Growing a Community of High Quality Teachers: An Urban Professional Development Middle School

Article excerpt

Current reform efforts in America's schools focus on improving teaching quality and aligning teaching with the academic standards established for students. While other reform efforts have been attempted - such as establishing higher, consistent, and more rigorous academic standards or changing school and teaching structures - the current effort suggests that, "What teachers know and can do makes the crucial difference in what children learn" (National Commission on Teaching & America's Future, 1996, p. 6). In fact, Hirsch, Koppick, and Knapp (2000) believe that the current efforts will result in students finally gaining access to competent, caring, and qualified teachers.

Unfortunately, there are sometimes disjointed relationships between teacher preparation programs at universities and the schools in which teachers-in-training experience their first instructional responsibilities. A promising bridge in these relationships has been the emergence of professional development schools (Darling-Hammond, 1989; Koehnecke, 2001). The ultimate link between theory and practice is the interconnectedness between universities and the public schools that provide the training grounds for pre-service teachers. The emphasis on teaching and learning in a clinical setting, as in a "teaching hospital" model of instruction, combines student learning with the education of professionals (Frey, in press).

In this article, we provide an overview of an urban middle school that has evolved into a Professional Development School and discuss our work as participants in and contributors to a professional community of teaching practice. The student population at Clark mirrors that of many urban schools: 48% of the students are English language learners; 100% qualify for free and/or reduced lunch; 64% of the students are Latino, 17% are Asian/Filipino, 15% are African/African-American, and 4% are white. Our roles in this PDS include site-based supervisor and teacher, peer coach for literacy instruction, and university methods instructors.

Creating the Focus on Instruction

One of our first tasks was to form a school-adopted instructional framework. To accomplish this, a literacy leadership team was formed. Members of this team included teacher leaders from each discipline (e.g., Science, Art, PE, English, etc.), school administrators, and university professors. The outcome of our conversations and planning became the core instructional framework for the school. This framework is aligned with the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the California Professional Teaching Standards, and the Teacher Evaluation to Enhance Professional Practice Domains (Danielson & McGreal, 2000). A cross analysis of the professional teaching standards and the school's instructional framework revealed a close alignment of objectives (see Appendix). Further, this analysis demonstrates that the school's instructional framework is informed by the professional standards for teachers and is linked to standards for student learning. This framework was adopted by the school governance team and was subsequently used in planning professional development activities for teachers. In addition, this framework became the foundation for the on-site credential program allowing student teachers to develop their professional expertise.

Getting Starting: A Preservice Professional Development Program

We believe that new teachers are better prepared to work in schools with diverse student populations when they are well-versed in instructional strategies that address the needs of multi-cultural, multi-leveled, inner-city classrooms. This requires that they be well-supported through their initial teaching experiences in applying those strategies. In our Professional Development School, the university supervisor is a faculty member of the middle school who has been released from her teaching responsibilities to supervise student teachers. …