Article Critique: Teacher Learning that Supports Student Learning - Linda Darling-Hammond

Over the course of my teaching career, I have witnessed and participated in a number of discussions dealing with the professionalism of teachers. Situations like negative media attention reporting strikes and inadequate teacher education programs have painted the teacher as less than competent. Darling-Hammond (1998) talks of teachers as professionals; people who are passionate about learning for both themselves and for their students. Her article, Teacher Learning that Supports Student Learning (Darling-Hammond, 1998) raises the question about what teachers need to know in order to educate "the most diverse student body in our history to higher academic standards than ever before" (p. 7). She goes further to state that to achieve these higher standards, it requires schools to be organized to support and promote professional improvement for its teachers. It is because of the author’s emphasis on continuous teacher learning that I chose this article to review.

Like many schools, Netsilik School suffers from a lack of motivation in our students; northern schools have the notoriety of high dropout rates and low levels of educational attainment. Unfortunately, I also see a lack of motivation in teachers when encouraged to get involved in professional development. Teachers are learning to cope with their teaching situations but not learning how to teach well. Darling-Hammond (1998) investigates 1) what teachers need to know in order to teach to today’s standards; 2) the ways in which teacher learning can be increased to support student learning.

Darling-Hammond (1998) believes that teachers need to know a number of key things in order to teach students well. Teachers must understand their subjects extensively so that they will be able to help students see connections across the curriculum and with everyday life. Teachers need to understand how children develop in order to be able to support growth in cognitive, physical, social and emotional domains. They need to understand differences in culture, family and intelligences and be sensitive to how these differences affect learning. Teachers must identify what students believe about themselves and what they are concerned about so that teachers will be able to motivate these students to work hard. Teachers must have knowledge about the various ways students learn and be able to use different strategies to teach these diversities; they must consider these approaches in the evaluation and assessment student knowledge. They must understand how language is learned so that they can create language rich environments and learning experiences. Teachers must be able to access resources and technologies that will engage students in the learning process. They need to know how to structure collaborative interactions between students, other teachers and parents in order that shared learning can happen both within the school building and at home. Finally, Darling-Hammond (1998) emphasises that teachers must be able to analyze and reflect on their work and be continuously evaluating their students’ thinking.

This article by Darling-Hammond (1998) confirms findings from the field of research that has been published in recent years on brain based learning, multiple intelligences, reflection and collaboration. It not only gives recommendations about what teachers need to be know but the author also provides real life examples of how this learning can be achieved. Darling-Hammond (1998) states:

Teachers learn best by studying, doing, and reflecting; by collaborating with other teachers; by looking closely at students and their work; and by sharing what they see. This kind of learning cannot be divorced from practice or in school classrooms divorced from knowledge about how to interpret practice (p. 8).

Much of what is seen in schools is fragmented learning; connections are not made from the inservice learning to real classroom circumstances.

Darling-Hammond (1998) advocates learning situations like mentoring programs, extended graduate programs, supervised internship programs, peer observations and coaching, study groups, ongoing seminars, courses of study linked to practice, and school-university partnerships. These new programs are intended to create a "professional teacher as one who learns from teaching rather than as one who has finished learning how to teach" (Darling-Hammond, 1998, p. 9). It is in this ongoing learning that creates a teacher image that is professional, one that emulates the internship of a doctor. Teachers must embody professionalism in order for the role of teacher to be valued by the public.

In many schools, professional development is seen as something that is done to teachers rather than something that is done with teachers. Teachers need to get more involved in their learning. Darling-Hammond (1998) encourages teachers to take ownership of their learning by participating in groups that discuss, review and evaluate educational research. Too often, teachers place the blame inappropriately on students when they are unable to achieve to the desired level; Darling-Hammond (1998) gives the ownership of improved learning back to the teachers.

The strengths of this article by Darling-Hammond (1998) are many; not only does it encourage teachers to get back on the learning path, but it gives teachers examples of how this learning environment can be created. The ideas are clearly written and the points of importance are nicely bulleted for easy reference. Leading researchers in the field of professional development and learning theory supports this information. The author includes quotations and stories by real teachers who have benefited from ongoing professional development. The article gives hope to those who want to be better professionals but do not know how to go from coping well to teaching well.

However, Darling- Hammond (1998) does not emphasize enough the benefits that students gain by having teachers who are participating in ongoing learning experiences. The title of the article indicates that focus of the article would balance between teacher learning and student learning. Unfortunately, it is not until the very end of the article that Darling-Hammond (1998) attempts to explain how students might benefit by the desired professional development outlined for teachers. I believe that much more could have been written to convince readers how teacher learning can support student learning. Over the course of completing my Masters of Education, I have witnessed first hand the positive changes in my teaching practice as well as the positive changes in my students’ learning patterns. By reading research and discussing issues with colleagues in the program, I have learned the value of Multiple Intelligences and brain based teaching practices. Because I am taking my courses while still teaching in the classroom, I am able to try new things and become more instrumental in the changes being made for the benefit of my students. I believe that Darling-Hammond (1998) could have emphasized this important aspect of the article more strongly for those readers who are still unconvinced of the benefits of ongoing professional development.

Overall, this article by Darling-Hammond (1998) presents teachers with a path to professionalism. The author encourages teachers to practice what they preach: Never stop learning. Students will benefit by having teachers who are willing to become better professionals and by seeing role models that are committed to learning. Teachers must become successful professionals who are actively learning to teach to today’s enormous challenges. When this happens, society will no longer be having discussions about the competency of teachers nor will students be finding themselves on the wrong side of the door of education.

References

Darling-Hammond, L. (1998). Teacher learning that supports student learning. Educational Leadership, 55, (5), 6 - 11.