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Teacher Development in Professional Practice Schools

by Ann Lieberman & Lynne Miller - 1990

Focuses on professional practice schools as contexts for the continuing professional development of experienced inservice teachers. A framework for developing a culture of inquiry in a school is provided, appropriate professional growth activities are considered, and problems and dilemmas associated with teacher development in professional practice schools are discussed. (Source: ERIC)

This article was commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Education Issues Department, as part of a grantfrom the Exxon Foundation on the conceptualization of professional practice schools.

In the current period of educational reform, the movement to restructure schools has been linked with initiatives to improve the preparation and ongoing development of teachers. Professional practice schools, also known as professional development schools, have emerged as a promising model for connecting school renewal and the reform of teacher education. Unlike laboratory schools sponsored by universities and operating independently of public education, professional practice schools exist as part of public school systems, are governed by lay boards of education, and serve public school populations. These schools are best characterized as having three complementary agendas: (1) to provide a context for rethinking and reinventing schools for the purpose of building and sustaining the best educational practices, (2) to contribute to the preservice education of teachers and induct them into the teaching profession, and (3) to provide for continuing development and professional growth of experienced in-service teachers. This third agenda, teacher development, is the focus of this article.

We approach the topic of teacher development in professional practice schools with both optimism and caution. We are optimistic because we think the time is ripe for the creation of professional practice schools and because we know from our own experience and the experience of others that teacher development activities can enhance efforts to improve teaching and to improve schools. We are cautious because we also know that in the name of professional development, educators have committed a multitude of sins. Too often, structured activities and programs have served to reinforce the status quo rather than change it, perpetuating the paternalistic system that reinforces schooling as usual.1 We think it is important, then, to define what we mean by teacher development and to distinguish our construction of the concept from the competing notions of in-service education and staff development.

To our way of thinking, the term in-service education has come to be synonymous with training and implies a deficit model of education. Before the 1950s and the growth of teachers colleges, there was a focus on certification and licensure of teachers. Perhaps because of this, there was little concentrated effort on thinking about teacher development for in-service teachers. Authoritarian management practices and talking about teaching practices, rather than talking with teachers about their practices, were seen as legitimate in-service education. In the first National Society for the Study of Education (NSSE) Yearbook that focused primarily on in-service, there was a major shift, in discussion if not in practice, to democratic practices, cooperative research, and collaborative work among teachers, principals, and researchers.2 The teacher came to be seen not as an object but rather as an engaged subject, capable of continuous development. These two models, a deficit approach assuming that teachers need information from people in authority and a collaborative approach based on notions of teachers as colleagues engaged in inquiry about practice, became deeply ingrained in the profession.

After the launching of Sputnik, coincidentally in the same year that the NSSE yearbook was published, in-service took hold once again as subject matter specialists from the arts and science faculties in universities were enlisted to write teacher-proof curricula. Teacher institutes, financed by the National Defense and Education Act (NDEA), proliferated. These institutes were designed either to train teachers to use new, externally developed instructional materials or to update teachers in current academic thinking in the content areas. The failures of this approach to professional development are legion and have been carefully documented.3 One might suppose that the notion of in-service education as training died a quiet death some time ago. Sadly, this is not the case. In many districts and schools, professional development still implies a deficit training model. Assemblies filled with an entire school staff still dot the landscape of allocated staff development days. Outside experts still transmit the wordwhether Assertive Discipline, Mastery Teaching, or the Elements of Effective Schoolsto the unanointed. Teachers are viewed as the passive recipients of someone elses knowledge4 rather than as sources of knowledge themselves or active participants in their own growth and development.

The term staff development, on the other hand, implies a broader notion of professional developmentone with which we are more, but not totally, comfortable. In the mid-seventies, there was a major shift in the research on and writing about staff development, exemplified by the findings of the Rand Change Agent Study, John Goodlads analysis of the League of Cooperating Schools, and Gene Hall and Susan Loucks work on teacher concerns.5 This shift was most notable for its emphasis on the school as an organization and the connection that it made between the development of teachers as individuals and the development of the school as a whole. In 1979, we defined staff development as working with at least a portion of a staff over a period of time with the necessary supportive conditions.6 While this approach to teacher development was more broadly construed than in-service training, it oftentimes, though not always, assumed that the role of development was to assist teachers in adopting an externally designed program, making adaptations to some technological innovation, or implementing a federal or state mandate.

We choose here to use the term teacher development when we write and talk about professional growth activities in a professional practice school. By teacher development, we mean continuous inquiry into practice. In this construction of professional development, we see the teacher as a reflective practitioner, someone who has a tacit knowledge base and who then builds on that knowledge base through ongoing inquiry and analysis, continually rethinking and reevaluating values and practices.7 Teacher development is not only the renewal of teaching, but it is also the renewal of schoolsin effect, culture building. In the following pages, we first provide a framework for developing a culture of inquiry in a school, then consider professional growth activities that are appropriate to that culture, and finally discuss some of the problems and dilemmas that must be recognized and worked through to maintain and support teacher development in professional practice schools.


Having made the case for teacher development as continuous inquiry into practice, we are well aware of the complexity of this notion, the difficulty of transforming it into reality, and the necessity of having, or creating, a culture in the school that supports teachers as they become active inquirers into the process of teaching and learning. Fortunately, in the last few years, research and practice have provided some important insights about how such a culture can be constituted. Five elements have emerged as essential (1) norms of colleagueship, openness, and trust; (2) opportunities and time for disciplined inquiry; (3) teacher learning of content in context; (4) reconstruction of leadership roles; and (5) networks, collaborations, and coalitions. Below, we discuss each of these elements and how they combine to create a culture of support for teachers engaged in continuous inquiry.


Judith Warren Little, in what has become a benchmark study of staff development, followed six urban schools as they became involved in district sponsored staff development.8 Her findings indicated that norms of collegiality and experimentation were most responsible for the successful implementation of new programs. In schools where the principal was actively engaged with teachers and announced expectations for and modeled behaviors of colleagueship, there was increased support for self-examination, risk-taking, and collective reflection on practice. When teachers and principals observed each other in classrooms, had time to talk about what they were doing, and worked to find solutions for commonly defined problems, the life of the teachers in the school was transformed. Traditions of privacy, practicality, and isolation were replaced by shared ownership of issues, a willingness to consider alternative explanations for practices and behaviors, and a desire to work together as colleagues. In effect, in developing successful staff development in support of a new program, the staff was building a new culture for the school and defining new ways-of-being for themselves as teachers: The successful program rested on long-term habits of shared work and shared problem solving among teachers. Such patterns of mutual assistance, together with mechanisms by which teachers can emerge as leaders on matters of curriculum and instruction are also typical.9 These notions of shared work, shared problem-solving, mutual assistance, and teacher leadership in curriculum and instruction areto our mindsthe cornerstones of building a school culture that supports continuous inquiry into practice.

Susan Rosenholtz, in her study of the school as a workplace, added to our understanding of the effects of the norms that Little describes.10 Rosenholtz categorized schools as being either learning enriched or learning impoverished.11 Learning-enriched schools had collaborative goals at the building level, minimum uncertainty, positive teacher attitudes, principal support of teachers to the point of removing barriers, and support for collaboration rather than competition. On the other hand, learning-impoverished schools had no clear or shared values, were places where teachers rarely talked to each other, where work was perceived as routine, and where self-reliance and isolation flourished. In the learning-impoverished schools, teachers, with no vehicle for discussion and reflection, retreated to their individual classrooms, kept quiet about their successes and failures, and assumed a public stance of being expert teachers for fear of being found to be less than adequate. In the learning-enriched schools, the opposite was true. Teachers who shared their successes and failures were more willing to identify and explore common problems and seek common solutions. The myth of expertise was replaced by the reality of collective struggle and discovery. As does Little, Rosenholtz provides evidence that norms of colleagueship and collaboration are among the necessary conditions for teachers to reconceptualize their work, to engage in active investigation about their practices, and to expect that professional learning and growth are part of the work life in schools.


In a school where teachers assume leadership in curriculum and instruction and where reflective action replaces routinized practice, the need for providing opportunities and time for disciplined inquiry into teaching and learning becomes crucial. Unlike traditional school settings, professional practice schools are places where teachers, sometimes working with university scholars and sometimes working alone, do research on, by, and for themselves. It is necessary that professional practice schools provide the conditions for teachers to develop the skills, perspective, and confidence to do their own systematic investigation.

The notion of teacher-as-researcher is not new. Writing over twenty years ago, Robert Schaefer, then dean of Teachers College, Columbia University, urged that schools should organize as centers of inquiry.12 More recently, Miles Myers, president of the California Federation of Teachers, argued that school site teacher research projects are a basic requirement of the current second wave of school reform.13 The case, then, has been made for teacher research, but the question remains: How do schools organize themselves and create the necessary conditions so that teacher research is encouraged, supported, and used? The answer, we suspect, is not to have externally driven workshops on research methods and then ask school staffs to apply their learning to practice. Rather, the research sensibility must be infused into the dailiness of the school. Such an infusion takes time and commitment. It begins with an acknowledgement of the importance of norms of collegiality and experimentation; it builds on shared problem identification and a mutual search for solutions; it depends on taking a risk in the classroom; it requires the support of colleagues. Let us present a case in point.

Mary George is a first-grade teacher in a school that is trying to organize around Schaefers notion of the school as the center of inquiry.14 For over a year, she and her colleagues have been meeting in grade-level teams and in school wide forums. The question the faculty has been grappling with over the year is How do we understand more about how children learn? Mary has had no formal training in research; what she does have is a very specific problem that has been troubling her and her colleagues: How do children approach new words they encounter in their reading? Like her colleagues, Mary has been torn between phonics and whole-language approaches, but has been wary of accepting one to the exclusion of the other. She took her problem with her into her class one day and when she generated a list of words that students missed in an initial reading of a book, she began a spontaneous inquiry into how children learn new words. She asked the children, How many of you could figure out the word left? One little boy raised his hand and explained how he sounded out the word, beginning with the initial consonant and moving on to the vowel and the final consonant sounds. A little girl raised her hand and began to explain how she knew the story was about hands and she knows that people have a left and a right hand and she knew that the word in question began with L, so figured out that the word must be left. A third child told the class that she knew the word because she saw it in another book. She proudly found the other book in the classroom library and showed it to the class.

This simple classroom experiment was, to our minds, the beginnings of teacher research. George acknowledged later, in discussing what she did with her grade-level colleagues, that she considered her initial question an enormous riskshe had never approached her teaching as research before. She also acknowledged that the ethos of inquiry that dominated the school and the support she knew she would get from her colleagues gave her the courage to try her experiment. Needless to say, she was delighted with the results, as were the rest of the first-grade teachers, each of whom took Georges question to her next class. Together, the first-grade teachers began putting together the pieces of the puzzle of word recognition in a way that made sense to them and had value for their classroom practice.

Teacher research, of course, can be more complex and more sophisticated than Georges spontaneous inquiry, but we should not let sophistication and complexity become the criteria by which we judge disciplined inquiry into practice. Rather, the importance of the question, the legitimacy of the sources of data, and the usefulness of the results should guide our practice. What is important is that authentic teacher research develops in an environment where culture building and professional colleagueship are also being nurtured and sustained.


One might argue that all of this talk about teacher development as continuous inquiry into practice is long on process and short on content, that it places too much value on reflection and sharing and not enough value on just what is being reflected on and shared. As Myrna Cooper reminds us, In professional settings, when teachers are moved to share, it is usually because they are proud of something they have done with children.15

We are fortunate that at the present moment in education we can point to several practices, developing separately and simultaneously, that challenge conventional assumptions about instruction. These approaches embody a common belief that the learner is at the center of the educational enterprise. For lack of a better term, we call these approaches content-incontext learning. Unlike the call for cultural literacy and core learnings, content-in-context approaches acknowledge the complexity of teaching and learning, provide room for flexibility and diversity, andat the same timemanage to maintain the legitimacy of the content areas and the teachers responsibility to teach children something of value. Central to this school of thought is the notion that students come to school with prior knowledge and ongoing access to valuable experience, both of which can be tapped to motivate and ground school learning.

In a recent article, David Elkind distinguished this approach, which he views as developmental in orientation, from more conventional school practices, which he identifies as having a psychometric orientation.16 From the developmentalist point of view, all learners have developing abilities; the task of the schools is to match the curriculum to the student. From the psychometric perspective, on the other hand, intelligence is fixed and measurable; the task of the school is to match like students to each other and to I match students to the curriculum. The developmentalist sees learning as a creative, active, and constructive process that engages the learner, continuously and reciprocally, with the content area; content and skills are connected and interdependent. The psychometrician sees learning as a series of acquired behaviors that are mastered through the application of general principles such as intermittent reinforcement; skills and content are independent and, once mastered, skills are transferable to other knowledge domains. The aim of education for the developmentalist is to create people who, in the words of Piaget, are capable of doing new things . . . who are creative, inventive, and discoverers. The second goal of education is to form minds which can be critical, can verify and not accept everything that is offered.17 In contrast, the psychometric aim of education is less general and more technical: to maximize skills acquisition in a way that is quantifiable and meets demands for accountability.

Recent developments in research on cognition further support the developmentalist, or content-in-context, position.18 This line of research recognizes the complexity of school learning, the necessity of constructing illdefined problems, the importance of mastering metacognitive strategies as well as knowledge acquisition, the connection of cognition to specific content knowledge domains, the centrality of prior knowledge, and the need for a mix of cognitive and social skills in defining and solving problems. Under this framework for learning, the basic unit of instruction is the task, not the lesson or the textbook.19

The implications of research on cognition and of the developmental approach are nothing short of revolutionary. They direct us to reconceptualize teaching, to see it as being woven of the same cloth as learning. Teaching and learning are interdependent, not separate, functions. In this view, teachers are primarily learners. They are problem-posers and problem solvers; they are researchers; and they are intellectuals engaged in unraveling the learning process both for themselves and for the young people in their charge. Learning is not consumption; it is knowledge production. Teaching is not performance; it is facilitative leadership. Curriculum is not given; it is constructed empirically, based on the emergent needs and interests of learners. Assessment is not judgment; it documents progress over time. Instruction is not technocratic; it is inventive, craft like, and above all an imperfect human enterprise.

Teachers using content-in-context approaches need to add to their teaching repertoire. Lectures, seat work, worksheets, and unit tests must be de-emphasized as dialogue, discussion, and production take their place. Whole-language approaches, learning math through the use of manipulatives, hands-on science classes, and the process approach to writing all represent content-in-context approaches to learning. The Foxfire project, which has gained so much national attention, is another example of what we mean. Foxfire is what Wigginton calls a style of education20 and is best understood through its ten principles:

1. All work teachers and students do together must flow from student desire.

2. Connections of the work to the surrounding community and the real world outside the classroom are clear.

3. The work is characterized by student action rather than passive reception of processed information.

4. A constant feature of the process is its emphasis on peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.

5. The role of the teacher is that of collaborator and team leader and guide, rather than boss or the repository of all knowledge.

6. There must be an audience beyond the teacher for student work.

7. The academic integrity of the work must be absolutely clear.

8. The work must include honest, ongoing evaluation for skills, content, and change in student attitude.

9. As the year progresses, new activities should grow out of the old.

10. As the students become more thoughtful participants in their own education, our goal must be to help them become increasingly able and willing to guide their own learning, fearlessly, for the rest of their lives.21

We think that these ten principles incorporate many of the principles of curriculum and instruction that are implied in contemporary research on cognition. We also believe that this style of education is most likely to develop in an environment where openness and collaboration are valued and where disciplined inquiry is encouraged. If professional practice schools are, in fact, centers of inquiry where continuous teacher development is normative, then the content-in-context style of education provides most of the substance around which inquiry may be focused. As we cautioned at the beginning of this article, however, these process approaches to student learning and teacher facilitation must also be continuously examined. Students products must grow in complexity and thought. Process does not automatically move to better products. It too must be scrutinized by both teacher and student for its importance, depth, and enhanced understanding. We are talking, not about panaceas, but about the development of habits of mind that make it legitimate to continually ask questions of practice.


In traditional school settings, leadership is defined by ones position in the organization. Principals have leadership; teachers do not. In professional practice schools, the whole concept of leadership is in the process of being reconstructed. Thomas Sergiovanni makes what we think is a useful distinction between technical and managerial conceptions of leadership and cultural leadership:

In human enterprises such as the profession of teaching and schooling, technical and managerial conceptions should always be subordinate to human needs and actions and should always be practiced in service of human ends. Cultural leadership- by accepting the realities of the human spirit, by emphasizing the importance of meaning and significance, and by acknowledging the concept of professional freedom linked to values and norms that make up a moral order-comes closer to the point of leadership.22

What Sergiovanni is proposing is that principals learn to think and act as leaders in ways that are different from custom and tradition. According to Sergiovanni, leaders lead by purpose and empowerment. They have power, but of a different sort than is usually practiced. Their power is viewed as power to accomplish rather than power over people and events. They practice the concept of leadership density . . . the extent to which leadership roles are shared and the extent to which leadership is broadly exercised.23 When construed in these ways, leadership becomes something that both administrators and teachers have and use, and leadership becomes an essential ingredient in transforming schools into centers of inquiry.

For principals, life in such a setting requires a radical shift in attitudes and behaviors. In a compelling study of two high school principals, Mary Lynne Derrington brought home the difficulty building administrators have in 13 making the transition from technical and managerial leadership to cultural leadership. She identified three steps in the transition, shown in Table 1.24


For teachers, it is equally difficult to assume new roles. Patricia Wasley uncovered many of the tensions and dilemmas that teacher leaders faced as they assumed new roles in schools.25 She noted that all the teacher leaders she studied felt constrained by timetime to both teach and lead effectively and time to work collaboratively with their colleagues. Teacher leaders were often confused about the primary purpose of their positions: Were they to support teachers or were they to support administrators? In addition, they had a tough time dealing with their colleagues in the new leadership roles. An egalitarian ethic dominates teaching and many teachers had difficulty in recognizing one of their own as a leader. To paraphrase Orwell, the notion that all teachers are equal but some teachers are more equal than others went against the grain. Most importantly, the success of teacher leadership depended on the ability of the principal to make the transition from traditional to transformative or cultural leadership.

It is clear, then, that one of the tasks a professional practice school faces is to make the transition from bureaucratic and hierarchical modes of leadership to alternative forms. That this is difficult and fraught with tension must be acknowledged. What also must be acknowledged is that in schools where principals and teachers together make the transition, there exists the real possibility for colleagueship, and the development of a new professional culture. In schools where teachers are making responsible and grounded decisions about instruction in their classrooms and where principals are supportive of the decisions that teachers make, the possibility for continuous learning takes root.

One example shows what this could look like. Suzanne Soo Hoo described a project in which she, in collaboration with another principal and a university faculty member, engaged teachers in a discussion of the misuses of standardized tests.26 Teachers generated questions such as: How do we know students are learning? How do we capture the data that are available in our classrooms? What are some new ways of displaying student achievement? Teachers kept journals, while the university researcher observed classes and helped with data-collection techniques. Through monthly meetings and discussion using the information teachers collected and other data, the principal facilitated the growth of a culture of inquiry. In this case the principal, in partnership with teachers and a university researcher, provided the impetus to look at the frustration of testing and unlocked a variety of understandings about assessment, which in turn led to other subjects for inquiry. Again, description and practice begin to show us how to think about and engage teachers as lifelong learners.


While it is important to concentrate energies on the specific school site, it is also important to develop support outside of the school. Too often schools in the process of radical transformation suffer from the funny farm syndrome. They stand out in their district as different and, oftentimes, threatening. Teachers involved in professional practice schools may find they have a difficult time explaining just what they are about to colleagues within their own district. They may find that the support they need from the immediate environment is lacking. The formation of networks, collaborations, and coalitions is helpful in combating this syndrome, in providing the support and encouragement for teachers to continue to experiment, to question, and to work to change common practices in an effort to improve education for children.

Networks, collaborations, and coalitions take many forms. They may be informal collections of people or they may be more formalized partnerships among institutions. In any case, such groupings share some common characteristics: They are held together by a common purpose, provide for the exchange of information and psychological support, are voluntary, and are based on the equal participation of all members.27 For examples of how networks function, we draw on our own experience and on the experience of others involved in school-improvement efforts.

The Puget Sound Educational Consortium and the Southern Maine Partnership are both members of the National Network for Educational Renewal, a coalition of school-university partnerships. In both Washington and Maine, the partnerships serve more to connect people across schools and districts than to connect schools to the university. In both settings, groups of teachers come together regularly to discuss and act on matters of common concern. In the past two years, teacher groups have dealt with issues of equity, teacher leadership, restructuring schools, grouping practices, early childhood education, and at-risk students. The power of the groups is that they are self-directed, define their own agendas, and provide the opportunity for teachers of like minds and like dispositions to exchange experiences and ideas in an atmosphere of support and common understanding. People who have been involved claim that participation in the groups provides the extra support they need to return to their schools with renewed energy and commitment.

The Coalition of Essential Schools is an example of collaboration at the national level, where schools are drawn together by a common purpose and a clearly defined mission. The coalition grew out of the work of Theodore Sizer and is comprised of over forty high schools that ascribe to a set of principles that involves different roles for teachers as generalists and for students as workers and a different conception of the high school curriculum; less is more has become the credo of the group.28 Though the coalition does not provide much opportunity for face-to-face interaction among teachers at member schools, it does serve as a source of support for schools, many of which are isolated in their districts and look to a national movement to help legitimate local efforts.

So, too, the Mastery In Learning Project (MIL) of the National Education Association seeks to link schools together in a national network where common purposes are shared and a common vision is upheld. School faculties join MIL after they complete a comprehensive profile of their schools and commit themselves to a plan for rethinking and redoing education. Unlike the coalition, there is no one model for the transformation of schools. Rather, there is a process of analysis, action, and reflection to which members agree. MIL is linked by a computer network whereby all member school faculties can confer with each other and have access to an education data base to assist in their individual efforts. Like the coalition, MIL helps legitimize local reform and renewal efforts. In addition, it provides the opportunity for teachers to communicate with their peers from other parts of the country, to form professional alliances, and to support each other in their work.

Networks, collaborations, and coalitions need not be so formal as those discussed here. The Philadelphia Teachers Learning Cooperative29 is a fine example of teachers coming together on an informal basis once a month to discuss a preassigned reading. In other cities and towns, teachers have formed small resource centers where they can meet to discuss issues, exchange ideas, learn about effective practices, and develop learning materials.

The point we want to make is that schools, like teachers, can be isolated and estranged from the mainstream. School faculties must learn to reach out beyond their traditional borders and create sources of support, challenge, and legitimacy for themselves. Teachers who see themselves as part of a school in the process of change must also see themselves as part of a profession in the process of change. In that way, the norms and values of the school become part of a larger social system, one that sustains improvement and encourages it.


The five elements that combine to create a culture of support for teacher inquiry do not take root quickly. It takes time for change to happen, even in a school that defines itself as different. Teacher-development activities must occur alongside the development of the new school culture. In fact, teacher development and culture building are part of the same process in a professional development school. This means that teacher-development activities are designed around notions of colleagueship, openness, and trust; they provide time and space for disciplined inquiry; they focus on teacher learning of content in context; they provide opportunities for new leadership roles; and they become engaged in networking activities and coalition building beyond the boundaries of the school. Teacher-development activities that seem to combine these elements and hold particular promise for professional practice schools include the following.

Teacher study groups meet regularly to discuss an agreed-on topic or theme. Teachers rotate leadership of the group. The role of the designated teacher leader is to select a common reading and to make it available to all group members before the meeting, to structure discussion by preparing a question or problem to answer, to facilitate discussion, to ensure that minutes of the meeting are taken and distributed, and finally to guide the group in making a decision about the direction the next meeting should take. In general, teacher study groups take place outside of the school in an informal setting around a pot-luck meal or a similar occasion.

Curriculum writing involves groups of teachers working together over time with the intention of developing a product for use in the classroom as part of the instructional program.30 The product varies as the task varies and may take the form of a guide for teaching, an inventory of classroom practices, a statement of expectations of learners and teachers, a program evaluation, a set of recommendations for program designanything that meets the needs, interests, and inventiveness of the teachers involved. Curriculum writing groups are teacher-initiated and teacher-led. They last as long as it takes to complete a task, allowing teachers the opportunity to move in and out of groups as time and interest permits.

Teacher research projects may be individually or group initiated. The project begins with the identification of a problem that matters to people. Even though one persons problem may seem trivial to someone else, it is important to assume that each individual or group engaged in research has a legitimate concern that needs to be addressed. The goal of the research is both to understand practice and to improve it. The major activity or teacher research is the collection and analysis of data. Data collection need not be cumbersome or overly technical. Data can be collected through observation, informal interviewing, journal entries, and brief surveys. Researchers do not have to worry about doing complex statistical analysis of proving the generalizability of findings, since the problem under consideration is idiosyncratic to the people involved or to the specific school. Often, teacher research is published informally to share the information with other faculty.

Peer observation involves teachers, usually in pairs, making informal contracts to visit other classrooms and to observe each other teaching. Sometimes, the visiting teacher will concentrate on the behaviors and practices of the teacher. At other times, the visiting teacher will focus on the actions of the students or of one or two students in particular. In any event, the object of the observation is mutually determined before the visit takes place. The visiting teacher and the teacher being observed then take time to discuss the observation. It is the role of the visiting teacher to provide descriptive feedback to the observed teacher, and it is the role of the teacher observed to make sense of the feedback. The contract is renegotiated after each visit and may be altered or terminated at any mutually agreed-on point.

Case conferences engage teachers in a method of problem solving usually reserved for the medical and social work professions. In the case conference, a group of teachers meets to discuss individual students. The person presenting the case is responsible for developing a history of the child in school and a description of problematic behaviors, attitudes, or academic concerns. The task of the other group members is to pose questions that clarify the issues at hand and to offer suggestions for solving the problem. Each meeting focuses exclusively on one case. Participants rotate in presenting cases to the group.

Program evaluation and documentation assumes that teachers want to evaluate current practices as part of an ongoing investigation of what works and what does not work for children. As new programs are put in place, new textbooks adopted, new practices of grouping students initiated, new approaches to instruction implemented, and alternative modes of assessment designed, teachers can collect information that will be useful in decision making in the future. Using the techniques of teacher research, an evaluation team collects data on a program or approach that the faculty as a whole has decided is worth evaluating. The evaluation team analyzes the data and presents its findings to the faculty for consideration and action. The role of the evaluation team is not to judge effectiveness, but rather to collect data for decision making by the larger faculty.

Trying out new practices with systematic support from colleagues is one way to make it easier for teachers to try and fail and try again, without beating a hasty retreat to routine and safe ways of doing things. As teachers become interested in content-in-context learning approaches, they may want to experiment with process-writing, begin a Foxfire project, or incorporate experiential learning activities into their teaching. We have found that the closer change gets to the individual classroom, the riskier it gets. When a cadre of teachers decides to try out something together, it is easier to experiment and take risks. This is the way such a cadre works: Teachers commit themselves to implement a new approach; they agree to meet regularly to discuss what is happening to them personally in their classrooms; they contract to observe each other and to provide feedback on the new practice; they agree to suspend all judgment and evaluation of themselves and others; they work together to become comfortable with what they are doing and to support each other in doing it better; they give themselves ample time to try and fail and try and succeed. In the end, they become confident of new practices and make decisions about whether to incorporate them into their existing repertoire, to modify them to suit their own needs, or to reject them as not helpful in the improvement of their own teaching.

Teacher resource centers can easily be incorporated into a school. A small room off the library or media center, a converted stockroom, a renovated space hidden somewhere in the buildingany such space will suffice. We have seen teacher resource rooms in the basements of buildings and in old restrooms. The physical location does not matter; what matters is that there is a place for teachers to come together in the school to read professional journals, view educational videos, peruse books and catalogues, or simply engage in informal, but professional, conversation. Even in a professional practice school there will still be the need for a traditional teachers lounge as a place for relaxation and social interaction. The teacher resource room, however, has other norms and expectations and provides other ways for people to interact with their colleagues during the school day.

Participation in outside events and organizations is a way for teachers to make connections beyond the boundaries of the schools in which they work. Providing for teachers to visit other schools engaged in reform and restructuring efforts is a valuable way to help people broaden their perspectives, become infused with new energy, and consider new ideas. When teachers are actually practicing new efforts and have already experienced success, teaching others about their new practice becomes a powerful means of professional development. Attendance at regional conferences is another way that teachers can reach out and connect with kindred spirits in other schools. Participation in partnerships with universities and businesses, involvement in coalitions with other agencies, membership in a formal network of teachers or schools, are yet other avenues for growth and development.

We have presented a partial list of the kinds of teacher-development activities that can take place within a professional practice school. We want to make it clear that none of the approaches we suggest is an add on; none is initiated outside of the work life concerns of teachers; none is designed for people by someone else. Each, we think, contributes to the development of a new school culture; each acknowledges that the major goal of teacher development is continuous inquiry into practice.


Our view of teacher development ends where it began, recognizing that the engagement of teachers in the creation of professional practice schools cannot be isolated from the larger vision of creating schools that work for all students. This means that the entire school is involved in discussion of and action on the issues of teaching and learning, such as new knowledge about how students learn, an understanding of the diverse and multicultural populations of students, and a developing sensitivity to changing cultural contextall of which call for new ways of thinking about and organizing teaching so that students are enabled to participate in their own learning.

Teachers, long isolated from one another, need to create and work in collective and collaborative structures. The isolated teacher must give way to a genuine colleagueship as the insulated school must expand to include the whole community. This means that the workplace for both students and adults must change, for they are intimately connected with each other. We know that teacher development involves teachers in learning about how to work togetherhow to make collective decisions and structure continuous opportunities for their own growth. At the same time, teachers must be involved in continuous learning- about studentstheir motivation, engagement, connection, and experiencethrough practicing new ways of teaching and providing for new ways of student learning. These two strands represent distinct parts of teacher development, each requiring time, energy, and new knowledge.

We are cautious about saying that if changes are made in the adult workplace environment there will be positive changes in the student learning environmentor vice versa. The two environments are connected only if connections are explicitly made. It is possible for teachers to participate in school-site committees, to be involved in greater decision making, and to learn how to deal with conflict and negotiate contracts for greater teacher participation in the running of a school without changing what goes on in classrooms. Conversely, it is possible for several teachers to have classrooms characterized by cooperative learning teams, student-centered learning, and a major focus on problem-solving activities without addressing the need for school wide structures that promote collegiality and continuous inquiry, which in turn support efforts to improve learning for students.

We are optimistic because professional practice schools can promote, organize, and practice teacher development by explicitly connecting it to student development. Professional practice schools can provide a variety of learning environments for students as active learners, and a workplace environment for teachers that is rich in continuous inquiry, peer discussion, and opportunities for adult learning.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 92 Number 1, 1990, p. 105-122
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 333, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 10:45:27 PM

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About the Author
  • Ann Lieberman
    Teachers College, Columbia University

  • Lynne Miller
    University of Southern Maine

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