Professional Development

An Unconventional Culture

By Caroline Hendrie — September 23, 2004 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

-Caroline Hendrie

As the Big Picture Co. seeks to scale up its design, its summertime 'enculturation extravaganza' has become a means of forging unity in an increasingly far-flung network.

At a small New England college a long way from Athens, a pair of school reformers in homespun Grecian get-ups are firing up their followers to go for the gold.

“This is really an Olympic task,” declares Dennis Littky, sporting a bedsheet, wreath, and torch. “What’s really important is for us to understand how big this is.”

With longtime collaborator Elliot Washor, Littky was kicking off “Big Bang III: Our Olympic Movement,” a four-day gathering here for the public school educators that make up the Big Picture Co.'s extended professional family.

Part training conference and part party, the get-together Aug. 12-15 assembled staff members from all 24 schools using the innovative design that Littky and Washor pioneered in nearby Providence. Also among the 265 attendees were teams from a half-dozen schools planning to open in 2005 or 2006.

See Also

Return to the main story,

‘One Student at a Time’

As the nonprofit Big Picture Co. seeks to scale up its design, its summertime “enculturation extravaganza,” as one researcher has dubbed it, has become a means of forging unity in an increasingly far-flung network. Through workshops, games, and motivational speeches, staff members absorb more than just the how-tos of Big Picture’s unconventional design. They are also constantly reminded of their role in establishing Big Picture’s credibility, and in the push to bring new opportunities to low-income and minority youngsters.

“The biggest question all the time is how not to sell our soul,” Littky tells principals during a session on how to navigate state standards, the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and college-admissions systems. “We’re on the radical end of what we’re doing. But if you sell out, you might as well not be doing a Big Picture school.”

To reinforce the message, Littky wrote a book, being published this month, that lays out his philosophy of education and how it came alive in Providence. The Big Picture: Education is Everybody’s Business, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development in Alexandria, Va., aims to explain “why we’re doing stuff” and “to give people another way to think about education,” he says, as well as to be an inspiration for Big Picture educators.

Other scale-up tools Big Picture is counting on include computer and videoconferencing technology for sharing curriculum materials and conducting interactive, long-distance training sessions and meetings.

Big Picture leaders remain mindful of what Washor calls the need to “slow grow” their schools, preferably one grade at a time. Yet while their motto is “one student at a time,” they don’t have the luxury of opening schools at that rate. Under terms of scale-up grants they have received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, plans now call for the network to swell to 60 schools in the next four years.

“We’re always fighting to get the quality and pace right,” says Washor. Adds Littky: “I want to be proud of everything we’ve done.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Professional Development Opinion What's the Best Professional-Development Advice? Teachers and Students Have Their Say
Becoming a better teacher starts with being respectful and using common sense.
6 min read
a group of people water a lightbulb plant, nurturing an idea
iStock/Getty Images
Professional Development Opinion 6 Myths About Teacher Professional Development
What's working and what can we do better to make PD the solution it's intended to be? Scholars take a crack at it.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Professional Development Spotlight Spotlight on Professional Development
This Spotlight will empower you with insights and advice for turning challenges into opportunities for professional development, and more.
Professional Development Shark Teeth, Steinbeck, and More: Teachers Use Summer to Deepen Their Own Learning
Summer enrichment programs provide opportunities for teachers to bring new perspectives to lessons—and many are free.
5 min read
Teachers discuss newly learned content and the connection to their own curriculum in preparation for developing customized lesson plans during a session on July 11, 2022.
Florida teachers discuss ways to tie newly learned content to their own curriculum this week in a University of Florida program on using artificial intelligence to identify fossilized shark teeth.
Jeff Gage/Florida Museum of Natural History