President’s Corner

Improving Instruction as a Team

by Don W. Hooper

Don Tapscott, author of Growing Up Digital, makes a claim that is worth sharing: "Wiring the schools and populating them with computers is necessary but insufficient to ensure equal opportunity to share in the digital revolution. They need a redesigned education system and teachers who have been retrained and reoriented. Innovative technologies cannot make up for educational professionals who lack innovative methods and merely replicate learning models that don't work."

 

That is not to say that our teachers don’t in many cases do quite well or in most cases aren’t trying to be innovative in their approach to teaching. What Tapscott is suggesting, however, is that as technology and society advance, so must the teaching profession.

Research demonstrates that the greatest contributor to student success is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. If we are going to have the schools for the future that we know will provide opportunities for all students to learn, then we must start doing things differently. We need to break the mold and stop doing things the way we always have just because it is convenient and comfortable.

The best way to improve classroom instruction is through systematic, comprehensive, and relevant professional development. Serving as an adjunct professor of education and administration at several universities, I have a unique opportunity to participate in an innovative teacher certification program through Voyager Expanded Learning and the University of North Texas.

The Voyager and UNT program models a new way of teaching and learning with technology at the core. The goal is to improve the quality of instruction by providing a model of learning that was not available when the majority of our classroom teachers received training.

Online curriculum, differentiated instruction, project-based learning and team learning are at the heart of the program. Teachers study the curriculum in a blended model of online learning with administrators from their districts who serve as site-based clinical faculty members. It is a new model of learning that incorporates the Baldrige criteria for performance excellence and quality achievement while creating true learning organizations. It also is field based with university cooperation.

I believe this new model will replace the current standard in which schools of higher education provide fully for teacher preparation and in-service training. I believe a team approach will prove to be the stronger approach. I also believe schools will incorporate more philosophies from successful organizational practices, such as those from the quality movement.

Some skeptics would say, “The only educational reform taking place in schools is in the literature.” I concede that the rudder of change at times seems grossly inadequate to turn this ship we call public education. However, there are pockets of excellence across our nation. Educators are exploring how the Baldrige criteria for performance excellence, used for years by many outstanding corporations, actually can improve the system of education. Educational leaders are forming connected learning teams focused on improving the quality of instruction in America’s classrooms.

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, describes team learning as one of the five disciplines required for any organization to be a learning organization. He claims, “Team learning is vital because teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning unit in modern organizations.” This, he adds, is where “the rubber meets the road.” Unless teams can learn, the organization cannot learn. Successful schools are using a team approach to teaching and learning.

I’m optimistic about the future of education and the role effective use of technology can play in improving instruction in America’s classrooms.

Don Hooper is president of AASA.