I forgive you for the inflammatory comments about teachers in your State of the State speech delivered last February (2/8/12), “In today’s system basically the only thing you have to do is show up for four years. Do that, and tenure is yours.” After all, I have said some pretty unflattering things about politicians these past few years. Let us agree that professions should not be demonized.
Instead, I would rather provide you with an example of great professional development for educators by discussing the value of the Connecticut Summer Institute which is a part of the Connecticut Writing Project. Eleven dedicated teachers from different school districts in the State of Connecticut have spent the past four weeks this summer (July 9-August 3, 2012) at the Connecticut Summer Institute organized and taught by Bryan R Crandall at Fairfield University. These were elementary, middle school and high school teachers, social studies and English, willing to spend a good portion of their summer vacations (for graduate credit) learning how to improve student literacy through writing from 8:30-3:30 daily. A variety of guest speakers also visited the Summer Institute and shared their writing experiences; there was a a journalist, an author, a poet, and veterans including co-director Julie Roneson of past Connecticut Writing Project programs. This program is associated with the National Writing Project, an organization dedicated to improving writing at every grade level. The NWP website states:
Writing is essential to communication, learning, and citizenship. It is the currency of the new workplace and global economy. Writing helps us convey ideas, solve problems, and understand our changing world. Writing is a bridge to the future.
The NWP website features the results of sixteen studies in seven states that “demonstrate positive effects on the writing achievement of students of writing project teachers across a range of grade levels, schools, and contexts.” The NWP offers institutes on network of universities and colleges, with programs taught by faculty and NWP teachers.
The Connecticut’s Summer Institute, which is also offered on UCONN and Central Connecticut State campuses, provides the best kind of NWP’s professional development: teacher to teacher. During this institute, the best practices of one teacher are passed to another; the wisdom gained by teaching veterans is passed to younger members of the profession. The enthusiasm of younger teachers infects the practice of veterans.
I am convinced that educational reform can only be successful with engaged teachers; educational reform cannot be a directive or successfully legislated without this engagement. The teacher to teacher model of professional development is far superior to the more commercial professional development offered by think tank or policy education reform entities. I have witnessed how many of their suggested initiatives are costly and short-lived. A study titled Teacher Learning and the Acquisition of Professional Knowledge notes, “One challenge is rooted in the poor reputation of traditional professional development workshops. Teachers are loathe to participate in anything that smacks of one-day workshops offered by outside ‘experts’ who know (and care) little about the particular and specific contexts of a given school.”
Additionally, the United States Department of Education , which contributes funding to the NWP, recognizes the importance of teacher to teacher programs in order to provide technical support, professional development opportunities, and recognition for teachers of all content areas and grade levels.
During the four week 2012 Connecticut Summer Institute I recently attended, eleven teachers researched best practices, conferenced with young student writers, wrote, and prepared professional demonstrations. These eleven teachers will now go back to their respective schools, and, teacher by teacher and student by student, contribute to educational reform by improving student literacy at the classroom level.
Governor Malloy, I urge you to continue state funding for programs like the Connecticut Summer Institute. During my 21 year career as an educator, I recognized how the Connecticut Writing Project has improved pedagogy and practice for teachers. Now, I have witnessed this change first hand in the eleven teachers who have completed the training.
The State of Connecticut must fund the kind of professional development that focuses on teachers teaching teachers as part of education reform. At your next State of the State speech, explain how you will endorse teacher to teacher professional development by recommending funding for a Connecticut Writing Project program. As the governor of the great State of Connecticut, your commitment is essential in providing the kind of the professional development where teachers would be happy to do more than just “show up”.
Thank you for your support.