Want to create better teachers? I know how. One word. Blogging.
Now before you roll your eyes or accuse me of oversimplifying the very complex issue of teacher evaluation and monitoring, hear me out.
I began teaching in 1988. It was a tough job and thinking about getting better was superseded by survival instincts. Early on in my career, there were several documents that the province produced in support of improved professional development. I didn't pay much attention to these but one phrase I saw in those documents some 20 years ago stuck with me. Reflective Practitioner. I sort of understood the concept but other than simply thinking about what you did in the classroom, I wasn't at all sure what to do with this term.
When I discovered blogs almost five years ago, I soon figured out what that term meant. Since that occasion I have sat down to write close to 1,000 pieces of reflection. While not all would be considered deep, most take me anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to craft. It may not always look like it, these are generally borne out of the times I spent observing, thinking and working in classrooms. The reflective writing has been valuable but definitely the nearly 4,000 comments have been even more of a learning experience. This is the single best professional development experience I've had.
Dan Meyer, a Mathematics teacher in California writes:
... blogging was the cheapest, most risk-free investment I could have made of my personal time into my job. You start by writing down things that are interesting to you, practices you don't want to forget. And then you start trying new things just so you can blog about them later, picking them apart, and dialoging over them with strangers. Periods of stagnancy in your blogging start to correspond to periods of stagnancy in your teaching. You start to muse on your job when you're stuck in traffic, in line for groceries, that sort of thing. That transformation has been nothing but good for me and it all began on a free Blogspot blog.
Thousands of other blogging educators could echo similar words. In fact, I've yet to hear anyone who has stuck with blogging suggest it's been anything less than essential to their growth and improvement. I've no "data" to prove this but I'm willing to bet my golf clubs that teachers who blog are our best teachers. If you look at the promise of Professional Learning Communities that our schools have invested thousands, more likely millions to achieve, blogs accomplish much of the same things. The basic idea of the PLC is to have teachers share practice/data and work in teams to make improvements. A good blog does this and more. While the data may not be school specific, great bloggers know how to share data and experience that is both relevant and universal so any reader can contribute and create discussion.
There's a natural transparency that emerges. The teachers who blog as professionals in this reflective manner in my district invite anyone to look into their classrooms and you can get a picture of what happens on a daily basis. This goes a long way in addressing accountability concerns.
Teachers have for years had to fill in a plethora of reports and forms which in essence are accountability papers. For the most part they are of no use to teachers and in most cases aren't very valuable for administration either. Busy work.
So here's my plan. Hire a teacher, give them a blog. Get them to subscribe to at least five other teachers in the district as well as five other great teachers from around the globe. Have their principal and a few central office people to subscribe to the blog and five other teachers as well. Require them to write at least once a week on their practice. Get conversations going right from the get go. Watch teachers get better.
Try that. If it doesn't work after a year, you get my golf clubs.
PS. The only people allowed to criticize or challenge this idea are people who have blogged for at least one year and written at least 50 posts. The rest of you can ask questions but you can't dismiss it.