The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is having the workshop Realizing the Vision: NGSS District Implementation. They are live streaming the whole event – which is awesome – and I’ve been tuned in all day.
A thread that has developed during the proceedings is how this room of policy makers develop initiatives and supports for teachers while promoting teacher autonomy, also. Which decisions can or should teachers make, and about which decisions should we make policy?
- Should the district require every teacher to follow the same pacing?
- Should teachers be given a “common curriculum”? If so, can they modify it? Should they be able to write their own, if they wish?
- How does high levels of teacher autonomy impact students who transfer or enter after the start of the year?
- What constitute coherence throughout a building or district? Can coherence and autonomy coexist?
Carolyn Landel pressed me to think more about this topic (thanks!), so here’s what I think we know.
Coherent course structure is about past experience being relevant (that is, leading to future success) in current work. If every class is in lock-step, then a transfer student has a minimal change in experience when they change schedules. The problem, of course, is that learning gains in such prescriptive environments are incredibly limited… so the limited disruption isn’t really much of a boon.
Instead, if I have a semester in a class built around the topic of climate change affecting bees in North America, then I can make meaning and engage in authentic science to work that complex problem. If I then transfer to a class built around understanding the evolution of antibiotic resistance… that is quite a change. However, I can approach that problem using the same skills and understandings I developed with bees. I may need to learn about the new problem, but I am still reading graphs, engaging in argumentation, and even bringing my knowledge of bees to enrich the discussion and justify my claims in this new context. This is coherence, without content prescription.
The Role of Policy
Student mobility is going to require some transition time. We can’t exactly what students need before we know them as learners… not the first time, and not when they transfer. Trying to create policy that removes the transition period of movement overlooks the fundamental role of formative assessment and classroom relationships. Good teaching is responsive teaching, which requires space for teachers to make choices that ARE responsive. Policy can’t do that.
Instead, we can create policy that supports teacher development. We can provide high quality materials that help teachers meet the expectations of NGSS. We then help them decide which materials they want to implement, and how that should look for their students. We can offer them feedback on how their choices are (or aren’t yet) meeting the vision of the framework. Support means helping teachers understand the impact of their choices, and helping them make better choices next time.
If teachers are rejecting… we need to understand why. If they are uncomfortable, help them work through it (like this). If they don’t see the need for change, help them assess to identify the shortcomings of their current methods. If they don’t know how, provide high quality materials to provide a model for them to get started.
I have a manuscript in preparation on the topic of effective autonomy (and the importance of autonomy-supportive structures). I say that to explain why I have a handful of good references to share if you’re interested in more information justifying the need to support teacher autonomy.
When we effectively support teacher autonomy – that is both support and provide autonomy – we see:
- Teachers experience decreased on-the-job stress and increased empowerment.
- Pearson, L. C., & Moomaw, W. (2005). The Relationship between Teacher Autonomy and Stress, Work Satisfaction, Empowerment, and Professionalism. Educational Research Quarterly, 29(1), 38–54.
- Teachers who exercise professional autonomy are more likely to offer it to their students in turn.
- Marshik, T., Ashton, P. T., & Algina, J. (2017). Teachers’ and Students’ Needs for Autonomy, Competence, and Relatedness as Predictors of Students’ Achievement. Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 20(1), 39–67. http://dx.doi.org.www2.lib.ku.edu/10.1007/s11218-016-9360-z
- Workplace training research shows that autonomy-support practices are a significant mediator of positive effects of professional learning.
- Liu, D., & Fu, P. (2011). Motivating Proteges’ Personal Learning in Teams: A Multilevel Investigation of Autonomy Support and Autonomy Orientation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(6), 1195–1208. http://dx.doi.org.www2.lib.ku.edu/10.1037/a0024716
I cherry-picked a few references, but I’ve got many more. If you have questions or more suggested readings, leave them in the comments or send them my way on Twitter.
Cover image by Centrum Cyfrowe – Open Education Policy Forum 2018