Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Systemic Reform in the Professionalism of Educators

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Systemic Reform in the Professionalism of Educators

Article excerpt

Ms. Swanson profiles three school/university partnerships bent on systemic reform of teacher education and shares with readers some lessons they have learned along the way.

Our study of systemic reform in the professional growth of educators consisted of three in-depth case studies of school/university partnerships that have undertaken comprehensive reform initiatives to redesign the teaching and learning process for professional educatorsthroughout their careers - specifically by focusing on preservice training, inservice training, and the working conditions of educators. We deliberately looked beyond reform "projects" and chose to concentrate on a small number of sites that are taking a systemic approach to teachers' learning. These sites recognize the interdependence and complexity of the education system and seek to address all parts of that system simultaneously.

Our research concentrated on the development of processes and structures for building professionalism among educators. The theory underlying the press for professionalism is that strengthening the structures and vehicles for creating and transmitting professional knowledge will prove an effective means of meeting students' needs and improving the overall quality of education.(1) Therefore, within each of the preservice programs we studied, we focused on the underlying conception of teaching and learning, on how those visions were manifested in course content and field-based learning, and on how changes in the preparation programs affected teachers and schools where student teachers were placed.

We also examined the ways practicing educators were learning new skills and ideas, assuming new roles, and managing multiple reform initiatives. We found that coordinating the balance between individual goals and institutional goals was central to professional development efforts of all kinds.

Finally, our research examined the type of working environment that existed within the university, within the schools, and within the partnership organization in which the reforms evolved. We asked to what extent the organizations and the interrelationships among them supported continuous learning and improvement.

The three sites profiled in our research are the Learning Consortium at the University of Toronto, the Southern Maine Partnership and the University of Southern Maine Extended Teacher Education Program, and the Benedum Project at West Virginia University.

The Learning Consortium, now in its seventh year, is a partnership that involves four large school districts and two institutions of higher education: the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The mission of the partnership is "to establish more systematic approaches to teacher development at all stages of the teaching continuum, by transforming schools, districts, and faculties of education to environments of continuous learning."(2) In Toronto, staff development is central to an overall strategy for professional and institutional reform that focuses on changing the culture of the school.

The Southern Maine Partnership has been in operation for nine years. It began as a grassroots way of "bringing together institutions that need each other for the solution of tough problems."(3) In its original format, loosely defined discussion groups focused on such topics of mutual concern as early childhood, mathematics, middle-level education, and secondary education. The partnership has always sought to challenge educators to grow and has engaged all types of school districts in dialogue about school change and individual development. The partnership began with leadership from the dean and one professor of education and was fueled by the enthusiastic participation of educators in eight school districts. In the beginning its focus was on improving teaching and learning in schools, which led to discussions about teacher preparation. …

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