Lawmakers talk about improving educator learning

Friday , June 19, 2015 - 9:17 AM

By CALEB LARKIN
Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – State legislators met on Wednesday to determine methods to improve teacher training in Utah.

Sydnee Dickson, the deputy state superintendent at the Utah State Office of Education feels change in educator professional learning is necessary. She described current training as a “one size fits nobody” process. “Just like we expect individualized instructions for students, we expect the same for teacher training,” she said.

Dickson believes the answer lies in collaboration. She presented a MetLife Study of the American Teacher from 2009. The results showed that teachers who engage in high levels of collaboration have a 14 percent higher level of satisfaction on the job. She also presented an America’s Teacher on America’s Schools study results. The report found that 80 percent of teachers believe providing opportunities for relevant professional development in order to retain teachers is “very important.”

The Utah State Office of Education recently conducted a study that linked retention with teacher collaboration. Dickson highlighted working conditions at the school as the number one reason a teacher quits within the first few years of their career. They found that teachers leave the profession “because they feel ill-equipped to handle the classroom requirements.”

Several committee members observed classroom practices at high performing schools in Japan, China, and Finland. They found a higher number of teacher evaluations, collaboration meetings, feedback, and training resulted in more engaged learning in the classroom.

Cheri Stevenson from Washington County School District explained how they used the same methods to improve student’s engaged learning in the district. “The goal was ensuring high levels of learning for every student,” Stevenson said. The school district changed from “teachers choosing what they want to teach, to a team choosing what students need to learn,” Stevenson explained.

A charter school in Riverdale has implemented these educator professional learning practices as well. Brent Petersen, Executive Directory at Good Foundations Academy, develops teacher evaluations and trainings to improve classroom learning. “My job as an administrator is they feel confident in the classroom, every single day,” Petersen said.

Peterson came from teaching at a public school in California. “The training here is leaps and bounds ahead of what I received,” Petersen said speaking of educator training in California. He credited the improvement not to a change in number of trainings, but more focused and applicable trainings.

Jordan Hassell, a fifth grade teacher at Good Foundations Academy, discussed educator training practices at the school. He named grade level workshops, where teachers at the same grade level collaborate on teaching methods, and alignment collaboration as two significant professional learning practices at the school. Alignment collaboration refers to coordinating with teachers one grade above and one grade below to ensure students transition easily from grade to grade.

Hassell says the administration helps and supports him in achieving his goals. He feels they create a good environment for a self-motivated teacher. “It’s more likely that the teacher goes to the administrator saying I want this, instead of the administrator going to the teacher and saying you need this to succeed,” Hassell said.

State legislators hope to increase educator training and professional development through collaboration programs like Washington County and Good Foundations Academy already have in place.

Rep. Bradley Last, R-Hurricane, the committee’s House Chair, moved to draft a committee bill to provide qualified grants for professional development. The motion passed unanimously.

“We’re going to let everyone know this (educator professional learning) is our primary focus for education funding,” Last said.

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