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Teacher Development Researchers Win UofL's Grawemeyer Award for Education

Teacher development is at the center of this year’s 2015 Grawemeyer Award for Education, the University of Louisville announced Wednesday evening.

The prize goes to two researchers who say educators need time to meet, help and inspire each other—and that time will help them grow in their profession more than most accountability policies like test scores and evaluations.

Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan will split the $100,000 prize this year for their book “Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School.”

Hargreaves is the Thomas More Brennan Chair in Education at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education. Fullan is professor emeritus at University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

In their book, the pair describes how professional capital is built with “human capital (the talent of individuals), social capital (the collaborative power of the group) and decisional capital (the wisdom and expertise to make sound judgments about learners that are cultivated over many years).”

Hargreaves told WFPL research shows that social capital adds a lot to human capital.

“One of the greatest levers we have in terms of policy is getting teachers to work together effectively for student learning and achievement," he said. "Now, not any talking together will do. It’s really collaborating with a purpose, sharing and moving around best ideas that are most effective for students.”

In Jefferson County Public Schools we have Professional Learning Communities, which sounds like what you’re describing.

There’s barely a district in America that does not have Professional Learning Communities right now. It’s spread around like a kind of flu. In some of those Professional Learning Communities are robust. That’s when they are well-led, when they are high trust and investment in building the relationships among people and when there really is a focus on improving practice.

Professional Learning Communities are less effective when people just sit together and talk without any focus or without any action, when the principal has perhaps decided at a time what the results of the communities and the discussions will be.

Since education is controlled by federal, state and local policies, who should lead the charge for improving these groups?

The job of a system is to find those leaders and to keep them in place sufficiently long so that they can have an impact on their teachers and their schools, and to get the leaders to collaborate with each other.

The key is the principal and how effectively the principal works with teachers, and the main spearing device is the district leadership if it’s a large district and the state’s leadership if the districts are small and they need to share their expertise with each other.

How do you make this the norm?

The norm will truly come from two places. One is the expectations within the teaching profession, that when teachers come into teaching they understand in their preparation and their licensure that this is not a solo profession. It’s not something you do by yourself. But like other professions its something that is performed in collaboration with fellow professionals.

Then the absolute key is school level leadership and district leadership. But unfortunately at the moment in a lot of states, not so much in Kentucky, leadership is being interpreted in spending a lot of time going into classrooms, evaluating individual teachers in relation to their instruction and how that connects with test score performance.

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