Summer teacher improvement programs

For teachers, summer is not just the season for vacations. It’s also the season for workshops and conferences, for reading and reflecting.

Many summer teacher activities show up in my Twitter feed.

I’ve been struck in the last couple weeks by what kinds of things teachers are learning about in their organized professional development activities.

Most of the teacher training sessions seem to fall into one of two categories. Either they focus on

  • tools (typically technology tools), or
  • on what might be termed “soft pedagogy skills.”

Soft pedagogy skills are such things as flipping a classroom, teaching mindfulness, or helping students develop grit.

I don’t see many teacher summer activities directed toward developing better

  • teaching objectives
  • teaching skills
  • teaching materials
  • teaching strategies

for specific subjects.

I find that troublesome.

From an economic standpoint, I understand it’s more sensible to offer programs that draw 150 people than programs that will draw only five when you’re hiring presenters who charge $3,000 a presentation.

From an education perspective, however, I wonder whether teachers might not have a greater impact on student learning if a few people who teach the same subjects at the same grade level were encouraged to work together on shared problems.

The small group could draw on local people as resources for such things as workplace uses of content from the teachers’ subject area.

The group could also invite teachers in training to participate, which could be good for the trainees and might also help the local school attract new teachers.

Anyone have a program such as I envision in their school or region? Please share your experience in the comments.

Should you give up teaching for coaching?

One of my standard lines about teaching writing is that it requires coach’s mindset rather than the traditional teacher’s mindset.

I’m having to rethink whether that’s still an appropriate line.

A tweet sent me to Karen Vogt’s post “Coaching: A New Frame for Teaching and Learning”  at the Next Generation Learning website earlier this week.

By the end of the third paragraph, it was clear to me that the author and I had distinctly different concepts of what is meant by coaching.

Vogt writes:

I have understood coaching in a very basic way—the coach is not an expert like a mentor or distinguished professor; the coach spends more time asking questions and listening than providing solutions and advice.

To me, that sounds more like a counselor than either a  teacher or a  coach.

When I hear the word coach, I think of someone who is (1) expert at doing some activity and (2) expert at enabling others to learn to do that activity. In other words, I think of coaching in terms of hands-on skills rather than content learning.

I suspect that more people understand coaching as I define it than as Vogt defines simply because sports are more popular than personal development courses.

That said, however, I will have to watch my language carefully in the future if the concept of coaching is undergoing change.

A second point Vogt made gave me something else to chew over.

She asks:

How can educators reaffirm that learners are not deficient; that it is instead their prior learning opportunities that have been deficient?

My first reaction is to stand up and cheer: There are way too many students whose educational problems are the result of having been to school.

My second reaction would be to rephrase that sentence like this:

How can educators reaffirm that learners are not deficient defective; that it is instead their prior learning opportunities that have teaching that was deficient?

I’ve had many college students whose skills were deficient although the students themselves were not defective. The students had had opportunities to learn those skills in the past; however, they often had misunderstood what they were taught in elementary school—and teacher after teacher failed to to catch the misunderstanding.

Vogt has some other observations that those of you who teach “content courses” may find stimulate your thinking. If you have a couple minutes, take a look at her article.

School is not a fun house

I get a bit testy when I read tweet after tweet about making lessons fun.

I’m not opposed to having fun.

I’m not even opposed to having fun in class.

I simply think that instead of trying to make lessons fun, teachers ought to aim for lessons that create what  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called flow, the state of engagement that produces deep satisfaction even when the activity is difficult.


Part of the reason for my peculiar perspective grows from my own experience.

I’ve spent much of my adult life writing instructional materials that no one would read unless they were required to as part of their job. If it’s possible to make learning how to install steam turbines fun, I’ve not discovered how to do it.

The best I can do when I write instructional materials is make the writing so clear that the reader can concentrate on applying the information.

To put it another way, my job as a writer is to keep the instruction from interrupting the flow of learning.

I bring that same attitude to the classroom.

The subjects I teach—nonfiction writing and the teaching of nonfiction writing—are not fun topics. They are hard topics to master. They are not fun.

I can’t make them fun.

The best I can do as a teacher is to keep from interrupting the flow as students learn.

And if the class has a few laughs together in the process, that’s icing on the cake.


Photo Credit, David Niblack,