This is part of a series of posts on my reflections on The Laboratory Charter School in my neighborhood — specifically how other urban schools could learn a few things from the way it models its program.
Let your teachers prep and train
The Laboratory School boasts that it does requires more professional development from teachers than most other schools. Nearly every holiday besides Christmas is used for professional development. Teachers are expected to stay in longer and do more training. The few teachers that were there at the open house seemed to regard this as a badge of honor, but I’m not sure how the rest of the faculty feels about this.
It’s easy to be cynical about professional development. There’s lots of fads in the educational field, and much of the training seems obvious or irrelevant.
Teachers tend to be pretty opinionated and independent regarding their craft. They’re down in the trenches, and they don’t like to be rustled into top-down initiatives that aren’t intimately informed with that experience.
Most students don’t realize that many teachers, while smart, weren’t the pets when they themselves were in school. In fact, many teachers get into the profession because they want to reform or at least subvert the kind of drudgery and conformity they themselves were subjected to. Though they represent the authority, many of them are pretty resistant to authority themselves.
What they do appreciate is the time and space to prep. One of the hugest luxuries I have at my current school is a schedule that allows me large blocks of time to prepare, grade, and collaborate. I don’t always take advantage of it wisely, and I always have work I do at home, but I can honestly say that I would be burned out by now if I didn’t have those times to break up my day and week.
While we do have professional development days at my school, they tend to be pretty relaxed and focused on getting teachers acclimated to systems and resources at the school. Most additional professional development is available through a discretionary fund. Nice.
Interestingly enough, though, the teachers at the Laboratory School seem to develop a lot of their own teaching and curriculum material. It would make sense, then, that they might take real ownership of their professional development, as it’s sort of an extension of the preparation they’re willing to do for their classrooms.