Professing Education

 

Broadening the Concept of Teacher Education

Lynne Miller and David Ruff

The Southern Maine Partnership was founded on the power of three: pre-service teacher education, ongoing professional development, and the transformation of schooling. To that end, we have broadened the concept of teacher education to include the deepening of teaching practice for in-service teachers, the development and support of school leaders, and the transformation of schools to support equitable, personal, and rigorous learning for all students.

We ground this broader view in what Lieberman and Miller (1999) term learning out of school, that is, providing the opportunity for educators to explore knowledge from outside the boundaries and visions of their own schools (p. 70). "In this model...teachers find themselves in groups...who have been brought together to reinvent, learn, and teach each other ways of working in school, and put them in touch with colleagues who are working on similar problems of practice. [These groups] give teachers opportunities to expand their repertoires and to become mentors, organizers, curriculum writers, and professional developers in their own right" (p. 71).

Over time, we have had to invent and re-invent processes, strategies, and venues for learning out of school. Our original structures are still in place, and they have been complemented by new processes, strategies, and approaches. Membership dues continue to support a myriad of professional learning opportunities for educators across school boundaries and years of experience. These include: Dine and Discuss evenings, collaborative inquiry groups, writing for print and non-print publications, telecommunications and face to face conversations, reviews of student and teacher work, opportunities to design and participate in university degree programs, leadership seminars, role-alike groups, small and large group presentations, briefings on research and information about practice, and short institutes and conferences.

New opportunities have grown as the result of grant-funded work. Two of these grant-funded projects are described below: The Learner-Centered Accountability Project (LCA) was a five year project, funded by the Robert T. Noyce Foundation and the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, that lasted from 1997 until 2001 and focused on creating assessment and accountability systems in six member high schools. The idea was to bring together a group of schools that were committed to developing assessment systems that did more than just measure student achievement, but were willing to consider those aspects of their organizations that actually supported or impeded student learning. The Partnership engaged the school faculties, within and across school boundaries, in a cycle of inquiry that set clear goals, collected and analyzed data, researched and learned about potential solutions, designed appropriate professional learning opportunities, implemented action plans, and then re-analyzed data to see if increases in student achievement had occurred. Data collected focused on several areas: student attainment, instructional practices, school organizational design, leadership, and school/community collaboration. As a result of the project, teachers developed the capacity to analyze and use data; they developed achievement profiles for different segments of the school population; they learned how the school's organization and its instructional practices impacted achievement; and they tried out and implemented new structures and practices and evaluated their effectiveness.

The Great Maine Schools Project (GMS), which began in 2003 and is funded until 2008 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a collaborative effort by the Southern Maine Partnership, the Senator George J. Mitchell Scholarship Research Institute, and the Center for Educational Transformation at the Maine Department of Education to reshape secondary education in the State of Maine. The project promotes the implementation of the vision of schools that is at the center of the Southern Maine Partnership's mission: an equitable, personalized, and rigorous education that prepares individuals for further education, work, and citizenship. Through the GMS, Partnership "coaches" work extensively in eighteen schools throughout the state to assist teachers and administrators as they examine classroom instructional practices, school structures, policies and procedures. In many ways, the work of the coaches in the GMS schools builds on the LCA Project: they work with educators to collect and analyze data, and use that data to change practice. However, the Great Maine Schools Project has a wider reach; it extends beyond assessment and accountability concerns and aims to redesign the whole school on behalf of the learning of all students.

The GMS schools are part of a larger network that extends across the state and engages educators in "out-of school" professional learning and sharing. In both dues and grant funded work, the Southern Maine Partnership strives to develop new and useful venues for educator growth and development that lead to the development of schools that fulfill the promise of public education.

 


References

Lieberman, A., & Miller, L. (1999). Teachers: Transforming their world and their work. New York: Teaches College press.