I was listening to a story on NPR recently about the collection of saliva samples from 100,000 patients and what they were able to learn from it by looking at these individuals' medical histories. They were interviewing a medical researcher, a Nobelist, talking about disease. She said, "Disease is not an event; it's a process." Upon hearing this, I immediately thought of education, specifically assessment, and the way so many teachers and schools and states assess students with one-off, high-stakes tests that are events, not processes. True assessment, meaningful assessment that tells us where a student is and what they have come to understand, is a process. The school I am at now assesses teachers with three 15-minute "walk throughs." Contrast that with a school I taught at several years ago where a supervisor sat in on four of my classes - three in a row of one and one of a different class. She got a very clear idea of how I teach and whether learning was taking place. (I am happy to report that she concluded that it was.) Sad to say, this is the only school I have been at that took the observation and assessment of teachers so seriously, making it a process and not an event.
In much the same way, teaching is a process; professional development is a process; learning is a process; even a single lesson is a process. In other words, every aspect of education is a process and not an event, and if we treat any part as an event, then we are failing ourselves and our schools and our students.
Professional development is a good place to start. At most schools, professional development means organizing two days a year of workshops or outside speakers, i.e. one-day events. One commentator has suggested that professional development should take up 25% of a teacher's time and, while this may be unreasonable, his point can be interpreted to mean that meaningful professional development must be an ongoing process that is part of every teacher's daily or weekly routine. It must be woven into the fabric of what we do so that a teacher's growth is ongoing; it must be approached as an ongoing process so that there is always a next step, always goals to achieve and challenges to overcome.
Perhaps the clearest and most damaging example of education being treated as a series of events and not a process is student and parent attitudes towards learning and grades - which of course to a great extent grow out of the way we assess. So many students view any task as a grade generator and nothing else. They place the grade before the learning - in effect disassociating the two - and so each piece of homework, each assessment, is something to be done and then be done with. Once completed - once they have received the grade - it no longer has any relevance to them or to their learning. Here again, we may reasonably place the blame for this on the way teachers assign work and then grade it and put it aside.
The meaningful and appropriate integration of technology must also be a process, but more on that in another post.
All aspects of education, like life, are processes, and as long as we treat them as events, we miss the opportunity to create meaningful learning.
(Please note that this is a slightly edited repost of a blog i originally wrote a few years ago.)