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Report: Practice Makes Perfect
posted by: Cindy Omlin | May 31, 2013, 09:18 PM   

The paper was part of a broader report entitled, “A Roadmap for Education Reform,” which was released in partnership between the American Enterprise Institute and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.  Lemov’s paper stands out among the rest because it has immediate and practical implications for teacher professional development. 

In preparing his research, Lemov worked with the Milwaukee Public School District to analyze the efficacy of their teacher professional development program.  Needless to say, he found Milwaukee’s professional development efforts to be no different than most other school districts across the country – weak.  Although Milwaukee spends a good deal of money on professional development ($5 million), the money is usually spent on one-time lecture style classes that are disconnected from the classroom, discount the expertise of classroom teachers, and introduce concepts with no practical help for implementing them and little, if any, follow-up.  When individualized development is provided, it is also focused on those teachers who struggle the most, meaning teachers who are already good seldom get the push they need in order to become great. 

Instead of maintaining this traditional view of teacher professional development, Lemov envisions something completely different.  Working off of a premise that we already know, or are able to learn, the skills that make great teachers truly great, the key to creating great teachers is to develop those skills in other teachers.  We do this by having great teachers coach others in their school while helping them to develop those skills through repetitive practice. 

Lemov explains as follows: 

Though it is rarely referred to as such, teaching is a performance profession.  It happens live, and an outstanding lesson on Tuesday guarantees little about Wednesday’s outcome. […]Every other performance profession […] prepares for the dynamics of their work via practice. […]A tennis player wouldn’t dare step onto center court at Wimbledon to try out a new backhand; she would have practiced it over and over in a series of training sessions.  Similarly, a surgeon would practice his suturing over and over before putting needle to live tissue. Performance professions understand that you get good at what you do in the game by practicing it beforehand, that practice reduces stress during performance and frees your mind to be more responsive to situations that develop during performance. 

While this seems at first glance to be a radically new way to look at teacher professional development, it’s worth remembering that we’ve already seen rumblings of this type of professional development through techniques such asvideo clubs and lesson studies.  It will be interesting to see if more teachers and districts gravitate towards this practical form of improving teacher quality.

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