Today, we launch our first in a new series of Q&As with school superintendents and other education leaders by asking Jonathan Raymond about his views on teacher professional development and technology in support of teaching and learning.
1. What is your philosophy about teacher professional development?
Professional learning needs to be ongoing and collaborative, and not be a moment in time. We don’t want drive-by professional learning –- the ‘sit and get’ variety. Professional learning needs to be embedded in teachers’ and principals’ daily work.
It needs to be inquiry-orientated with a specific focus, clear goals, and constantly monitored and assessed. It is the ongoing work of thinking deeply, digging in and assessing our progress –- always done through looking at students’ work and other assessments.
The work is the learning, and the learning is the work. I subscribe to the constructivist approach –- designing and doing the work. It is a slower and messier process, but it is one that gives teachers ownership. They relish and enjoy this creative learning process. It takes time. It’s hard. Teachers can support each other and learn from each other. As part of this profession, we sign on to be lifelong learners.
2. In your experience, what has worked and what has failed in linking professional development to any type of standardized tests or standardized curriculum?
What works is when you tie professional learning to standards and curriculum. Professional learning works when it is linked to ongoing assessment of student learning. It doesn’t work when it is linked to standardized tests. Most standardized tests are an autopsy report –- they aren’t timely -- particularly when assessment is tied to tests administered once a year. The number and type of questions doesn’t lend itself to diagnosis if a student has learned skills and mastered something.
It is difficult to take a once-a-year snapshot and make good, professional learning decisions with that. It gets back to: Is it an assessment for learning or of learning?
Take the Common Core State Standards: We’re focused on what skills students need to master. We can tie professional learning to it. We can look at students’ work and decide what they are learning. And then we can adjust our professional learning plan. In contrast, a standardized annual test presents a challenge about what we will focus on. Did the student not understand fractions, or did the student get confused by not reading the question right?
3. What type of relationship is there between making the transition to the national Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and increasing student access to technology?
From my experience, the technology is in service of teaching and learning the Common Core State Standards. The new math practices and English language arts competencies call for students to be able to use digital tools and technology strategically and capably to learn. In Sacramento, since early 2011, when we began our journey to implement and learn how to teach our students these Common Core standards as the framework, we took a constructivist approach. We have teams of teachers and students working together to develop performance tasks and take them back to schools and work on them with their students. We bring them back the next month to assess the performance tasks to calibrate and improve on the work. Sharing with colleagues in common planning time also is important. Teachers become a designers and coaches of lessons and units of study. That is difficult work, and it requires time to make that shift. The work is the learning, and the learning is the work.
4. Which important new skills do students need to prepare for the CCSS assessments?
Students need to have access to annotation tools, such as drag-and-drop and highlighting. They need to be able to use technology enhancements, such as math manipulatives. They need solid keyboard skills as well as an ability to read and analyze digital text. Students need to be able to make their thinking visible. Technology is a visible medium, and they have to be able to represent their thinking in multiple ways. Technology provides multiple means of engagement -- rich and interactive with a variety of activities and reinforcing skills students will need throughout post-secondary and career experiences. Finally, and not least, students need stamina, perseverance, and focus as well as an ability to communicate and collaborate. Sometimes, technology doesn’t lend itself well in those two areas –- communicating and collaborating. The power of technology to engage means sometimes it engages too well.
5. Do you believe educational technology should play a role in preparing students for CCSS assessments, and if so, what do you believe is the best course for schools to take to achieve that goal?
Yes, it is important for technology to play a role in preparing students, because assessments are computerized and adaptive. Students need to have rich learning experiences with technology daily and certainly prior to the actual assessments.
What we need to do is provide the technology infrastructure, devices, and resources for professional learning that embeds technology in lesson plans and uses it to enhance learning and engage students. I recommend leaving it to teachers and administrators to decide how to prepare students. I don’t believe in being prescriptive. Teachers and administrators can figure this out if we give them resources. It doesn’t have to look the same at every school. That’s what makes it fun and creative. That’s what gives teachers the ability to work together in a very exciting way.
6. Based on your experience, are any other lessons learned about teacher professional development using technology and linking it to curriculum changes?
The most important thing to realize is that you have to jump in. There is no end. It is a continuous process. There are no shortcuts. No panacea. This requires resources and making professional learning a priority. If we do, children will benefit.
We had Common Core trainings in Sacramento for principals, other school leaders, teachers, district staff, and parents. It is important that everyone from transportation and cafeteria workers to superintendents know what Common Core is and how these standards will be achieved. We held workshops for parents and community members on math and language arts at schools for more than a year so they could experience the Common Core standards and play with problems students face: performance tasks. Our more than 30 training specialists –- the best of our teachers -– are now Teachers on Special Assignment working and learning with Common Core standards. They guide teachers and the community.
One of the great challenges today is connecting new standards and new assessments, and linking student assessments to educators’ evaluations. It still isn’t clear how they are all connected and how they help all people learn.
Where we’ve really taken this constructivist approach, the teachers in Sacramento are really excited about it. It has been the most reenergizing way to get them back into real teaching. If they are ready to be an active participant, they’ll see more excitement, engagement, and enthusiasm in their students.
Jonathan Raymond was the superintendent of Sacramento City schools for 4 1/2 years. During his leadership, summer programs were expanded; college and career programs tied to businesses and the community began; and new parent-teacher partnerships were established. He and his team also started implementing CCSS in 2011. Before Sacramento, Raymond served as a school district chief accountability officer and worked as an attorney and CEO. He currently co-manages the education consultant practice PCG Education, based in Boston, Mass. He helps low-performing schools adopt 21st-century skills and improve student social and emotional learning.