What We Lose When Teachers Retire

It is projected that over the next decade, one million teachers will retire from the profession.  This estimate forms the basis of the current Department of Education policy objectives to transform the teaching profession by reforming teacher evaluation systems, identifying and rewarding effective teachers while removing the ineffective, and recruiting a “new brand” of teacher.

M. Rene Islas, Director of Learning Forward’s Center for Results, recently blogged about his concerns with these policies.  When one-third of the nation’s teachers will be exiting the profession, we will lose more than just a body in the classroom:

“I worry about the loss of what Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap call “deep smarts” within schools. In their book Deep Smarts, Leonard and Swap describe how experienced professionals carry a highly sophisticated mixture of explicit and tacit knowledge. This knowledge is developed over time when experiencing variants of common problems.”

To preserve deep smarts, school leaders must intentionally facilitate the transfer of knowledge among staff.  A system of collaboration must be implemented, including practices like coaching, teaming, and guided experimentation.  All of these activities facilitate the generation and transfer of deep smarts.  Islas observes that the current move toward “targeted PD” and “anytime PD” via online modules cause an isolation effect and are moving in the opposite direction of collaborative professional learning.

“In times of change and great turnover in our profession we must focus on strategies that cultivate and transfer effective practice from teacher to teacher.  By doing so, we accelerate the growth and development of novice teachers, retain and spread the effective practice of the most effective teachers, and keep our best teachers engaged in continuous improvement throughout their profession.”

He proposes three policies and programs that can be adopted to promote the transfer of “deep smarts” across the profession and prevent it from “evaporating” when large groups of teachers retire:

1.  Adopt a new definition of professional learning that drives PD decisions to the school level and emphasizes collaboration.

2.  Offer programs to increase administrators’ skills and abilities to facilitate school-based PD and coaching.

3.  Require that extended learning time designs contemplate structured learning time for educators as well as students.

To his entire blog, please visit http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/learning_forwards_pd_watch/2011/10/in_many_of_his_speeches.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LearningForwardsPdWatch+%28Learning+Forward%E2%80%99s+PD+Watch%29