If a tree falls in the forest...

“If a teacher improves his practice and nobody is there to check a box, did he actually improve?” This was the question winkingly posed at a SXSWedu panel on teacher-centered professional development. The session, “Unauthorized PD,” explored this idea: in order to make schools places where students will thrive, they must first be designed to make teachers thrive.

It’s a scary thing to say out loud, because one risks being misheard. The argument is not that teachers matter more than students, but that schools are not a zero sum game: it is possible to design and environment where both students and teachers can thrive.

The presenters, a Theater teacher and a Physics teacher from Long Island, argued that if schools only dedicate one hour of time to teachers per week (during weekly PD), they are setting themselves up for failure. They believe that schools can be re-designed to create an environment where teachers are valued as highly as students.

They argued that school re-design doesn’t have to be done by consultants or implemented in one fell swoop. Rather, it’s likely much more effective for schools to convene teachers and leaders to work on the smallest problems the school is facing (e.g., teachers can’t go to the bathroom for hours because there is nobody to supervise their class), and slowly work their way up to more complex problems (e.g., literacy scores are stagnant but the daily ELA block is already 120 minutes).

What do you think? What small tweaks can schools make to improve the daily experience of teachers in order to ultimately make students thrive?

Libby Fischer is CEO of Whetstone.