Online Learning as Professional Development?

Holmes, A., Singer, B., & MacLeod, A. Professional development at a distance: a mixed-method study exploring inservice teachers’ views on presence online. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, p76-85. Retrieved June 19, 2014, from


Professional Development, I’m finding, is being viewed as more and more essential for teacher preparedness to deal with diverse student populations and a teacher’s ability to respond to the ever-changing educational landscape that seemingly shifts its priorities quite often. This is a good thing, as it ensures that I’ll have a job for a long time to come. However, all joking aside, Professional Development, when implemented and facilitated correctly and effectively, can have significantly positive impacts on students’ achievement and outcomes (Holmes, Singer, & MacLeod, 2011). Yet, the challenges presented by this raise questions of access, impact, and excellence.

In their article, Holmes, Singer, and MacLeod (2011) seek to address two of the three aforementioned challenges, each of which I will discuss in turn, as well a missed opportunity to reflect upon the impact of their study, which I will also address in this post, by examining the role of online learning in Professional Development. Using a mixed methods approach, the authors looked at the outcomes of five different online Professional Development courses, as measured by participant course evaluations, which utilized 24 Likert-scale questions, as well as two long-answer responses. The teachers who participated in this study taught, exclusively, at private schools, with the majority working with students in grades 3-8 (Holmes, et al., 2011).

Upon an analysis of the data, they found several connections between teacher demographic information and satisfaction with online Professional Development; most notably, there was a strongly positive correlation between the number of online Professional Development modules a teacher had previously taken and their overall satisfaction with the course they were currently enrolled in. This suggests that teachers who have enjoyed Professional Development online in the past are the ones, who, by and large, are the ones who come back for further development in this medium, which, when one thinks about it, makes sense. If I’ve found value in something in the past, given its convenience, my ease and comfort in the medium, I will likely engage with it again.

Traditional teacher Professional Development, which occurs in person, through face-to-face interactions and facilitation, can be stymied as schools and/or educational agencies are concerned about cost effectiveness, something I can personally understand, given that I work in the field. This issue of access to content and facilitation is meant to be mitigated by the cheaper online modules, as suggested in Holmes, Singer, and Macleod’s (2011) discussion of the background of Professional Development and Online Learning.  However, the idea of access also presents an additional challenge when it comes to teachers who are not technologically proficient. Holmes, Singer, and Macleod (2011) suggested that teachers who self-assessed as being weak or uncomfortable with technology, or had only ever participated in in-person Professional Development, were unlikely to rate the course highly, and responded that they were also unlikely to take such courses again. If facilitators and providers of Professional Development seek to use this medium for large swaths of the teaching population, then they will also need to find ways to support those who lack the technological proficiency to be successful in such a program.

The idea of supporting educators who struggle to use technology has implications for me and for my community of practice, as I begin to think about my innovation. Participants, almost universally, see the role of the facilitator as crucial to the success or failure of a Professional Development session or module (Holmes, et al., 2011). For successful online learning and Professional Development, then, the person or persons in charge of facilitating the modules must ensure that the participants are comfortable with the medium, prior to engaging with the content, or that they have the support systems in place so those educators know where to turn, when they have questions, which they ultimately will.

The second issue raised by this research study is one of excellence, which I am operationally using to mean high quality, for the context of this post. Previous research has suggested that certain criteria must be met, in order to meet a threshold of quality: purposeful design, skillful facilitator(s), rich conversations and reflections centered on classroom instruction, and integration with powerful teaching methods (Holmes, et al., 2011). If online learning will be used to engage teachers and other educators in Professional Development, then the sessions, courses, or modules must meet the above requirements for quality Professional Development. If participants do not see connections to their daily teaching lives, and do not have meaningful opportunities to engage with their fellow colleagues, then the online learning and Professional Development will not meet the requirements of excellence, and will be a waste of teachers’ time.

This, to me, is one of the most important considerations for any innovation I seek to implement into my community of practice; if I cannot implement my innovation well, then it is not an innovation that is worth being implemented at all. This underscores the importance of being very purposeful and thoughtful in the design of any innovation, so as to make it an effective and useful experience for anyone who participates in it.

The last issue raised by this article that represents a missed opportunity on the part of the researchers was to study the impact that their Professional Development courses had on the outcomes of students in the classrooms of the teachers. The authors, by their own admission, suggest that effective Professional Development should better prepare teachers to work with their students in some capacity, for example, classroom management, differentiation, or instructional strategies, among others (Holmes, et al., 2011). The researchers did ask participants if they had implemented any changes in their classroom based on the online Professional Development, and, while 74.8% of them said that they had, there was no measure on the outcomes for students, and whether those changes led to an improvement in student achievement (Holmes, et al., 2011). Seeing this missed opportunity serves as a good example to learn from, in that I should always try, whenever possible to measure the impact that my innovation has on students and their achievement, as that is what really matters.

Tracking v. Mixing; Seeking Humanization

Classroom dynamics are shaped by many things, including attributes, dispositions, knowledge, and skills of the teacher, students’ personalities and backgrounds, and, among other things, students’ academic abilities. Margarita Pivovarova (2014) seeks to isolate and measure the effect of students’ academic abilities, as measured by a low-stakes standardized test, on the performance of other students on subsequent exams, in effect, attempting to address the title question of whether students should be homogenously tracked or heterogeneously mixed according to academic ability. As I read this article, there were several things that I took issue with, each of which I want to address in turn.

Relatively early in the article, Pivovarova (2014) begins to use certain words to describe students’ academic performance that I found to be rather unsettling and dehumanizing in nature; by simply reducing them students to statistics on a page and using descriptors such as, good, bad, average, and marginal, she fails to positively recognize that the data she are interpreting are individual humans who are much more complex than simple adjectives. In an attempt to distance herself from the inescapable connotations associated with such words, she includes the following in her notes section, nearly three fourths of the way through the article:

4In order to make the interpretation easier, instead of labeling students by the level of achievement as 1 to 4, I will call students at the lowest level of achievement “bad” students without attaching the actual meaning of the word “bad”; students at the highest level – “good” students, and students in the middle of the achievement distribution – “average”. Among “average” students, I will distinguish between “marginal” (those whose achievement is below provincial standards, or level 2) and just “average” (level 3). (Pivovarova, 2014, p. 29)

While I recognize that it can often be easier to simplify data for ease of writing and communication with the reader, I found the inclusion and repeated use of these words to be over-simplified and indelible choice. The visceral reaction I had when reading these words, to me, underscores the importance and value of being very conscious and intentional in my word choices when making qualitative judgments and assessments about data points, and to always remember what the data I describe actually represent, which, in this case are students.

                When I began to reflect on the situative context behind Pivovarova’s (2014) work to better her dispositions and analyses, it became clear that her approach was quite distanced from any actual interaction with the students themselves. With such a large sample size (n=228,947 students), it seems likely that this information was reported to her by, or obtained through an institution involved with Ontario’s standardized testing, as opposed to being collected by she herself. While there were likely human-to-human interactions in the collection and analysis of these data, it seems as though one could reproduce such a study without ever seeing an actual person represented by the data. I see this as a major weakness of her methods; by never interacting with the ‘subjects’ of a study, it seems as though it would be quite easy to make such qualitative assessments that fail to acknowledge the humanity of the data points. As I read more about the author and her background, I found that her focus is in field of economics, which can have a cold, sterile distance to it, which was the feeling conveyed through this article.

Despite my above sentiments, when I began to reflect on the motivation behind Pivovarova’s work, I see the most noble of intentions behind it. The article intends to dispel current thinking on the linear relationship between the effects peers have on an individual achiever’s learning. This is done in the name of improving school effectiveness and efficiency, with the ultimate goal of improving student achievement.  If current practice dictates that students be grouped into classrooms in a certain way, homogeneously by achievement, for example, and new information suggests that more students would benefit to a greater extent if they were grouped using a different method, then the paper serves to fill an invaluable need that will improve outcomes for a significant number of students, something that has limitless value. An example of this, representing another particular strength of Pivovarova’s (2014) article is the manner through which she debunked an oft-used excuse of educators: the idea that a “bad apple” student can ruin the learning environment for all other students. Her data suggest that an increased number of low-performing students do not, on the whole, negatively impact the outcomes of high achieving students (Pivovarova, 2014). To use data to soundly reject such a dehumanizing (of students) notion is one of my most valuable take-aways from this research.

Through reading this article, I have gained a valuable insight about how I will implement my innovation into my own practice. I hope that collecting data through participative action research and utilizing methods that always actively seek to humanize my participants, my innovations will not reduce the lives and abilities of those involved to mathematical formulas, algorithms, and simple numbers on paper. But rather, that my methods will always refer to the data in ways that respectfully acknowledge the various backgrounds and stories of those involved in the study.


Works Cited:

Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton
Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Do Educators Utilize PD?

Doherty, I. Evaluating the impact of professional development on teaching practice: research findings and future research directions. US-China Education Review, A, 703-714. Retrieved June 12, 2014, from


Professional Development (PD) that is centered on meaningful learning activities is professional development that is generally considered to be highly effective. In his article, Iain Doherty (2011) sought to address whether or not there is a correlation between satisfactory participant experience following a professional development session and educators actually implementing changes and utilizing skills and strategies learned in their teaching practice (Doherty, 2011). Previous research suggested that meaningful professional development focuses on several principles: 1) contextual realism that intimately connects with teaching practice, meaning PD modules are linked to challenges and practical teaching situations; 2) content that allows learners to connect new information with preexisting schematic frameworks; 3) the utilization of authentic activities that mimic how new information can and will be used in future activities; 4) offering multiple and diverse perspectives, and; 5) collaborative reflection that promotes articulation of new knowledge (Doherty, 2011).

Doherty (2011) utilized PD modules that were built with the aforementioned considerations firmly in mind. They gave University-level educators in New Zealand information regarding the implementation of various technological tools that could enhance the learning of their students. These tools included things like blogs, social networking sites, Wikis, among others (Doherty, 2011). Further, the PD sessions were not a sage-on-stage/sit-and-get style session; each educator in attendance had the opportunity create accounts and begin to use them during the session. To measure his results, Doherty (2011) gave the educators a “pretest,” that asked them to assess their own familiarity with the various web-based tools that they were about to learn about. Following the session, participants were, again, asked to self-assess their own knowledge, awareness, familiarity, and ability to implement the tool into instruction. Doherty (2011) found that participants were significantly more knowledgeable about the resources following the training, than they were before it.

To truly assess their own effectiveness, they came back to the educators three months after the PD modules had been completed and gave a survey designed to assess whether the participants had, in any fashion, begun to implement or use the knowledge gained in the PD sessions in their instruction.  Doherty (2011) found that the vast majority (91-96% depending on the technology) of participants had not utilized any of the technology showcased, despite very strong reviews immediately following the sessions. Doherty then sought to supplement his quantitative results with qualitative information, ascertained through interviews with willing participants. Doherty’s (2011) sample size had diminished from an initial 27 to only seven who agreed to the interview; only one of the seven had made use of one of the multiple technology tools in their instruction, and the others were unable to articulate the reasons as to why they had not begun to implement learned strategies.

Upon reflecting on Doherty’s (2011) methods and results, there are both connections and areas of strength and weakness, each of which I want to take a moment to address in turn. There are a number of connections of this research to my own community of practice. One of the things that we emphasize in my role is the follow up to ensure that educators 1) feel supported as they begin to utilize the methods discussed during the actual PD session and 2) actually implement the strategies and tools into their professional work. I think that had Doherty offered on-going implementation support to the educators, he may have seen significantly higher rates of tool utilization. I know when I have been a participant in professional development sessions, I’ve  left feeling very motivated by all that I am able to do with the new tools and strategies, but that if I don’t begin to utilize them almost immediately, that I begin to lose understanding of the capabilities and how to integrate them into instruction.

One of the strengths that Doherty’s methods offered was the manner through which he assessed his participants’ knowledge before the session, after the session, and gauged their implementation by following up with attendees three months after the modules had been completed. This gives a good understanding of, 1) at what comfort and familiarity levels those in attendance entered the session, 2) the effectiveness of the facilitator(s) in communicating the desired knowledge to the participants, and 3) how valuable the content was to the educators by assessing the rates at which they actually utilized the information conveyed. This approach was a strong one, as it assessed the participants are various, predetermined intervals, providing information that a short-term data collection period wouldn’t even come close to measuring.

Another particular strength offered by Doherty’s procedure is the application of interviews and qualitative methods to supplement the quantitative information. Doherty (2011) chose to interview participants to pinpoint why and how participants chose to, or in his case, chose not to utilize the information conveyed through the professional development sessions. Though they couldn’t self-identify the root causes for their inaction, the process of interviewing participants, in addition to a simple post assessment, offers invaluable insight that might not otherwise be communicated to the researcher. This research model definitely provides a framework that I can utilize as I begin to plan for my own innovation in the area of professional development, combining both short- and long-term quantitative data, as well as qualitative data to provide further information.

The last area I want to address regarding Doherty’s (2011) methods was a lens he lacked, through which he ought to have collected and analyzed data to understand an even more meaningful perspective on the role of professional development in education.  In the introductory paragraph, he writes, “[professional development] is important to improve and enhance student learning” (Doherty, 2011, p. 703). If educators are tasked with improving outcomes for students, and professional development is meant to play a role in that charge, then the improvement in student performance, either academically, socially, behaviorally, or otherwise, should be an essential consideration when measuring or assessing the effectiveness of any session, content, or implementation. Given that Doherty (2011) mentions that purpose of professional development, I thought the perspective that could be offered by looking at the change in student outcomes would have been a valuable lens through which he could have collected and analyzed data.


Challenges of Shifting Cultural Capital

I found the reading of Tara J. Yosso’s (2005) article, Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community and cultural wealth, to be quite challenging. Not because it was written in a manner that was unclear, or in any way difficult to understand, but rather, because it challenged the systemic beliefs instilled in me by my upbringing in a White, middle class family. Throughout this post I want to share my reflections on the things that were points of tension for me and other thoughts and connections with the various assertions that Yosso makes about culture, race, hierarchies, and the assortment of cultural capitals that people of color possess.

Near the close of the article, there was a quote that stuck with me, “we need to de-academize theory and connect the community to the academy” (Yosso, 2005, p. 82). I found this refreshing, especially in a research article; this grounding in practice was one of the first times that I’ve read something academic that also provided a strong connection to reality. Yosso (2005) accomplishes this by sharing examples of the six different types of capital that marginalized people possess. In articles that I’ve previously read, it almost seemed as though it were an unstated, but also unquestionable, fact as to the intrinsic value of racial diversity. These different capitals (aspirational, familial, social, linguistic, resistant, and navigational) serve to clearly articulate (some of) what people of minority groups possess that can be viewed as assets, standing in stark contrast to the deficits that have been ascribed to them in the past. These areas of strength provide a conceptual framework, upon which educators can build relationships with students of diverse backgrounds and increase the contributions of these students to their environments, their learning, and the learning of others. However, the value of the above capitals will be lost, if, as Yosso asserts, educators assume that our schools work, and it is the job of students, parents, and communities to change to conform to the standards of a White, middle class society (Yosso, 2005). It is here that my first point of tension arises.

While I strongly believe that all students have valuable insights to share from their families, cultures, and other facets of their lives (see the cultural capitals above), I truly struggle with the idea that we need to radically change what our societal values are. The idea that minority groups should not strive for the American Dream, which has worked, on the whole, so well for so many people throughout our country’s history, is, honestly, a scary proposition.  I didn’t explicitly come across in this article, but I think more emphasis ought to be placed on the promotion of minority groups, but not at the expense of those for whom the system is working. Yet, despite this, I recognize that societies of hierarchy tend to stay hierarchical (Yosso, 2005). These two notions are conflicting for me; a truly egalitarian society will still have winners, that is to say, those at the top, and loser, or those at the bottom; I fear that a radical shift that begins to value new cultural capitals, would simply replace one group at the bottom with a different group, thereby achieving no real or meaningful change.

Yet, despite this fear of mine, I believe we must radically reform the education system, lest we end up with marginalized groups competing against one another to succeed in a rigged game. Cherrie Moraga (1983) writes, “The danger lies in ranking the oppressions” (Moraga, 1983, p.52) if we force diverse groups to retrofit themselves to our system, competing for access to limited resources, we’ve done nothing but pit them against one another, bringing one group up, at the expense of another.


Works cited:

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

Moraga, C. (1983) La güera, in: C. Moraga & G. Anzaldúa (Eds) This bridge called my back: writings by radical women of color (2nd edn) (New York, Kitchen Table).


Facebook as Professional Development?

Rutherford, C. (2010). Facebook as a source of informal teacher professional development. In Education. Retrieved from


For professional development (PD) to be considered effective, it must meet four criteria. These criteria characterize PD as: 1) Sustained, on-going, and intensive; 2) Practical and directly related to local classroom practice and student learning; 3) Collaborative and involving the sharing of knowledge, and; 4) Participant driven and constructivist in nature (Rutherford, 2010, p.62). In the journal article, Facebook as a Source of Informal Teacher Professional Development, author Camille Rutherford seeks to ascertain whether discussions that happen between teachers and other educational professionals on social media can be considered professional development and if such informal conversations meet the above four criteria for effective PD.

Rutherford (2010) begins her article by giving a historical context as to the seven different categories that form the knowledge base for teaching; such categorization serves to, “simplify the otherwise outrageously complex activity of teaching” (Rutherford, 2010, p. 61). These seven categories are not meant to be taken as a reduction of the teaching profession to a list of criteria, but rather form contextual categories that help synthesize the diverse areas that professional development can be offered. These seven categories, as first defined by Shulman (1987) are: 1) general pedagogical knowledge; 2) curriculum knowledge; 3) pedagogical content knowledge; 4) knowledge of learners and their characteristics; 5) knowledge of educational contexts [e.g. different styles of education], and; 7) knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values [e.g. historical perspectives] (Shulman, 1987, p.7).

In order to determine whether teachers’ conversations on social media met the criteria to be considered effective PD, Rutherford monitored the postings on a Facebook group for teachers in Ontario, Canada. She cites that Facebook has the perception of being an, “adolescent playground ripe with juvenile gossip and social bullying,” however, despite this reality, she notes that Facebook has become a space for professionals who seek opportunities to network and exchange ideas and resources to gather (Rutherford, 2010).  In her monitoring of the Ontario Teachers – Resource and Idea Sharing group, which, at the time (2010), had more than 8,000 members, she used both qualitative and quantitative examinations of the discussion topics.

Over the course of the 2007-08 school year, she found that 278 new and unique topics of discussion were created, generating 1,867 posts from 384 different Facebook users (Rutherford, 2010). Any post that didn’t garner more than 2 responses, were excluded from the study, as, without another’s input, it cannot be considered a discussion. Any post that was also deemed too sales-y, or geared toward promoting an item, product, or service was also excluded from the study. Next, two independent “coders” went through the posts and categorized them into one (or more) of the seven different categories of teacher knowledge (see above). The coders then eliminated any posts that were considered too sales-y, or geared toward promoting an item, product, or service for fee (Rutherford, 2010).

The study found that the majority of the posts were related to Pedagogical Content Knowledge (strategies, tips, and tricks to help out in the classroom), representing just more than a quarter of all total posts (Rutherford, 2010). The next category was a surprising one, as it didn’t fit into any of the categories in Shulman’s conceptual framework for teacher knowledge, so Rutherford created a new category: Employment (opportunities and/or related questions). Posts categorized in this area made up the 22.5% of all posts analyzed (Rutherford, 2010). The final category, representing greater than 10% of total posts (19.8%), included discussions of Curriculum Knowledge. All other categories were comprised of less than 10% of total posts (Rutherford, 2010).

One of the essential features of effective professional development is that it be collaborative, on-going, practical, and participant driven. Rutherford (2010) found that the average number of months that users were actively engaged in discussion was less than 2 months (1.79 months) and the average user made only 4.2 posts during that span. These data suggest that discussions happening on Facebook, while certainly constructivist, collaborative, and participant-driven in nature, were lacking the essential “on-going” feature necessary for effective professional development.

In my situational context, as a professional development provider to schools across the state, we’ve tried to integrate more online components into our professional development portfolio offerings, only to find that teachers generally have not utilized them to the extent we were hoping. I see this evidenced in my own practice as well. When I reflect on my own professional development, both as a teacher, and in my current role as a trainer, I’ve been asked to “continue the conversation” on Edmodo, a social media site similar in platform to Facebook, but dedicated to educators and education. I found the steps of creating a username and password, confirming my email, setting up a profile, requesting access to the page, and waiting to be granted access as very cumbersome steps that did streamline the continuation of learning. In my writing of this blog post, I went back to those pages, only to find that there had only been one post in the 8 months the group had been around.

In my own learning experiences, like my Master’s degree, for example, I found the process of online modules, classes, and activities to be an ineffective medium to facilitate true learning, as the “flow” of a conversation was very unnatural and not conducive to insightful reflections and discussions on practice and pedagogy. While I’m sure that some people may enjoy and find value in the convenience of the online style to meet their varying schedules and time constraints, there is, however, something incredibly valuable for me about having that in-person, face-to-face interactions when learning from and with other people. It becomes much easier, in person, to hear the other person’s tone, read their body language, and ask follow up questions in a meaningful and timely manner, things that are lost through virtual communication. Because of these sentiments, I generally agree with Rutherford’s assessment, when she said, “Facebook teacher groups and similar forms of social media should be seen as an effective supplement [emphasis added] to traditional teacher professional development” (Rutherford, 2010, p.69). The idea that online modules could ever replace in-person professional development is not one I could support, but it certainly has a role to play as a free, low-risk, and convenient medium for teachers to collaborate and learn from one another.


Additional works cited:

Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: foundations of the new reform. Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22

Political shifts in Flores v. Arizona

In the article, ‘Keeping Up the Good Fight’: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona, the authors describe several key aspects surrounding the case, which sought to achieve equitable funding, resources, and instructional programs for English Language Learners (ELLs) in Arizona. The case was brought as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the parents and students in the Nogales Unified School District, in direct response to what the parents perceived as substantially inadequate funding and a lack of appropriate academic programs to support ELL students in the district. The case has had an extremely long and winding legal history, as it was initially brought in federal court in 1992, before, ultimately, making its way to the Supreme Court of the United States in 2009, 17 years after the suit was filed and the original students, on whose behalf the case was brought, were long since graduated. This article stood out to me, as it touched on several areas of deep interest for me: political theory, legal proceedings, and education in Arizona.

The authors of this article sought to look at the public and political commentary regarding the Flores v. Arizona case and the way(s) it addressed or illustrated underlying beliefs, trends, or political realities in the United States. As their sources, they used press releases, interviews, congressional hearings, and newspapers articles. However, to limit the scope of what they were studying, they focused solely on sources that favored Flores’ side of the case. Through their inquiry, they found several different trends, which, rather than emphasizing the intrinsic values of a multicultural and pluralistic society, supported Flores from a different and much more neo-liberal rationality, such that it promotes competition between people, deregulations, and the strengthening of entrepreneurialism among students of diverse backgrounds.

The above rationalities represent a departure from classical liberalism, to a political ideology that seeks to let the market determine the value of commodities, which, recently, has come to include language, ideas, and information, which the author defines as neo-liberalism (Thomas, Aletheiani, Carlson, & Ewbank, 2014). Three particular quotes, which are not connected to one another in the article, yield new insights as to the shift this represents in  education: “Instead, language is left to the competitive market, a place where individuals and groups have to battle with each other for access” (Thomas et al., 2014, p.250), “The responsibility of learning English now belongs to the individual as well; the well-heeled subject will compete for it, invest in it, attain it, master it and exchange it for other commodities the state need not provide” (Thomas et al., 2014, p.251), and, “the best chance for these children to create a great life for themselves, as appropriate education gives them the skills and resources they need” (Thomas et al., 2014, p. 254).

When taken in conjunction with one another, the above quotes illustrate the idea that ‘we,’ as a collective society, are no longer responsible for the outcomes of our students; that ‘we’ bear no liability in the acquisition of the English language by our ELL students. This removal of our culpability allows the collective ‘us’ to wash our hands of having to adapt to changing student demographics and force the outsiders (ELLs) to adapt to the White, middle-class norms of learning and education, or risk more serious and grievous consequences: dropping out, a life of rejection, or prison (Thomas et al., 2014,).  Forcing students to “compete” for access to English Language education is a moral failure on the part educators and policy makers and the resulting pro-Flores commentary that deemphasized the value of multi-lingual society exemplifies the changes we have seen in political theory and discourse in the United States and Arizona.


Works Cited:

Thomas, M. H., Aletheiani, D. R., Carlson, D. L., & Ewbank, A. D. ‘Keeping up the good fight’: the said and unsaid in Flores v. Arizona. Policy Futures in Education, 12, 242-261.

Levels of PD and where we go from here.

Borko, H. (2004). Professional development and teacher learning: mapping the terrain. Educational Researcher, 33(8), 3–15. doi:10.3102/0013189X033008003


In her article, Professional Development and Teacher Learning: Mapping the Terrain, Hilda Borko discusses the current state of educational research, specifically with regards to professional development for teachers in a Kindergarten through twelfth grade setting. She lays the legal and research-backed foundations as to why professional development is so critical in our education system, each of which I will discuss in turn. She starts off with a brief discussion of the idea that educational reform movements across the country are setting ambitious goals for the learning of their students, yet, these efforts, which are set by policy-makers, rely on teachers’ ability to implement the changes in classroom practice (Borko, 2004). Educational scholars and policy-makers have recognized this dynamic, which is why teachers are required, by statute, to have regular opportunities for “high quality” professional development (Borko, 2004, p.3). Researchers have argued that, “helping out teachers to succeed and enabling our children to learn is an investment in human potential, one that is essential to guaranteeing America’s future freedom and prosperity” (Borko, 2004, p.3). Despite these two mandates –one legal, the other moral – professional development opportunities for teachers are, “woefully inadequate,” even though various educational agencies spend, “millions, if not billions, of dollars” on it (Borko, 2004, p.3).

Further, Borko tells that professional development is the, “most serious unsolved problem for policy and practice in American education today” (Borko, 2004, p. 3). So, throughout the remainder of her article, she attempts to answer two fundamental questions about the state of professional development: 1) What do we know about professional development programs’ impact on teacher learning, and 2) what are the important directions and strategies for expanding our knowledge in this area? (Borko, 2004). She attempts to answer these two questions with the use of a multifocal lens in three distinct phases, each of which I will discuss in turn.

One of the particular strengths of Borko’s article was the methods she used to measure the effectiveness of professional development, specifically her use a multifocal lens.  She articulates a challenge she encountered as, “I have struggled to articulate how researchers can keep both the individual and the community in focus” (Borko, 2004, p.8); a problem she creatively solves with a metaphor of using a multifocal lens, which allows objects, both distant and near, to be in focus at the same time. In the context of professional development, on the ‘nearside,’ this allows for the analysis of data on questions regarding how a teacher can construct new knowledge and instructional practices, whereas, ‘distant focus’ allows for analysis of questions on norms of communications and patterns of participation (Borko, 2004, p.8). The idea that multiple aspects can be viewed at the same time in the course of the same study, is a novel one to me and, given that I think my line of inquiry will relate to professional development, this study provides a framework that I can use to view and interpret my results, focusing on the impact on individual teachers’, as well as the effectiveness of the program in terms of improving students’ achievement.

Borko’s uses of the three-phase model provide different levels of questions to be viewed through her multifocal approach. The Phase I approach allows for research questions and activities committed to investigating the results of an individual professional development program at a single site (Borko, 2004). The second Phase allows researchers to study a single professional development program implemented more than one facilitator at multiple school sites; these questions explore the how the facilitator, the professional development program, and the role that teachers play as learners.  The third and final phase is the sum of the previous two and explores relationships between multiple professional development programs, enacted at multiple sites, by multiple facilitators.

There were several components of this study that surprised me. First, I was interested to learn that there have been no Phase III research studies, for several reasons: the large-scale, multi-method field studies will require new ways to collect and analyze data (Borko, 2004). Such studies will require substantial funds to complete. Next, on a more personal and professional thought, I was surprised to learn that the professional development program that I work to implement through my work falls into the Phase II level of Borko’s study. This will provide me a framework that will allow for a more complete analysis when I implement my innovation.  The final area of surprise for me was the idea of “willing participants” (Borko, 2004, p.5). Now that I have seen this phrase, it makes perfect sense, but was not something I had previously considered; if people volunteer for a study, they are likely people with an open mind, who are willing to implement changes and try new things in their work and professional life. This is another area that I will need to take into consideration when I start to plan for my innovation. I will want to explore further research to better understand how mandated participation versus optional participation can affect the results of a study.

Having experienced professional development sessions, both as a facilitator and participant, I was not at all surprised to learn that the role of facilitator is of incredible importance to the overall success of the professional development program (Borko, 2004). I’ve sat in a significant number of professional development sessions that have completely failed because the presenter used outdated instructional delivery methods that did not actively engage those in the audience. I want to explore research that delves into what methods are most effective for implementing professional development as an external provider.

Despite all of this, I think that this research provides a lot of particular situative context that I can consider as I seek to design and implement my innovation at my worksite. Yet, it was heartening to learn that research supports the need for professional development in schools, as it does have a significant and substantial impact on students’ outcomes.

Issues in Critical Teacher Reflection

In the scope of my professional life, one of my strong areas of interest is the development and delivery of research-backed professional development that enables teachers to increase their students’ achievement. So, as I read author Tyrone C. Howard’s piece, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection, I was intrigued by what he outlines as, “ways that teacher educators can equip preservice teachers with the necessary skills to critically reflect on their own racial and cultural identities…” (Howard, 2003). This line, in particular, stood out to me because he is speaking directly to me and others that serve in this and similar capacities.

The process he details, attempts to get participants to tackle several deep philosophical questions that would cause, even the most reflective among us, to struggle. The questions seek, I believe intentionally so, to strike at the very core of the one’s being, posing things such as, “Who am I?” and “what do I believe?” with the intent that reflections on such questions will yield insights as to how a teacher’s identity coexists with those of his or her students, and the interplay between the two or more differing identities (Howard, 2003. p.199).  I see this presenting several unique and distinct problems that, unless specifically addressed, might confound the ideal outcome of truly critical and constructive reflection on one’s own teaching practices, biases, prejudices, race, and culture.

The first challenge I foresee for many schools is one of access. As I try to envision the qualities and qualifications of a person who would be competent and command enough authority on the subject to successfully facilitate a 3-day long preservice discussion, I expect that very few people, in a majority-White teaching population, could complete such a complex task (Howard, 2010). Perhaps this would not necessarily be the job of one person, but rather of a diverse team of people, working together within their own particular contexts regarding race. Further, in Howard’s later (2010) work, he discusses the paralyzing effect that conversations about race can have on people in the White majority, suggesting that discussions are often crippled by, “our fear, our sweaty palms, our anxiety about saying the wrong thing, or using the wrong words” (Howard, 2010, p. 102). These difficulties underscore how important it is to create a space in which participants feel safe enough to share, whether through writing, as Howard suggests, as it is more personal and private, conversations, or other activities, and comfortable enough to make themselves vulnerable to their peers in such a sensitive subject.

From my personal experience as an external professional development and implementation coaching provider, I know how essential the tone and culture that the facilitator sets is to the success of the session. Additionally, I have found that teachers and other educational professionals are often skeptical of someone coming in who doesn’t explicitly know them or their students, which can result in hostility, anger, passivity, cynicism, or unengaged participation. Therefore, I foresee a second layer of access issues for many campuses; if they’re able to find someone who can successfully navigate the difficult terrain of race-related conversations, there is the second requisition that the person also be able to relate to the participants to the point that he or she can set a tone and culture conducive enough to compel colleagues to share very personal thoughts and feelings.

The final issue I found in Howard’s suggestion, was not with the logistical and implementation issues of critical teacher reflection, but rather the emphasis that teachers answer questions like, “who am I?” and “what do I believe?” (Howard, 2003, p.199). I imagine that the average response of a teacher to such philosophically profound and esoteric questions would result in very reductionist answers that, instead of truly capturing who one is (if such a notion can even be put into words), would result in a person’s being being reduced to a set of criteria, or a list on paper (e.g. I am a mother, a teacher, an American, etc.), neither of which can approach the essence of who that person is at their most fundamental level.

It is with the above sentiments that I am skeptical that Howard’s suggestions of critical teacher reflection can be so easily implemented at the schools most in need of culture transformation, to one that moves away from deficit-based thinking to being culturally responsive to the diverse needs of a diverse student population.


Works Cited:

Howard, C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory Into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.

Howard, T. C. (2010). Why race and culture matter in schools: closing the achievement gap in America’s classrooms. New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press.