Change the Way Teachers Work

Problems of Practice

We need to change the way teachers work in the United States. Right now we have a model for their work that does not radically improve student learning. A simple analysis tells us that we have to change their day so that they have time to discuss, “problems of practice.” They need more time to plan better lessons, more time to build more effective lessons, and more time to learn from each other, from their department heads, from their principal, and from outside experts. We need a national Marshall plan to help every student access the rigorous curriculum that all students need, and that support every student in succeeding.

Learning How to Teach is Complex

“After 30 years of doing such work, I have concluded that classroom teaching … is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented…the only time a physician could possibly encounter a situation of comparable complexity would be in the emergency room of a hospital during or after a natural disaster” Lee Shulman, The Wisdom of Practice (Danielson’s PowerPoint, 2015).

Features of a Teacher Growth Model

  • “An evaluation program which helps teachers become more effective
  • Multiple, Principal and Peer to Peer (P2P) rubric-based observations
  • Pre- and Post- observation conferences
  • Cost in time is substantial, but opportunity to improve is heightened
  • Accountability defined as demonstrated growth” (Danielson’s PowerPoint, 2015).

More Professional Approach Teacher Quality

A more professional approach to teacher quality would connect professional development with evaluation through teacher growth as teachers work on, “problems of practice.” Therefore, we want to use the process of teacher evaluation as a capacity building practice and adopt the characteristics of a system that builds the capacity of teachers to grow. This includes characteristics such as peer to peer observations, problems of practice, evidence of student work, and Danielson’s clusters. In the process of encouraging teacher growth we will be able to more accurately evaluate and improve teacher quality.

Characteristics of a Professional Learning System

The characteristics of a professional learning system suggested by Danielson are:

  • School structures and culture are designed to permit time for professional collaboration: (instructional teams, lesson study, with expectations of ongoing, continuing learning)
  • Teachers “in good standing” are eligible to apply for leadership positions (mentor, instructional coach, etc.) for which they receive appropriate training
  • Leadership positions also carry additional stipends, resulting, in effect, in a career ladder
  • Rather than following the “medical model” (diagnosis and prescription), teachers work on “problems of practice” (Danielson’s PowerPoint, 2015).


Danielson Group. (2021). The Danielson Framework for Teaching (FFT). Online at:

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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