Stepping Stones to Professional Learning

Fulfilling the Needs of Teachers: Five Stepping Stones to Professional Learning
By Andrea L. Ray
(Rowman & Littlefield, 2018 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Ronda Clark

Have you ever sat through a professional development session and wondered, “What am I supposed to do with this?” That question is at the heart of the book, Fulfilling the Needs of Teachers: Five Stepping Stones to Professional Learning by Andrea L. Ray.

The purpose of the book is to bridge the gap between professional learning activities and actual improvement in teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom.

As an educator who spends more than half of my time working with other teachers, I was intrigued by the title, and wondered what the book might add to my understanding and practices.

Fulfilling the Needs of Teachers is a follow-up to a previous book, Creating Professional Development that Works: What Every Teacher Educator Needs to Know (Ray 2015). In that book, Ray introduces a process for creating professional learning activities. This second book is intended to be a more practical, teacher-friendly guide to implementing that process.

For PD designers rather than teachers

Unfortunately, the book was not teacher-friendly enough for me. In the author’s defense, this is clearly a textbook geared toward those who design and implement professional learning for other teachers. It is technical in its vocabulary and style and is presenting a very specific model. It is not a book that an instructional coach or teacher mentor would read for ideas and wisdom.

The book is well organized and begins by making the case in Part One for teacher development that results in improved practice. Ray writes that the key is to “create activities that focus on attitudes, beliefs, and emotions teachers hold about themselves as learners and about what they are learning.” (9).

To do this, Parts Two through Five show how different learning activities (“design tasks”) are created and implemented in a process that follows the five stepping stones mentioned in the title: Identify Connections, Define Connections, Select Focal Points, Develop Goals, and Create the Design Task. She is careful to define her terms as they relate to her model. The difficulty is in the complexity of the model.

A complex structure

Each design task is developed by moving through the five step process that identifies three “connections” that define the boundaries of the task. These connections are placed on a “delivery framework” with four different types of “content connections,” three kinds of “process connections” and three different “classroom ecosystem connections.” Each step is accompanied by charts, templates, and forms to be filled out by the teacher or the teacher educator.

While the goal of the book is worthy, the model seems overly complicated and difficult to understand. I want my input to the teachers I serve to be as clear, concise, and accessible as their teaching should be to their students. There are other more accessible yet effective models for helping teachers implement what they are learning about teaching.

Ronda Clark teaches ancient history to middle schoolers and is the Associate Director of Faculty Development at a Christian classical school in Roanoke, Virginia. She is passionate about helping students and teachers succeed in the classroom. She and her husband enjoy spending time in the outdoors and hanging out with their five grandchildren.

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