Developing Professional Development

With 80 minutes of new teacher training each week, schools set out to see what works

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Principal Linda Mazza (left) discussed ways to spend the new 80-minute sessions with teachers at P.S. 295 in Park Slope on Monday.

After years of meeting over lunch and between bells, the city’s teachers now have 80 uninterrupted minutes every Monday afternoon to collaborate and train.

Committees at most schools are still figuring out how to spend the weekly sessions, which were mandated by the new teachers contract and are the cornerstone of Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s plan to uplift the school system. But some schools have already decided to set aside the time for teacher-led workshops on topics from technology to special education, education book clubs, viewings of peers’ videotaped lessons, and visits to other schools, according to interviews with educators at a dozen schools.

That diversity is by design. The education department released a “professional learning” handbook for principals this month with ideas for the Monday sessions, and the teachers union posted similar guides on its website. But beyond that, schools have been left to plan on their own.

“We’re making this up as we go,” said Genevieve Stanislaus, principal of Life Sciences Secondary School on the Upper East Side.

During a visit to P.S. 295 in Park Slope on Monday, city teachers union president Michael Mulgrew contrasted that approach with the “canned” trainings he said the previous administration paid outside consultants to develop and “force down everyone’s throat.” Fariña added that training is more effective when it’s ongoing and designed by people familiar with the needs inside a particular school — that is, by teachers.

“You don’t need to bring a consultant in who gets paid a lot of money to tell you what the best things are for your kids,” she told the teachers.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told the staff at P.S. 295 on Monday that the best training is "teacher-to-teacher."
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen Fariña told the staff at P.S. 295 on Monday that the best training is “teacher-to-teacher.”

But the homemade trainings have also put a new burden on schools, some of which are further along than others in planning their Monday sessions. One principal said she personally created a list of training options after her staff-development team requested one. Judith Glazer, a teacher at I.S. 125 in Queens who is her school’s union representative, said she and some teacher volunteers were surprised by the work required to plan weekly trainings.

“It’s very overwhelming,” she said, adding that the team has decided to schedule the trainings one month at a time rather than for the whole year. (Fariña said Monday that schools could ask the department for planning help or partner with neighboring schools.)

I.S. 125’s planning committee asked teachers to choose from a list of training topics on an online form — including how to manage student behavior, lead classroom discussions, or teach students to “close read” texts — or they could suggest their own topics, according to Glazer. This month, teachers will be trained to use a new electronic grading system and a new literacy program.

Other schools are organizing study groups based on topics their staffers suggested, or workshops that will be led by teachers or outside trainers. I.S. 49 in Staten Island, for instance, invited mental-health workers this month to instruct teachers in how to handle the stresses of the job, according to principal Linda Hill. Still other schools say that teachers will work together during this time to analyze student work, develop course plans, or visit educators at different schools to swap ideas.

At Brooklyn’s P.S. 206, a team surveyed teachers to identify more than a dozen topics for peer-led study groups, according to principal Deirdre Keyes. For 40 minutes each week, teachers will read and talk about how to manage students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism, ask deeper questions, and take full advantage of interactive whiteboards, among other topics.

Some schools, including ones with staggered start times, are not required to have the 80-minute Monday sessions. But the new teachers contract still encourages them to schedule regular trainings.

The staff at Queens Metropolitan High School, for instance, did that by voting for group meetings on Wednesdays and smaller, targeted sessions on Mondays, according to teacher Chris Fazio. One Monday option is a “teacher video club” where colleagues critique one another’s recorded lessons.

The new teacher-collaboration time has come at a cost.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew (standing) said that teacher-led trainings work better than "canned" ones produced by paid consultants.
PHOTO: Patrick Wall
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew (standing) said that teacher-led trainings work better than “canned” ones produced by paid consultants.

Some schools had to start and end their days earlier, angering some parents and teachers who commute long distances. Schools have also scrambled to find new time to tutor students, since the weekly staff-development sessions replace time in the contract reserved for working with small groups of students.

Other schools adjusted class lengths to accommodate the after-school staff meetings. The High School for Math, Science and Engineering, for instance, shortened each class on Monday by 20 minutes, according to teacher Mark Hesse. Some educators have questioned the wisdom of that tradeoff and whether every school will manage to make good use of the new training time.

Without the mandated tutoring time, some teachers said they will try to pull aside students during the school day for extra help, while others said they will use more flexible after-school work time on Tuesdays for tutoring. Still, students will not get as much individual support outside of class as they did before, some educators said.

“Of course it won’t be enough time,” said Stanislaus, the Life Sciences Secondary School principal. Students “used to have four days [of tutoring] and now they have one day.”

Already, some teachers are worried that the Monday sessions could devolve from teacher-collaboration time into tedious faculty meetings or assigned-work periods.

Arthur Goldstein, a teacher and union representative at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, said he has heard of one school where teachers were told to create curriculum materials during that period and another where staffers sat through a long presentation on the teacher-evaluation system.

“I just don’t have faith that all of a sudden these get-togethers are going to magically become inspiring,” said Goldstein. His school is not required to hold the weekly sessions, and he said he’s received “precisely zero requests” from teachers to add them.

But during their visit to P.S. 295, Fariña and Mulgrew both insisted that the educator-led trainings would benefit students by raising the caliber of teaching across the city. Linda Mazza, the school’s principal, seconded that idea.

“If you help teachers better their practice,” she said, “students will be more successful in the classroom.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.