Response to Sarah Mosle's "Teaching Lessons"

Published oct. 30, 2012

In Sara Mosle’s Oct. 27 piece in The New York Times’ Opinionator column, Teaching Lessons, she writes:

“Teachers can’t go it alone. They need sustained training and support using empirically tested methods in concert and collaboration with one another. This is how schools succeed.”

This simple declaration is not only powerful, but true. There are a number of factors that enable a professional development (PD) experience of real value for educators—Ms. Mosle gets to the heart of the matter in writing about the difference she experienced when she went to a school that “took PD seriously.”

Like Ms. Mosle, JFF has also found that PD works best if it is ongoing, driven by student and teacher needs, provides educators with resources for implementation, and—often most critically—if it is a priority for school leadership. We have seen this repeatedly in our own technical assistance and PD work with schools, districts, and community-based organizations; and via research we have commissioned and synthesized on aspects of student-centered approaches to learning for the Students at the Center (SATC) project.

For example in the SATC paper, Teachers at Work: Six Exemplars of Everyday Practice, Barbara Cervone and Kathleen Cushman discuss how student-centered schools encourage teachers to try new things and see themselves as continuous learners. As Mosle points out, beyond the delivery methods of professional development, attention should also be paid to the content of professional development. We’ve found in our work that the importance of social skills emphasized in “Responsive Classrooms” as markers for academic achievement is also supported by research and practice.

In the SATC research paper, Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice, Eric Toshalis and Michael Nakkula discuss how providing opportunities for choice, control, and collaboration in the classroom are great strategies for increasing academic achievement. And our partners, YouthBuild USA, The Corps Network, and Year Up teach skills such as persistence, teamwork, and negotiation as a strategy to improve the self-confidence and performance of formerly disconnected youth, and to prepare them for success in postsecondary education and the labor market.

Finally, in a merging of the perspectives on delivery and content, SATC authors Susan Yonezawa, Larry McClure, and Makeba Jones discuss the school-wide structures and culture shifts needed in order to be responsive to youth in Personalization in Schools.

Ms. Mosle’s piece is a reminder that student-centered learning practices are only able to thrive in a school/program culture that values and supports the educator as a learner, a professional, and a facilitator of students’ social and emotional strengthening.

Rebecca Wolfe (@rewolfeJFF) and Mamadou Ndiaye (@myndiaye) both contributed to the contents of this blog.