4 Classroom Challenges That Teacher PL Can Fix in 2023
Dr. Stacey Alicea on the State of Professional Learning
For many teachers, the school year so far may feel rife with challenges and increasingly complex paths to navigate. The question before those of us dedicated to advancing professional learning under these circumstances is a simple one: how can we help?
With the challenges teachers face also come incredible opportunities within PL to assist them. When used well, teacher professional learning gives educators the space and tools they need to work better, more efficiently, and within a shared community to support their students.
As I settle into my new role as Executive Director of the Research Partnership for Professional Learning (RPPL), I’ve asked our members about the most significant challenges they expect schools and districts to face in the new year.
RPPL’s founding members are some of the sharpest minds in teacher PL. They provide insight and guidance on how they plan to navigate these challenges, and they offer resources to help teachers and students pave the way to success.
#4 Teacher Capacity and Support
Sarah Johnson is the CEO of Teaching Lab, a non-profit organization whose mission is to fundamentally shift the paradigm of teacher professional learning for educational equity. She said her focus for the year will be on teacher capacity and support, such as a lack of coaching for teachers, who are trying to assist students dealing with trauma from the pandemic as well as the academic impact of the pandemic.
“If teachers are not equipped to support students academically, socially and emotionally, students may not recover from the impact of the pandemic – we could have a lost generation in terms of college access, college completion, job access, and wealth generation,” Johnson said. “This will also widen existing gaps in educational and life outcomes across high and low-income families and reinforce existing racial inequities.”
Teaching Lab is supporting districts and states with long-term planning to address pandemic challenges, and the organization is advocating for long-term funding for direct-to-teacher coaching models where teachers get 1:1 support like students get in tutoring.
“In short, if you want to take student learning seriously, take teacher learning and support seriously,” Johnson said.
#3 Fair Opportunities
Marishka Winters, Deputy Chief of Networks, Leading Educators, said that providing fair opportunities to learn remains one of the most-identified challenges among educators.
Before COVID, students in classrooms with mostly Black and Hispanic students were more than three times less likely to receive grade-appropriate lessons than those in classrooms with mostly white students. They were – and still are – more likely to have brand new teachers, teachers who were alternatively trained, and teachers who don’t share their cultural or racial identity.
“This is really a time for school districts, support organizations, policymakers, and the funding community to practice what they preach when it comes to equity,” Winters said. “There’s an urgency to meet disproportionate needs with extra support while also recognizing all of the amazing feats teaching teams were able to accomplish against all odds.”
Winters said Leading Educators’ work in Oakland, Calif., shows that Oakland Unified School District’s decision to hold firm to implementing a high-quality curriculum and expanding virtual teacher professional learning supports led to students maintaining progress in reading proficiency during the pandemic.
“The answer isn’t searching for silver bullets but rather doubling down on what the research already shows leads to more effective teaching,” Winters added.
#2 Helping School Leaders
Emily Freitag, CEO of Instruction Partners, has her eye on helping school leaders successfully chart a path back from the fallout from pandemic-related disruptions.
She said this year we may be in the “recovery” chapter of the pandemic, and so educators must ensure that all students, especially those most impacted by COVID disruptions, are receiving the support needed both for foundational learning and access to on grade-level learning.
“As we begin to move past the pandemic crisis and reentry stages, we find ourselves preparing for the new normal,” Freitag said. “We have the opportunity to redefine what that new normal can look like — to dismantle inequitable systems, reimagine classroom practices, and develop realistic but ambitious expectations for student achievement and progress. Systematically supporting what we know works — like investing in principal training, supporting teachers in implementing high-quality instructional materials, and attending to student-educator relationships — can provide a path toward unprecedented growth in student learning.”
#1 System Reform
Bailey Cato Czupryk is Vice President for Practices, Diagnostics & Impact at TNTP, which is helping teachers rebound to help their students do the same.
Historically, a common approach would have been to give students remediation, but TNTP’s report with ReadWorks, Unlocking Acceleration, shows that when students have the opportunity to do grade-level work with necessary support, they can increase their chances of catching up academically.
“We’re going to continue to address this challenge by supporting educators to enact high expectations,” Czupryk said. “This can’t be on teachers alone—it requires the entire system to change its approach. This includes developing a vision and aligned structures and supports; providing high-quality instructional materials; and ensuring that educators have the opportunity to see their own students experiencing success with rigorous, grade-level content.”
The ideas and priorities expressed by these PL leaders exemplify why I am so excited to be RPPL’s first Executive Director, and why I’m optimistic that 2023 will be a year of opportunity and progress despite its complex challenges.
About the Author
Dr. Stacey Alicea is the Executive Director, Research Partnership for Professional Learning. Dr. Alicea has spent the last 25 years studying and working in the fields of public health, social work, education, and healthcare as a practitioner, researcher, and leader. As a researcher, she has authored or contributed to more than a dozen published peer-reviewed journal articles.
This blog was originally published by Teaching Lab in coordination with the Research Partnership for Professional Learning.