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Learning at its Best

If a third party professional development group must be used…

In this topsy-turvy educational world of mass assessment and intense evaluation schools and school districts are turning to third party groups to help pull them from the mire. Schools are desperate and are willing to pay for anyone who can bring a new method, packet, or plan that offers even a glimmer of hope. This, of course, is not a completely new trend. Speakers and consultants have been in education for quite some time. There are always problems that schools might need a little outside help solving. However, the standardized test and evaluation movement has opened a new predatory market allowing all sorts of snake oil salespeople into our schools and districts.

Desperate times result in gullibility. Academic coaches, educational consultants, data analysts, behavior experts, motivational speakers, drug dealers, jugglers, clowns, remediation experts, software salespeople, textbook gurus, you get the idea are invading our schools. There is a crisis so everyone is offering their services to solve said crisis. And, there is a crisis. Teachers and principals have developed a belief that they are not knowledgeable professionals. We have been rendered incapable of solving our own problems in-house. We have developed the same learned-helplessness from which the last motivational speaker told us we had to rescue our students. This learned helplessness has been reinforced in too many ways to name, but to name a few please see the above list of third party helpers.

The crisis of it all is that many now need the third party interventionists. Our schools are in terrible shape, and we are now dependent on the help that has made us dependent. So what is the solution? We, teachers and administrators, have to regain our confidence and expertise. We have to be or become the experts to whom we are looking for guidance. We have to become autonomous democratic problem solvers. We are hiring detached third party consultants, with no connection to our schools (other than a paycheck) to solve problems that are nothing more than generalizations to them. That’s ridiculous isn’t it? The people affected by the problem should have an active voice in solving the problem. So, I submit that all third party experts should be held to a standard, a code of ethics.

Two things should be required. First, that they spend enough time in or with the school/community/staff to develop an understanding of and a commitment to the problem they are helping to solve. They are helping the staff develop the tools to solve the problem themselves. Second, they should render themselves obsolete as quickly as possible; that is, they should help develop and put in place sustainable solutions that the staff can implement and further develop without the help of the consultant.

Consultants should observe these standards, and hiring parties should look for a record of these standards in parties they hire.

Our education system is an a dreadful state, we do not need venture capitalists taking over. We need committed educators and community members.


3 thoughts on “If a third party professional development group must be used…

  1. The root of the problem is, as you say, that “Teachers and principals have developed a belief that they are not knowledgeable professionals.” There is a strong group of teachers (and some administrators) who are participants in the National Writing Project, and who therefore have a clear sense of their own agency and many structures and supports in place to share their research and insights as they develop, share, and refine effective strategies.

    Using the NWP “teacher as researcher” approach, and egalitarian communication structures, any staff can be transformed into a dynamic group capable of creating meaningful change to meet any challenges. We don’ need no stinkin’ “experts”….

    Posted by Fred Mindlin | February 15, 2012, 9:01 pm
  2. I’ve always felt that educators are the best educators, and that their biggest problem is not the ability to teach, but a lack of resources. Technology seems so be the favourite solution to what ails schools, but the third-party experts keep trying to tell the teachers how and what to teach, of offering shiny new expensive solutions to nothing. Smart-boards aren’t smart, they’re just cool, and they cost. Information technology should be applied to the elements of the education process where it is helpful – not to assume functions where educators are infinitely better suited.

    Posted by Andy Gauvin | February 19, 2012, 1:49 pm
  3. I’ve had the privilege of being a third-party in a consultation role. It was incredibly rewarding. The first part of the week was spent listening to people – what they liked about their job, what challenges they faced, and how they were feeling at the moment. I was honored that teachers and administrators were so honest.

    Once the trust was established, I was able to give tips that made them feel better about their teaching. Positive reinforcement and kind words go a long way – in all settings.

    I’ve been back tot he school twice this year and look forward to my next visit!

    Janet |

    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | March 5, 2012, 9:38 am

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