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One Manhattan school just won $25,000 for boosting teacher collaboration

Joanna Freedman (second from right), pictured here with four other semi-finalists, accepted the grand prize Teaching Matters award
Joanna Freedman (second from right), pictured here with four other semi-finalists, accepted the grand prize Teaching Matters award

When a new leadership team took the reins of Manhattan’s P.S. 9 a year ago, a common refrain among the school’s teachers was that they wanted more chances to learn from each other.

So, over the past year, the school launched a program that let teachers do just that: talk about how they wanted to improve their teaching, and volunteer their classrooms — and time — to observe each other.

Those efforts were rewarded Wednesday afternoon when the school won the Elizabeth Rohatyn Prize, a $25,000 award issued by Teaching Matters, an organization devoted to improving teaching practice and training.

“These lead teachers have opened their classrooms as learning lab sites and have given up prep periods and lunch for peer visitations,” said Joanna Freedman, an assistant principal at P.S. 9 who accepted the award on her school’s behalf. “It was a lot of teacher sacrifice.”

Freedman noted that roughly 90 percent of the school’s teaching staff participated in the program. And while it might sound like common sense to give teachers a lead role in improving each other’s practice, it hasn’t been the dominant paradigm in teacher training.

“[Teaching] was never set up as a profession where you’re leading, and that’s a core problem,” said Lynette Guastaferro, executive director at Teaching Matters. “The shift that P.S. 9 is demonstrating is the idea that teachers should be leading on improvements in instruction.”

Teacher training is one of the core principles of Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s theory of school improvement, and she’s often touted the city’s efforts to help teachers and schools learn from each other.

Guastaferro said the award is meant to “shine a light on school principals” who build on the philosophy that teachers should be at the center of pedagogical change. “It’s really about radically rethinking the profession of teaching,” she said.

You can find more information about the P.S. 9 program here, as well as details about the four other semi-finalists for the award.

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