The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute and the New Haven Public Schools have undertaken an initiative designed to broaden and deepen their long-standing efforts to strengthen teaching and learning in the schools. Beginning in 1996, the Institute offered several elementary, middle, and high schools the opportunity to establish an Institute Center for Curriculum and Professional Development within their buildings. By 1999, Centers had been established in eleven schools in the New Haven system.
As with other Institute programs, notably the Fellows program, the Centers emphasize teachers’ ongoing collaborative development of their curricula. In effect, the Centers are an effort to create in schools a place that will be conducive to the kinds of conversations teachers have with each other and with their University colleagues in Institute seminars held on the Yale campus. The Centers are intended to:
Increase the visibility and use of Institute resources within the schools
Include teachers who have not before been Institute Fellows
Disseminate Institute-developed curriculum units more widely
Explore the potential of computing as a means of collaboration
Apply the Institute’s principles in new ways within the school environment itself.
To pursue this opportunity, interested schools complete a Center application, the centerpiece of which is a Center Academic Plan.
The Center Vision
As their name indicates, Institute Centers are designed to encourage and assist with curricular and staff development that draws primarily on Institute resources. This purpose is in keeping with each of the “Kids First” school district goals. These goals call for more site-based management, improvement of curriculum and instruction, greater staff development, increased parental involvement, and improved physical conditions of schools. The Centers directly address the first three of these goals and provide new opportunities with respect to the last two. They do so in the following ways:
By establishing an appropriate space within each school where Institute resources, printed and electronic, are located and where teachers can work individually and together on a shared vision for their school
The Centers provide a professional, dignified setting for effective curriculum planning and faculty interaction. Like rooms on the campus of Yale University where Institute Fellows work collaboratively with each other and with Yale faculty members, the Centers create a place within a school where interested teachers of different subjects and grade levels can meet and engage in professional discussion. Distinctive furnishings and symbolic decor represent the function of the Center and facilitate its use.
By assisting teachers with the successful completion of existing responsibilities
The Centers are intended to help teachers complete existing work, not to create new work unrelated to their present responsibilities. For example, use of Institute curriculum units developed by other teachers lessens the need for teachers to create teaching materials from scratch. Teachers interested in taking advantage of this storehouse of their peers’ expertise may also request assistance from Institute Fellows who have developed curriculum units and Yale faculty members who have conducted Institute seminars.
By using computers connected to the Internet to communicate with fellow educators and to access Institute resources
Institute-developed curriculum units are available on the Internet, reached easily through the Institute’s World-Wide-Web page: http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu. Other Institute publications are also available online. Each Center is offered a computer with a high-speed modem to access the curriculum units, as well as the Guides and Index to all the units. Use of electronic mail enables teachers to communicate with one another surmounting the usual obstacles of time and distance, scheduling, and parking. However, the Centers are not a computer lab in the usual sense. The Center computer is meant to be a tool for curriculum and professional development, for facilitating collaborative work, not an end-in-itself.
By increasing awareness of and access to Institute resources and programs
Each Center brings the resources and programs of the Institute to the attention of teachers, including new teachers, in the participating school in a visible and focused way. A full set of the Institute’s printed curricular resources—including volumes of units, Guides, and an Index to all the units written since 1978—is placed in each Center, along with material describing Institute programs. Teachers unfamiliar or uncomfortable with using the Center computer may be assisted—either in-school or from off-site—by computer-literate Yale students.
By stimulating teachers’ development of new curricula through collaboration with their colleagues
Within a Center, teachers informally share and gather teaching material and approaches with each other and from their colleagues in other Centers and at Yale. The Centers also encourage more formal development of new curricula. Using the Center as their base, teachers from the same school may choose to participate together in an Institute seminar, thereby magnifying the effect of the seminar experience. Teachers may also use the Center’s resources to combine existing curriculum units into larger works or courses, to develop integrative themes, and to undertake interdisciplinary projects. These more formal initiatives are determined by the interests and needs of teachers within each participating school.
By documenting and evaluating all Center activities
Center activities are documented and evaluated by the Center Coordinating Teams and by the Institute Steering Committee, which is composed of teachers in the Institute leadership. Results of these evaluations are communicated not only to funders, but also to key constituencies in New Haven schools and in other school districts, thereby encouraging more effective use of Institute resources and the development of new Centers in New Haven and in other cities.