Professional Development

40-District Event in Pa. Draws 8,000 for Staff Training

By Bess Keller — November 15, 2005 1 min read
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It was big, but no one’s been able to say the biggest.

When roughly 8,000 teachers from 40 school districts in suburban Pittsburgh attended some 480 workshops last month, Pennsylvania educators were pretty sure their state had never seen such a colossal professional-development event. Yet claiming a national superlative would be risky, since no organization appears to keep tabs on such gatherings across the nation.

“It was unique to the state,” ventured John D. Esaias, who coordinated the program.

The massive event grew out of a plan, put together by area superintendents, aimed at increasing student achievement across all 42 districts in Allegheny County. The leaders saw the undertaking as a way to encourage teachers to share classroom practices, especially around the teaching of reading, writing, and mathematics in every subject.

The Oct. 10 affair was originally going to involve maybe 20 districts, “but just mushroomed,” said Sarah Zablotsky, a spokeswoman for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, an educational services agency for the county that helped organize the day. Eventually, more than 40 local organizations added to the list of workshops, and four local foundations underwrote the project with $100,000. Districts also anted up $11 per participant, a bargain price, experts in professional development said.

Teachers applauded the district cross-pollination, according to Mr. Esaias. But it’s too soon to gauge what the long-term effect might be, he said. The plan envisions workshop groups meeting again and participants visiting each other’s classrooms.

That’s the kind of activity that should be encouraged, said Stephanie Hirsh, the deputy director of the National Staff Development Council, an Oxford, Ohio-based membership organization promoting on-the-job training for education professionals. The field is turning away from single-shot workshops and outside expertise in favor of staff development embedded in the life of a school.

“There’s a place for these kinds of experiences—they build awareness and establish future networks,” Ms. Hirsh said. “But everything is really contingent on what happens after this one day.”

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