Academic journal article English Journal

Teacher Empowerment through Partnerships: A Sustaining Model of Professional Development

Academic journal article English Journal

Teacher Empowerment through Partnerships: A Sustaining Model of Professional Development

Article excerpt

Throughout our teaching careers, most of us have participated in professional development workshops. Some are led by administration, and some are led by outside contractors disconnected from the school and teaching context; however, models such as the National Writing Project (NWP) position teachers at the center of effective professional development opportunities. The NWP model of teachers teaching teachers empowers teachers to assume leadership roles within and beyond their school communities by preparing for those roles through programs such as Invitational Summer Institutes.

Teacher empowerment has several dimensions, but it happens primarily when teachers are "treated like professionals, feel like professionals, and have the tools to succeed" and when teachers "feel in control of [their] professional lives and encourage others to be successful-in other words, [they] are exercising informal leadership" (Zemelman and Ross x). National Writing Project (NWP) sites work within an established framework of summer institutes, teacher-led professional development, and continuity to cultivate teacher leaders and empower them by applying these principles. Invitational Summer Institutes traditionally serve as the gateway by which teachers become involved with NWP sites and start to devote time to developing their skills in the area of teacher leadership. In a recent survey of the teacher leaders participating in NWP's Invitational Summer Institutes across the country, two key findings emerged: (1) "the need for high quality professional development in the teaching of writing" and (2) "the NWP as a vital national resource for educational improvement" (Stokes). National Writing Project offers a powerful platform for empowering teachers and for other organizations such as universities and state departments of education partnering with NWP to create professional development. Research on professional learning has shown that teachers need to be actively involved in their own learning and that collaboration between institutions is essential (Cook).

Partnerships for Leadership

Recognizing the need for more authentic and sustainable models of professional development, the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) turned toward the NWP sites across the state to examine ways to offer more relevant professional development to schools. Over the past two years, GaDOE has embarked on an ambitious effort to support the state's literacy initiative-Literacy for Learning, Living, and Leading (L4)-which is based on a collective impact approach to improving students' reading outcomes. L4 is a shared expectation that all students will read proficiently by the end of third grade (and beyond).

Collective impact calls on disparate groups, individuals, and organizations working in their respective roles together toward a common goal. As part of this collective impact effort, the DOE recognizes that the state's National Writing Project (SNWP) sites offer proven practices and broad reach that can be leveraged to positively affect teacher efficacy. Because the National Writing Project is such an effective tool for professional learning (DarlingHammond et al.), the DOE literacy team decided to build on those strengths by partnering with the four state NWP sites, in particular the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project (KMWP), to provide greater reach across the state.

The partnerships between the GaDOE and the state's National Writing Project sites partners these entities alongside each other and GaDOE to support and scale up the work of the statewide Writing Projects. As a result of the partnership with KMWP and three other sites, GaDOE has been able to reach directly into classrooms to affect writing instruction and student learning.

The partnership emphasizes supporting the development of teacher leaders at the school level. In the first year GaDOE funded the work of the four Georgia Writing Project sites, allowing each one to shape its work with teachers to best fit the context of the site and the school communities it serves. …

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