How do you define “teacher quality”?

First grade reading - small group breakoutToday I’ve read two articles that make me curious about the way “teacher quality” is being defined and measured these days.

First, I read a New York Times article about a school in Tennessee where the principal is so busy with paperwork and unnecessary observations that he’s lost touch with many of the things happening in the school. The title of the article neatly summarizes their feeling for the way that Race to the Top has led to a redefinition of “teacher quality” at their school: In Tennessee, Following the Rules for Evaluations Off a Cliff.

Then, I read Six Questions for Better Professional Development on the Edutopia Deeper Learning Blog Carnival, and wondered about how different the assumptions about “teacher quality” were compared to those in the Times article. The author talks about quality teaching (and professional development) as collaborative, organic, and reflective. It involves “cultivating a healthy professional community,” and that school in Tennessee seems to be on a track where they are able to do anything BUT support professional growth and “teacher quality.”

Maybe it can be partially attributed to the language that’s used, but the Edutopia blog seems to posit “teacher quality” as something that you nurture and encourage while the the Times article seems to describe a scenario where “teacher quality” is something you have to badger people into developing or revealing.

I understand the desire and need for ways to measure “teacher quality.” I’m just not sure of the right way to go about it. How do you think “teacher quality” should be defined? I’d love to hear some real teachers talking about the issue.

Cross-posted as a Discussion Question in the Verizon Thinkfinity 101 Community on the Thinkfinity Community site.

Ten Ways to Document Your Convention Participation

AtriumWhen you attend a convention, you can gain more than a vita line. You already know that you can learn about the latest research and practices, and you probably value the chance to catch up with colleagues from other schools and colleges. There’s more to what your attendance can do for your career however.

When you attend a convention or conference, you show your colleagues that you’re active professionally and that you care about improving your classes and research. Here’s the important tip though: You have to share what you learned and talk about the experience.

Here is a list of ways you can document your convention participation and share it with colleagues near and far:

  1. Save your convention program.
    Save the convention program or schedule. Also be sure to pick up a copy of the addendum and corrections as well. If the program is online, download a copy or archive it in a Dropbox account so that you have a back-up.

    • If you’re a presenter, the listing in the program is proof of your participation (and some tenure & promotion committees require the printed program).
    • For sessions that you attend, use the the program to look up details on the sessions you want to share with colleagues. You want to be sure you can refer to specific presenters and sessions.

    Save any certificates or other documents that prove you were at the convention, including your letter of acceptance, registration receipt, and so forth. If the information came to you in email form, print it out and include it in your professional development folder as part of your records.

  2. Record the details on sessions you attend.
    Log your participation so that you remember ideas from the sessions and have additional evidence that you participated. Either add notes by the session listings in the program, or keep track in a notebook. I make sure I have this information:

    • Day/Time, Session #, and Page # in Program
      I write down enough information that I can find the complete details later.
    • Speaker and Presentation Titles
      Most sessions have several speakers. I jot down enough information to be sure I can tell who said what when I’m read my notes later.
    • Keywords or Tags (e.g., portfolios, writing center)
      I use tags to organize the information when I go back through my notes later. I usually write them sideways or in bold so that I can find sessions without reading everything in my notes.
    • Notes and application ideas
      I jot down everything I can use later. I try to keep how I will use the information in mind and note questions that I want to follow-up on later as I go.
  3. Ask for more information.
    If you really connect with a presentation, ask the presenter for a copy. All you have to do is approach the speaker and say something like this: “Hi. I really enjoyed your presentation. My research is on a related topic (explain in a sentence or two how it’s related). Would it be possible to get a copy of your paper?” Be prepared to exchange email addresses or jot down information on where to find the presentation online. If the presenter seems reluctant or was working extemporaneously, ask if she has published similar ideas elsewhere that you might consult. When you get home, you can refer to the piece in your work and share it with others. Add details on why the piece connects to what you do.

  4. Share while you’re at the convention.
    Post great comments you hear on Twitter, Facebook, or your own favorite social network. Be sure that you clearly indicate who said what you’re sharing and add a convention hashtag. Share your pictures from the event as well. It’s easy enough to post a photo to Twitter or Facebook with your cell phone. Why not post some scenes from a presentation or social event?

  5. Pick up handouts to share.
    Look for handouts on the latest books, calls for proposals, and upcoming events. If you see something that a colleague might be interested in, all you need is a post-it note that says, “Saw this at CCCC and thought you might be interested.” Be sure you find a copy of the Call for next year’s convention. Take it home, photocopy it, add another post-it encouraging colleagues to join you at next year’s conference and spread it around the department mailboxes. Before the deadline for proposals, set up a proposal-writing workshop to help people coordinate panels and workshops.

  6. Drop names and references when you go home.
    Let people know you were at the convention with subtle references. Start thinking about sentences such as “[Insert the speaker’s name] talked about just this issue at CCCC”— then follow up with the details. If you need to add more context, mention where the person teaches or a publication the person wrote. Try something like “[Insert the speaker’s name], s/he’s a professor at U of wherever, mentioned something along these lines in Atlanta.”

  7. Plug your own paper or research.
    It’s not enough to refer to others. Talk about yourself too. Be prepared to say something like “I found some research on that when I was working on my paper for CCCC”—then to say more about what you found. Don’t be a bore. Don’t drone on about your paper if it’s not relevant, but if the conversation turns to something you’ve worked on, provide the footnote. You can also try sentences like “We talked about this issue in Atlanta” or “I picked up an article about this topic at CCCC.”

  8. Share artifacts with others.
    If you happen upon a particularly good idea, pass it on to others—put it in their mailboxes or email it to your colleagues. You’ll please colleagues and demonstrate to administrators that you’re a good investment for travel money! As you pass on information, be sure to add a note that points out why you’re passing the information on and where it came from.

  9. Pick-up freebies.
    You don’t have to be serious to remind folks where you’ve been. Your colleagues may be just as interested in a computer-shaped stress ball as they are in seeing the latest article by the keynoter. If you have a friendly relationship, it doesn’t really hurt to share such things too. I often pick up items for colleague’s children as well.

  10. Arrange an exchange with a nearby colleague.
    You’re likely to meet someone at the convention who is geographically close to your campus. Work out an exchange. You go to the colleague’s school and lead a brown bag discussion about your research. The colleague comes to your class and presents a guest lecture. If you have the resources to support it, use Skype or digital streaming to connect with guest speakers outside your local area.

[Photo: Atrium by alexbrn, on Flickr]