Designing Professional Development/HighTechHigh

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The Case for Professional Development

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Just as the nature of education is never-ending, professional training and education for teachers should be on-going as well. In fact, it may be just as critical as the education that teachers provide to their students. So that they are better able to teach higher-order thinking skills and engage in related practices such as hands-on learning, teachers need to continue to hone their skills. Wenglinsky's study, How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back Into Discussions of Teacher Quality[1] found that professional development is closely related to classroom practice and that various types of professional development encourage effective practices. Further, he suggested that, "the more extended the professional development, the more it encourages effective classroom practices."[1] (Wenglinsky, p. 34) This study is of particular interest because it relates classroom practices to student achievement in a comprehensive fashion, while also including an anyalysis of professional development and teacher inputs. It also links how both can contribute to student performance and effective classroom practices.

High Tech High - A Case Study in Professional Development

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High Tech High began as a single charter high school in San Diego, CA, in 2000. As of November 2011, High Tech High operates eleven schools throughout San Diego County, ranging in grade level from K-12, along with a teacher certification program and a Graduate School of Education. This remarkable growth can likely be attributed to many factors, one of which is High Tech High’s professional development model, which encompasses the broader mission and goals of the organization.

While there are many factors contributing to High Tech High's success, there are several salient aspects that relate to professional development which warrant further mention.

  • The school proceeds via five basic strategies that positively affect the students, teachers and leaders in their schools. One of these strategies is to, "Develop teachers and leaders in its school network and beyond."[2] They freely acknowledge the need to cultivate pedagogical expertise and leadership capacity; to do so slowly and deliberately while also emphasizing staff commitment to one another.[2]
  • High Tech High is the first charter school organization in the state of California that is authorized to offer professional credentialing to teachers. As of November 2011, the Teacher Credentialing Program is currently available only to High Tech High teachers and partner school affiliates and has already guided many teachers through this process.[3]
  • In 2007, High Tech High opened its Graduate School of Education. This program expands the school's existing professional development opportunities by offering: workshops, Residency and Institute programs, the Collegial Conversation series, the UnBoxed Speaker Series, and the UnBoxed Journal. The Graduate School also offers two Master's of Education degrees (School Leadership and Teacher Leadership).
  • The school deliberately cultivates processes to document how and what they are doing, and the sharing of information within and without the organization.

Adult Education not Professional Development

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According to Laura McBain, Director of Policy and Research at High Tech High, the philosophy at High Tech High is first focused on adult learning and the philosophical belief that there can be no focus on student learning unless the adults working with them are actively engaged in learning as well (L. McBain, personal communication, October 20, 2011).[4] The fact that the school culture embraces the terminology "adult education" rather than "professional development" reflects this belief. Additionally, McBain reports that 85% of High Tech High teachers are involved in adult learning.[4] Much of this learning takes place during the evening, in its Graduate School of Education. According to McBain, the most important aspect of High Tech High's professional development approach is having time built into the schedule to:

  • provide teachers the opportunity to talk with other teachers about their practice,
  • watch others' classes, and
  • share their work in a structured way.
People working and sharing information in a staff meeting (not at High Tech High)

Ample Time to Plan, Share and Work

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High Tech High values time for teachers to plan and work together to solve problems. The staff day at High Tech High begins with a morning staff meeting, which takes place before the start of school each day. Teachers bring their work to these daily staff meetings and often use the time to collaborate, share and solve problems together. In the fall, staff come back to school three full weeks prior to the opening day. New teachers are also given additional training prior to the start of school, which is designed to orient them to the collaborative, project-based environment in which they will be working, and is geared toward the planning required for a successful school opening. This weeklong immersion program called August Odyssey also covers leadership and the open style faculty meetings that the school runs. Each new teacher is paired with a mentor, as well.

Burning Dilemmas

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Beyond the three weeks of back-to-school meetings, ten additional staff days are also planned each year. Developed and run by the teachers, these study days are generally devised using any of the following criteria: 1) data from within the school 2) national faculty dilemmas 3) planning within teacher practice. McBain states that these days often stem from a "fierce burning" within a teacher's practice, driving further exploration, research, and study with colleagues.[4] Examples of the type of research questions teachers have posed can be found in the Digital Portfolios area of the Graduate School site.

Collegial Sharing of Work

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The Graduate School offers a series of Collegial Conversations, which are run by the teachers and open to the faculty, community and others interested in education. Inspired by the Harvard Rounds,[5] Collegial Conversations take the form of small groups working together to share dilemmas, fine tune projects and look at student work that has arisen from their teaching or leadership practice.[6] These events draw participants from San Diego and beyond, providing the opportunity to network with educators both locally and from around the world to discuss current issues in education.

Technology in Professional Practice

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As its name might imply, High Tech High makes great use of technology in its professional development practice. Teachers document what is working for them in their teaching practice. Lessons or portions of classes are often videoed and then shared on the school's learning video portion of the website. According to McBain, a key aspect of the school's successful professional development strategy is that the teachers share their work and there is "a very structured way to do it."[4] The Graduate School also produces a journal to share their "reflections on purpose, practice and policy in education"[7] UnBoxed is produced twice a year and no restrictions are placed on distributing or fair use of the materials in the publication, provided it is used for educational purposes. The journal is available online and in a hard copy. Another way the Graduate School shares knowledge is via Digital Portfolios that are created by their students. These projects document the teachers' research into their "burning questions."

Why it Works

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Many factors set High Tech High apart from other school models of professional development. First and foremost, ongoing adult education is part of the culture in the school and exemplifies the fact that education is never-ending. Beyond modeling this behavior for students, it is evidence that the teachers are actively engaged in their practice. Ample time and resources are also provided for teachers to share their work and pursue their interests, whether about their practice or other areas of study that engross them. This practice is not typical in most schools throughout the US. According to a report published by the National Staff Development Council and the School Redesign Network at Stanford University in 2009, 38.9% of US teachers engaged in individual or collaborative research on a topic of interest to them professionally in the past year.[8] At High Tech High, this number is drastically higher. Another key factor in High Tech High's professional development model, are the support structures which have been put in place for staff to share information, work together and document their work. Inherent in this process, a degree of self-reflection and analysis is required, which provides the teacher the opportunity to deepen their own learning and experience. Programs like Digital Portfolios, the UnBoxed journal and speaker series, Collegial Conversations, as well as the various workshops, residencies and institutes offered through the Graduate School, all extend this learning as well. This combination of factors: the support systems in place, the collaborative environment, having ample dedicated time to meet and solve problems, and the culture of adult education as a way of life, combine to make High Tech High an example of an institution that is truly dedicated to professional development and its students.

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  1. a b Policy Information Center (2000). How Teaching Matters: Bringing the Classroom Back Into Discussions of Teacher Quality. Princeton, NJ: Wenglinsky, H.
  2. a b accessed November 21, 2011.
  3. accessed November 21, 2011)
  4. a b c d McBain, L. (2011) Director of Policy and Research. High Tech High, San Diego, CA
  5. accessed November 22, 2011
  6. accessed November 19, 2011.
  7. accessed November 19, 2011.
  8. Wei, R. C., Darling-Hammond, L., Andree, A., Richardson, N., Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Dallas, TX. National Staff Development Council.