, without proper support and time to apply it in the classroom, she will struggle to implement this potentially beneficial framework.
She must know at the outset that the school expects her to learn alongside her students, and that finding the best way to engage with her pupils is just much a part of her job as understanding the material.
To make significant and lasting improvements in teacher development, administrators should arrange to teach their educators a whole host of topics in order to understand and analyze the school’s culture. By the end of these sessions, the teacher should feel differently about how to navigate the environment in order to get students open and emotionally available to learn.
Oft-overlooked benefits of solid teacher development include enhanced retention, satisfaction and effectiveness among faculty. Heads of school, take note: if these indicators lag at your institution, view it as a clear indicator that your teacher development could be improved.
Of course, heads of school must also implement some method to assess the program’s efficacy as it goes along. A triangulation of data is best, for it ensures that all bases are covered. Teachers should assess themselves, their peers should weigh in, and their supervisor must also complete an evaluation. Through this collection of qualitative and quantitative data, an administrator can gauge how the program is progressing, recalibrate if needed, and assess again.
Unfortunately, development burnout for veteran teachers remains a very real ailment, though it is an avoidable affliction. Steer clear of the revolving door of influencers trying to sell their methods; they are outsiders, and nine times out of ten, it won’t be the right fit. Instead, find people who can help by developing insight and stylistic approaches, not selling entire off-the-shelf systems.
No matter the subject, teacher development plays an instrumental role in the efficacy of a student’s education, and schools should prioritize it. Developing a program that helps teachers acquire self-awareness and navigate their school culture with ease creates more effective educators that help students to shine