Two very different models for professional development

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Since the new school year is about to begin, I am reaching out to Philly public school teachers to share some thoughts about two articles that came to my attention in the last few days.

The first article was in the Inquirer from Aug 18th, 2015, and concerned a $2 million Gates grant given to Edcamp. My understanding of Edcamp is that it is teacher based and relies on teacher to teacher sharing of practice. Teachers determine what sessions they will attend and teachers determine what is presented in each session. There is an implied trust in teacher knowledge and choice in this framework. It seems ironic to me that the Gates Foundation is supporting this type of professional development, given that the Gates Foundation has heavily supported charters and ‘school choice’ in the past. Perhaps there is an awakening at the Foundation – only time will tell – but this grant is a step in a positive direction. There are ‘discovery grants’ written into this larger grant and teachers can, with these grants, bring resources into their classroom in order to change their own practice. Again, there is an implied trust in teacher knowledge in doing this.

The second article, written by Tamara Anderson, was on line at the examiner.com and revealed that Mastery Schools are donating $300,000 to professional development to the SDP. Mastery wants to inject their ‘coaching’ program into public schools. This program is the polar opposite of the Edcamp model. It is not teacher to teacher based, and it seeks to ‘train’ teachers in ways to follow a step by step model of instruction – one that is aimed at improving test scores. This program is evaluative in nature – a teacher is being judged as competent (or not) and is urged to follow the corrections given to them by their ‘coach’. In my opinion, such a program diminishes a teacher’s professionalism and reduces them to become a drone of instruction aimed at leading their students in achieving higher test scores on standardized tests.

At this point it is not clear how these two models will function in public schools. Perhaps Edcamp will continue to be independent of the District and teachers will decide for themselves whether to attend or not. The Mastery program is more problematic, leaving many questions although a pilot program in supposedly being set up.

My caution to public school teachers would be to place their trust in professional development that is teacher and peer based. If the school district gives you a choice (and I have no idea if they intend to do that), choose wisely. Be wary of a program that wants to dictate how, what and in what order you teach. Please look into these two programs and make an informed choice that supports your own teacher knowledge and professionalism.

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