Welcome to another profile in SimpleK12's Teachers Teaching Teachers — Views from the Field series, where we talk with educators about what they're doing to train other teachers and administrators.
Today we want to introduce you to TJ Hoffman, a job-embedded PD developer who works on both mobile and web platforms with Sibme, an online video coaching and collaboration platform.
How and where have you been involved in PD, (including your specialties)? I started training teachers as a new teacher mentor 8 years ago. Since then, I have coordinated instructional coaching for a campus and district. I have also coordinated new teacher induction for one of the largest school districts in the country. Additionally, I've presented sessions at Learning Forward, the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, and regional educational technology conferences around the country.
What roles have you played in K-12 education? I have been a teacher, instructional coach, school leader, and district administrator. Currently, I work for a web and mobile platform focused on job-embedded professional development.
What led you to pursue teacher PD? Everyone agrees that a high-quality teacher is the single greatest contributing factor to the success of a student. However, while billions of dollars are spent annually on professional development, there is little agreement on what “high-quality” learning is for teachers. I found early on that collaborative, iterative, and frequent professional learning communities were the most impactful way for me to learn as a teacher. I've chosen to pursue a career in professional development to help move people away from “sit-and-get” PD to something that really moves the needle toward continuous improvement for all teachers.
What advice do you have for other teachers who would like to create and deliver teacher PD? There is nothing you can do in a PD “session” that will make it interactive enough to actually change the way people teach after they leave your session. The only thing that works is reviewing student work, watching teachers in action, and discussing what you see. If you want to make instructional improvement measurable, you need to make professional learning visible.
What's the biggest mistake you've made and what did you learn? Thinking that forcing people to attend a certain number of PD sessions would actually improve their teaching. I thought, “if I force people to come, they'll learn something and it'll work.” All I got was a room full of angry disengaged people. No matter how good my PD was, tracking attendance makes people feel like professional-growth is just a compliance measure. When I started giving people choice and the ability to drive their own professional learning, I started seeing improvement in their teaching.
What are the biggest mistakes you see teachers making in the classroom? Thinking that “classroom management” is a precursor to student engagement. Too many teachers confuse the following three things: student engagement, student compliance, and classroom management. They're actually three different skills. The idea that you need to get kids to “behave” before they can learn is backward. I've seen lots of classes where students are compliant, but no learning is taking place. Students can even look engaged, but synapses simply aren't firing. I think teachers should be taught to engage students (which is not the same as entertaining kids) first. If kids are really focused on learning and given the chance to demonstrate mastery of their learning, the behavior and classroom management takes care of itself.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of the various forms of PD delivery? As far as I'm concerned, the only form of PD that works is one that is based on authentic conversations between educators about teaching and learning. Any form of PD can be ineffective if it isn't dynamic. I've seen PLCs, Instructional Coaching sessions, Mentoring Sessions (all of which should be dialogical) turn into a monologue from one person to an audience. That's ineffective. I've also seen all of the above where teachers sit around and talk about everything BUT teaching and learning. That's ineffective. I've also seen conversations that only focus on student work. That's incomplete. Unless the conversations are about student work AND instructional strategies, they might as well not happen.
What would you change about university teacher education programs? I agree with Deborah Ball. Until university teacher education programs stop lecturing about theory and force students to demonstrate mastery of an essential set of skills in real classrooms, they will never adequately prepare future educators to enter the classroom.
What would you change about traditional PD as found in most schools today? Stop tracking seat time. Give people choice. Give credit when teachers demonstrate mastery of essential skills.
This teacher profile is part of SimpleK12's Teachers Teaching Teachers — Views from the Field series, where we interview educators about what they're doing to train other teachers and administrators.