Professional Development in Elementary Education With a Focus on Literacy

Introduction

The improvement of the educational sphere is one of the critical factors demanded to support the further evolution of society as it guarantees the existence of a wide pool of skilled and qualified workers who are ready to contribute to the achievement of new goals. To attain significant enhancement in the given sector, it is vital to provide additional training for all stakeholders, especially teachers. For this reason, the proposed project is centered around the following research question:

How are elementary school principals/ or assistant principals made aware that staff is implementing strategies that are being taught by completing spot observations incorporating student progress based on provided information during PD and documenting individual progress and reporting progress to administration?

The literature review offered below creates the theoretical framework for discussing the issue under concern by reviewing relevant research papers and the ideas suggested there.

Review of the Literature

Literacy Coaching

Professional development (PD) in elementary education is often linked to the concept of literacy coaching. The scope of the given issue and term is evidenced by the fact that it is not just coaching with technology and new solutions; however, it also means a more student-centered, relevant, and improved approach with the use of correct and effective tools that might help to achieve teaching goals (Pomerantz & Pierce, 2013). Speaking about the given issue, Pomerantz and Pierce (2013) state that literacy coaching is an effective method to ensure the improvement of outcomes in particular educational establishments; however, it is vital to consider the fact that there are multiple contextual factors influencing the classroom practice. In other words, there is a critical need to support teachers with adequate resources, leadership practices, guidance, and monitoring practices to ensure that they will be able to engage in the improvement process. The complexity of challenges and contexts in which educators have to work presupposes the use of diverse techniques and equipment, and it also means they need specific training.

Collaborative Development

Another idea necessary for the improved understanding of the basic peculiarities of professional development in education is collaboration. Discussing the problem, Stegg and Lambson (2015) assume that one of the main decisions for successful PD is the participation of all actors, regardless of their content area of instructional focus. In other words, the combined effort of all stakeholders in the educational process might guarantee the achievement of improved outcomes and support the idea that every teacher should be a literacy teacher. The employment of the given approach increases flexibility levels both among teachers and principals as they acquire more tools to monitor the current progress and provide assistance in cases when some obstacles or other problems might prevent a specialist from further success (Stegg & Lambson, 2015). At the same time, collaboration is considered an effective way of information and experience sharing. Analyzing the effectiveness of this approach, Stegg and Lambson (2015) compared different models of PD, including the idea of teachers taking care of their learning, individual learning in groups, and collaborative learning, and concluded about better flexibility and results linked to the modes presupposing cooperation. For this reason, effective PD can be associated with group efforts to attain improved outcomes.

Instructional Planning

The creation of a sufficient instructional framework is another component of PD. Fisher, Frey, and Nelson (2012) state that the inability to act on informed teacher judgments to achieve the existing goals and fulfill the needs of learners might significantly deteriorate the outcomes. For this reason, the establishment of an instructional framework follows the aim of improving the teachers’ capacity to make instructional decisions and, at the same time, simplifying the task of monitoring and controlling their successes (Fisher et al., 2012). The existence of the given paradigm simplifies the current tasks and, at the same time, provides educators with a clear structure needed to plan their lessons, consider the relevant needs of learners, and engage in appropriate PD practices to fulfill these very needs (Fisher et al., 2012). At the same time, for principals, the existence of this framework means that teachers’ success can be monitored by appealing to the existing instructional plans and their observation. In such a way, Fisher, Frey, and Nelson outline the critical importance of this component and its positive impact on the achievement of success in PD.

Literacy Coaches and Major Principles

At the same time, the existing body of evidence state that the positive outcomes of PD with a focus on literacy can be achieved if some basic principles are observed. Thus, L’Allier, Elish-Piper, and Bean (2010) say that all literacy coaches must possess specialized knowledge in different areas, including working with adults and attaining enhanced results with them. Moreover, they should spend a significant amount of time cooperating with teachers directly as it ensures that they will demonstrate positive changes and growth in the level of their skills (L’Allier et al., 2010). Additionally, similar to Stegg and Lambson (2015), L’Allier et al., 2010 outline the need for productive collaboration and relationships with teachers as the basis for future improvements. In such a way, literacy coaches, as the main actors responsible for results, should consider the major principles that might guarantee the attainment of existing goals as they hold the responsibility for developing skills in educators and their ability to meet students’ needs. These principles include the continuous improvement of coaching, effective leadership, intentional and opportunistic approach, support of student achievement, collaborative relationships, specialized knowledge, and devotion of a significant amount of time to these activities (L’Allier et al., 2010). Observation of these ideas is a key to successful PD with a focus on literacy.

Challenges

Finally, one should also consider the fact that PD and the focus on literacy can be challenging. Bos et al. (1999) state that interactive, collaborative professional development can be challenging in implementation because teachers might lack the understanding of how to implement the acquired knowledge and meet the existing needs of students. Limited materials, resources, time for preparation, instruction, and the high number of students can reduce the effectiveness of training and deteriorate outcomes (Bos et al., 1999). Additionally, there are several hardships linked to the monitoring of success by principals and their inability to control the process and results (Bos et al., 1999). Under these conditions, the choice of approaches and strategies to provide the demanded material acquires high priority to eliminate barriers. Teachers should start viewing PD as a valuable process that might help them to improve their functioning. At the same time, they should correctly realize the idea that reporting their progress is also essential as it helps to organize new courses and provide them with the resources required at the moment (Bos et al., 1999). That is why the ability to overcome all challenges should also be taken into account while planning PD activities.

Analysis

In such a way, by analyzing the sources selected for the review, it is possible to outline several important ideas. First of all, all authors view literacy coaching as a vital part of the educational sphere today as it helps teachers to evolve and acquire the knowledge needed for their effective work. Moreover, it can promote the ability to meet learners’ diverse needs and attain better results. At the same time, because of the scope of the problem, the authors emphasize different areas that should be given increased attention. Thus, the collaborative relationship between a coach and teachers and all other actors involved in the process is fundamental for the further evolution and attainment of existing goals. The literature review shows that there are also some challenges and differences, such as the lack of resources and the problematic monitoring of the progress that should be overcome.

Conclusions

Altogether, the literature review proves the critical importance of professional development in elementary education focusing on literacy and teachers’ ability to meet students’ needs. Multiple benefits can be achieved by using practical PD models and creating a specific instructional framework. However, it is also vital to solving some problems, such as the need to monitor the success of all participants and overcome challenges such as limited resources, lack of time, or a too high number of students. The observation of the central principles outlined by the authors might help to avoid complications and establish an effective model characterized by potent practices and approaches used by educators in their work with students.

References

Bos, C., Mather, N., Narr, R., & Babur, N. (1999). Interactive, collaborative professional development in early literacy instruction: Supporting and Balancing Act. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 14(4), 227-238.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Nelson, J. (2012). Literacy achievement through sustained professional development. The Reading Teacher, 65(8), 551-563.

L’Allier, S., Elish-Piper, L., & Bean, R. (2010). What matters for elementary literacy coaching? Guiding principles for institutional improvement and student achievement. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 544-554.

Pomerantz, F., & Pierce, M. (2013). “When do we get to read?” Reading instruction and literacy coaching in a “failed” urban elementary school. Reading Improvement, 50(3), 101-117.

Stegg, S., & Lambson, D. (2015). Collaborative professional development. One school’s story. The Reading Teacher, 68(6), 473-478.