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  Instructional Coherence: The Changing Role of the Teacher
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Teachers as Professionals

That the teacher is critical to school improvement is apparent in the report released in 1996 by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future. The report states, "What teachers know and can do makes the crucial difference in what children learn." The Commission offered five key recommendations: raise student and teacher standards; reinvent teacher preparation and professional development; revitalize teacher recruitment; reward teacher knowledge and skill; and reorganize schools to maximize student and teacher success (Hirsch, Koppich, & Knapp, 1999). The Commission appears to be considering teaching as a profession that needs higher status for its members.

Where teachers are viewed as professionals, there is an emphasis on providing them with high-quality preparation and professional learning opportunities and on creating schools that function as professional learning communities and support teachers' success. Teachers' work used to be described as technical work, with the expectation that teachers would be successful if they mastered a prescribed set of skills and techniques. This view is fading as researchers carefully examine teacher education programs. Those that focus on methods courses and a short period of student teaching "failed to incorporate new understandings from research on teaching and learning and took little cognizance of emerging research-based conceptions of teaching as a many-faceted, intellectually-demanding enterprise" (Koppich & Knapp, 1998, p. 17).

Research is providing fuel for the development of a better infrastructure for the profession of teaching. Studies have shown the importance of attending to the beliefs of prospective teachers about schooling and teaching; linking subject matter knowledge and pedagogical knowledge; and providing extended, well-mentored field experiences (Koppich & Knapp, 1998). These authors also noted that creating a true profession of teaching requires the development and implementation of high standards for entry into practice. Some states and professional organizations have been active in creating these teaching standards. Elmore (1996) has elaborated on this idea, calling for strong external normative structures for practice. These structures include, but are not limited to, standards of practice such as those developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) or the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. These external norms are important, "because [they] institutionalize the idea that professionals are responsible for looking outward at challenging conceptions of practice, in addition to looking inward at their values and competencies" (Elmore, p. 19).

States are beginning to use these findings to think about what teachers should know and be able to do. Some have upgraded certification and licensure policies in order to exert influence over colleges and universities to improve their teacher preparation programs and, thus, the quality of new teachers. Some states have increased salaries, restructured salary schedules, and changed recruitment strategies in order to attract and reward good teachers. Some have introduced induction programs, provided new guidelines and support for professional development, and provided support for local efforts to improve the workplace (Hirsch, Koppich, & Knapp, 1999). Although these are policy responses, they tend to increase the professional standing of teachers by changing teacher preparation institutions and the incentives and conditions of their work and careers as professional teachers (Koppich & Knapp, 1998).

Lieberman & Miller (2000) described the new professional teacher: "As researchers, meaning-makers, scholars, and inventors, they establish a firm professional identity as they model the lifelong learning they hope to infuse in their students" (p. 52). As this picture becomes more common, we can expect teachers to think of and experience teaching more as a profession than as a job.

Teachers, Collaboration, and Collegiality

Reform efforts emphasize collaboration between teachers, between students, and between teachers and students. Members of the school community are better supported to change practice when they are not isolated or in competition with each other. Many books, journal articles, and research reports promote the value of collegiality, collaborative teams, and professional learning communities. The idea is that teachers' relationships with other adults in the school can have profound consequences for both the teachers themselves and for their students. On a related issue, there is also an increased call for school people to develop collaborative relationships with parents and other community members, and many reform evaluation plans look for evidence of this effort.

It is important to highlight some of the kinds of things researchers are saying about collegiality and professional learning communities. Hord (1997) defined a professional learning community as a school in which the administrators and teachers continuously seek and share learning to increase their effectiveness for students, and act on what they learn. Based on her research and review of the literature, Hord characterized these communities has having shared and supportive leadership; shared values and vision; collective learning and application of learning; supportive conditions; and shared personal practice. Many significant outcomes for both staff and students have been seen when a school is organized in this way (Hord).

McLaughlin and Talbert (1993) found that teachers' professional orientation is a function of their social and professional relationships with other teachers. They said,

The relationships between students, teachers, and subject matter are the stuff of schooling. The way in which this stuff plays out in particular classrooms or school environments depends most of all÷on the character of the up-close professional community to which teachers belong (p. 98).

The isolation that most teachers experience can be devastating. When teachers are members of supportive communities, they can receive support, learn from each other, and gain confidence to try new things. Community is more than collegial interaction, however, it is collegial interaction about teaching and learning that is grounded in the specifics of the classroom.

Newmann and Wehlage (1995) said that creating a professional community that has a positive impact on teaching and learning is more than simply making structural changes. It is "a daunting task, but well worth the effort. We found that students in schools with higher levels of professional community learn more÷[However] The critical human norms and skills cannot be mechanically engineered by implementing new organizational structures" (p. 51-2). DuFour and Eaker (1998) noted that "virtually all contemporary school reformers call for increased opportunities for teacher collaboration" (p. 117). However, the tradition of teacher isolation is so entrenched in schools that fostering a collaborative environment represents a significant challenge. DuFour and Eaker suggested that four critical prerequisites must be addressed: time for collaboration must be built into the school day; purpose of collaboration must be made explicit; training and support must be provided; and educators must accept their responsibility to work together as true professional colleagues.

Darling-Hammond and Ball (nd) state that the best way to improve both teaching practice and teacher learning is to create the capacity for better learning about teaching as part of teaching. In their analysis of state reforms, they found that some states have enacted policy to restructure professional development around teacher collaboration and inquiry by providing funding to support teacher study groups, networks, teacher research, teacher-directed professional development, teacher collaboration with universities, and teacher academies.

  Instructional Coherence: The Changing Role of the Teacher
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