On Common Ground: Number 9, Fall 2001

The Procee of Teacher Leadership

By Jean Sutherland

As a teacher and one of the early members of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute National Demonstration Project, I sometimes felt the frustration of trying to convince teachers, faculty, and administrators from other cities that our program here in N ew Haven truly does involve teachers at all levels of planning, executing, and evaluating, and that it does so in a significant manner. Unfortunately, many do not see teachers in that role. It was with that experience in mind that I have written this summ ary of a recent year in the New Haven Institute. My goal was to capture both the scope and interrelationship of our activities along with the degree of actual teacher involvement which takes place.

The Process

In order to survey the experiences of the YNHTI during 1999-2000, it is necessary to go back to the previous fall while the 1999 seminars were still in session. At that time, the teacher coordinators of these seminars were meeting with the director to suggest and recruit school representatives and contacts for the next school year. A painstaking job, this process insured that every school, in fact every teacher, in New Haven would have access to the decision-making process which would determine the se minar choices for the year 2000. As the new school representatives, a group of 18 teachers, met twice a month from September ’99 to early February 2000, constant two-way communication between representatives and teachers within their school, as well as be tween Representatives and Contacts in smaller schools, narrowed the proposed topics from a list of at least 35-40 initial suggestions to the final seven seminar topics for 2000. General teacher interest in taking a seminar solidified into firm commitments as the application period neared in January. Correctly anticipating the number of actual applicants would determine an approximate match with the number of seminar offerings. This is often a difficult task.

At one point, it became necessary to decide if three rather than two science seminars were, in fact, necessary. Extensive communication between representatives and other teachers determined that there would be three.

Together with four humanities offerings, seminars for 2000 totaled seven, for the third year in a row. Based on recommendations from the teacher steering committee, a coordinator was selected for each seminar. Teacher applications then were reviewed by these teacher coordinators who were able, with some compromises, to successfully accommodate all applicants. Among the new Fellows, two, four teacher, teams were accepted with four members each from two different schools. Though each member of a team wri tes an individual unit, a team applies to a seminar both separately and as a group. They coordinate their units so that teachers from different grade levels or disciplines can work together, sharing projects and presenting a joint culminating activity, th us maximizing the effect of each unit, often drawing in non-Institute staff members. This year there were also at least two informal teams whose work should yield the similar results.

Often the work of a seminar team grows from and is encouraged by a school’s Center for Curriculum and Professional Development, now located in eleven schools, including three high schools, three middle schools, two K-8 schools and three elementary schools, with another high school ready to come on board. Linked to their school’s comprehensive plan, and approved by the school’s SPMT and the Institiute steering committee, these Centers provide teachers with a workspace, furniture, a Yale computer, all available Institute resources, and often the assistance of mini-grants, along with encouragement to pursue projects which expand Institute activities beyond the scope of a single unit.

This year, in conjunction with the teacher steering committee, our Centers have, along with a variety of individual school projects, participated in and helped to plan a series of Institute related computer workshops, two Center Forums, our first Institute retreat, and a two-week, very successful Summer Academy involving students from Center schools.

Also, this year a group of three elementary teachers working from their Center completed a curriculum document in which they identified all units suitable, at least in part, for use in an elementary classroom. These units were then classified according to the subjects listed on most elementary report cards. On the high school level, a document linking units with the Connecticut Academic Performance Test is about to be finalized. They join a third document created four years ago in which approximately 4 00 units related to diversity were linked with New Havens standards on diversity. All of these are of practical use to most teachers as they align their curriculum with the goals of the New Haven system.

Looking Forward

Looking forward, as an Institute, we continued to work on strengthening our ties to the New Haven district, to further our coordination of Institute units with District goals, to increase our emphasis on New Haven’s focus on improving student literacy, and, finally, to explore more ways of using Institute materials to aid the development of new teachers.

Through it all, we continue to recognize that the foundation of this year’s Institute and all of its related activities remains the seminar experience, an experience whose success, like that of all other phases of our program, is grounded in genuine teacher leadership and participation. We sincerely look forward to learning from and sharing with all of you who represent your indiv idual Institutes.

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© 2001 by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute

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