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Inquiring Minds: Learning Opportunities Knock

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Although the term "professional development" typically conjures up images of half-day seminars and after-school workshops, such activities represent only one kind of learning opportunity. Increasingly, reformers are calling for a broader view that would recognize and encourage teachers' participation in a richer array of activities. Below are examples of various types of professional development. Some involve formal courses or programs that take place outside of schools, and some are tasks that teachers can, and do, perform as part of their jobs.

  • College or university coursework. To fulfill state licensing requirements and to advance on salary schedules, most teachers take additional coursework.

Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi offers first-year teachers a coursework program aimed at strengthening their instructional skills and, more generally, improving their likelihood of staying in the profession.

The program allows beginning teachers to take three university courses in areas of particular interest. A university supervisor observes each participant and later helps the new teacher design personalized plans for improving instructional skills. After completing the program, many teachers have gone on to complete a master's degree at the university or enroll in other courses.

Contact: Vickie Moon Merchant, College of Education, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, 6300 Ocean Drive FC214, Corpus Christi, Texas 78412; (512) 994-2437.

  • Summer institutes. The summer break from the classroom provides time for teachers to engage in in-depth study.

Each year, the National Endowment for the Humanities' division of education offers summer seminars for full-time teachers and other school personnel in grades K-12. The neh grant program supports seminars focused on significant texts in the humanities. Under the direction of accomplished teachers and scholars, grant recipients study topics ranging from political philosophy to Appalachian culture at participating universities around the country.

Contact: Summer Seminars for School Teachers, Room 316, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20506; (202) 606-8463.

  • Fellowships. Fellowships give individual teachers the chance to pursue topics of particular interest to them.

The Christa McAuliffe Fellowship is a federally funded program that provides grants to states to reward outstanding teachers. Nationwide, about 60 to 75 fellows receive grants of varying amounts each year.

Fellowship recipients can continue their education, create course materials or specialized instruction programs, work with local education agencies, or engage in a wide range of education activities. One recent fellow in California, for example, set up an on-line network of "virtual field trips" exploring the environment of the Monterey Bay area.

Contact: Fellowship administrator at individual state offices of the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Network memberships. Networks provide teachers with a supportive professional community beyond the confines of their schools.

The New York City-based impact II is a national, nonprofit network that provides teachers with grants to disseminate their own innovative in-school projects. One impact II-funded math teacher, for example, distributed his algebra curriculum to seven nearby schools and won national attention that earned him an additional grant from a private foundation.

IMPACT II also sponsors workshops, national teachers' conferences, and summer institutes and publishes a semiannual newsletter and a series of teacher handbooks.

Contact: IMPACT II, 285 West Broadway, Room 540, New York, N.Y. 10013; (212) 966-5582.

  • Higher-education collaboratives. When K-12 schools team up with experts in higher education, teachers gain access to new knowledge and professors gain new understandings of how to teach their students.

The Pasadena, Calif., school district and the California Institute of Technology have joined forces to create a cooperative program known as the Pasadena Science Program. The program, which emphasizes the importance of involving the scientific community in professional development, offers in-service activities led by experienced teachers and scientists. During the summer, teachers can learn more about integrating science instruction into their teaching of math, reading, and other subjects. Then, during the school year, teachers introduce the curriculum into their classrooms with the advice of a science resource teacher.

Contact: David Hartney, California Institute of Technology, (818) 395-3296; or Jennifer Yure, Pasadena Unified School District, (818) 791-8932. World Wide Web: http://www.caltech. edu/capsi.

  • Training academies. These offer individuals or teams of teachers a place to visit for short or extended periods of time where they can learn new teaching methodologies.

In Cincinnati, the Mayerson Academy for Human Resource Development was established in 1992 as a partnership between the school district and its local business community. It is a separate, nonprofit organization open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 50 weeks a year.

Because academies are vulnerable to budget cuts, they tend to come and go. But Mayerson staff members say the support the academy receives from area businesses and philanthropies helps it escape budget pressures. They intend to raise an endowment to cover the academy's administrative costs.

Mayerson sees teachers, administrators, and support staff members as "valued customers, not as captives." It also strives to provide the highest-quality trainers and training, ensure appropriate follow-up and coaching, and use cutting-edge technology. This year's core courses, offered in three eight-hour days, range from classroom management and cooperative learning to instructional alignment and school improvement.

Contact: Larry G. Rowedder, President, Mayerson Academy, 2650 Highland Ave., Cincinnati, Ohio 45219; (513) 861-9684.

  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The privately organized board, founded in 1987, has set out to establish a system of voluntary national certification for outstanding teachers.

Candidates for certification spend months reflecting on their teaching practice, analyzing the work of their students, videotaping themselves, and working with their colleagues to prepare a portfolio of their schoolwork. They then take a battery of written assessments. Many of the teachers who have completed the process say that stepping back to critically examine their practice made it one of the best professional-development experiences of their career.

Contact: Joanne Kogan Krell, nbpts, 300 River Place, Suite 3600, Detroit, Mich. 48207; (313) 259-0830.

  • Professional-development schools. Many colleges and universities have teamed up with local school districts to open professional-development schools, which often are likened to teaching hospitals. These schools provide intellectually rich environments for practicing teachers.

At Adelphi Elementary and Cool Spring Elementary in Prince George's County, Md., student teachers from the University of Maryland's college of education get experience in the classroom.

But the school's existing teachers benefit, too. The university professors lead 13 monthly small-group sessions, known as faculty inquiry groups, which bring teachers together to discuss practical concerns and problems in the classroom. The professors direct the discussion, encourage other teachers to help come up with creative solutions, and offer readings and resources from the university.

Contact: Linda Valli, Associate Dean, College of Education, Dean's Office, 3119 Benjamin Building, University of Maryland, College Park, Md. 20742; (301) 405-0246.

  • Assessment development. The push to find better ways to assess what students know and can do has created new professional opportunities for teachers.

In Maryland, teachers have been involved in writing "tasks" for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, which was first administered in 1991. They also score the assessments over the summer. In exchange for their work, teachers can receive credit toward keeping their teaching licenses current.

Steven Ferrara, the state's director of student assessment, says the work gives teachers the chance to see what other Maryland teachers and students are doing and "opens their eyes to what they can expect of their students."

Contact: Steven Ferrara, Maryland State Department of Education, 200 W. Baltimore St., Baltimore, Md. 21201; (410) 767-0081.

  • Mentoring newcomers. Working closely with new teachers provides a chance for veteran teachers to share their expertise and knowledge and can help break the isolation that teachers can feel in their classrooms.

Wichita State University in Kansas matches beginning special-education teachers with experienced teachers in nearby school districts. Because they aren't always in the same school, the new teacher and mentor often keep in touch by phone and meet every other week to attend a lecture, discuss concerns, and have one-on-one chats. A state grant paid for the new teachers to get a small stipend and for the mentoring teachers to receive course credits.

Contact: Frances L. Clark, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Wichita State University, 1845 N. Fairmont, Box 28, Wichita, Kan. 67260-0028; (316) 689-3322.

  • Peer coaching. Like mentoring, peer coaching allows teachers to build more collegial relationships, share their expertise, and assume more responsibility for the quality of teaching by working together to improve instruction.

Escadado High School in Lubbock, Texas, with the cooperation of Texas Tech University, introduced a peer-coaching plan for its teachers that allows them to observe and offer each other feedback on how to improve management and instruction in the classroom.

For this professional-development exercise, all teachers were considered to be on the same professional level and were organized into collegial support teams, usually by academic field. Under this teacher-controlled model, all notes and records on the coaching sessions were returned to the individual teacher.

What makes this professional-development plan unusual, according to Bill Askins, the Texas Tech education professor who helped create the program, is that it requires less participant time and teachers are all considered equal.

Contact: Bill Askins, College of Education, Texas Tech University, Box 41071, Lubbock, Texas 79409-1071; (806) 742-2377.

  • Action research. This term is often used when teachers put their heads together to examine a problem and come up witha solution.

Prompted by disappointing 3rd-grade scores on a state assessment, teachers at Selma (Ore.) Elementary School have been working all year on a literacy project. The school's nine teachers, along with the principal and other staff members, analyzed their reading program, identified barriers to reaching their goal, and brainstormed about how to remove them.

They next devised a plan of action, assigned tasks, and began working to solve their problem. As part of the research, teachers toured the 150-student school, took an inventory, and devised a sign-out system that makes reading materials more widely available.

Contact: Eleanor Perry, Selma Elementary School, 18255 Redwood Highway, Selma, Ore. 97538; (503) 597-4228.

Ann Bradley and Jeanne Ponessa compiled the information for this chart.

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