A New Vision of Professional Development
Teachers as Scholars represents both a new vision of professional development and a vital collaboration between college and university faculty, and public and private school teachers. Through this program, K-12 teachers participate in small, two-day seminars led by university faculty in the arts, humanities, math, and science, and are thus reconnected to the world of scholarship. In turn, university faculty become more fully involved in the ongoing efforts of the schools, not only by teaching seminars, but also by visiting schools to improve curriculum.
Teachers as Scholars is defined by three qualities:
1. A Focus on Ideas
Content-based seminars led by university faculty are the centerpiece of the Teachers as Scholars model. Although professional development is a significant, well-established enterprise in public school districts, it often focuses almost exclusively on teaching and/or curriculum reform. The constant subtext of these activities is that the teacher needs to improve their efforts. As one teacher said, “it is always like the message is: you aren’t doing it right yet.” Moreover, professional development workshops are rarely constructed to give teachers access to university faculty or time to reflect and discuss academic ideas and scholarship with colleagues, especially those outside their own grade level or subject area. Teachers as Scholars provides teachers and administrators that time to become students again and to immerse themselves in scholarly topics and issues regardless of the grade level they teach or their area of content expertise.
2. Release Time/University Setting
Teachers participating in Teachers as Scholars receive release-time during the school day to participate in the program. Traditionally, most professional development is offered when teachers are least likely to benefit from it–at the end of the school day when teachers have just finished meeting the often exhausting needs of their classes. Teachers as Scholars offers its program when it is most likely to be successful with teachers—when teachers are alert, fresh and ready to become active participants. The seminars are conducted on a university campus. A university setting not only sends a powerful message to the teacher about the academic nature of the program but also frees the teachers from the distractions and concerns of their teaching life.
TAS also represents a new effort to link universities and schools. Over the last century there has been a distancing between the faculties of liberal arts disciplines and K-12 teachers. Only colleges of education have forged substantive relationships with the schools. If the national efforts to raise standards in various disciplines are to succeed, teachers must be reinvigorated as academic thinkers and leaders. A professor who taught a TAS seminar marveled at “the intelligence and professionalism of the teachers he met.”
At the same time, he was struck by how dated many of the teacher’s approaches to history were: “I could tell when the teachers had attended college by their comments. They knew surprisingly little of the new scholarship in history.”
Talking about standards is not by itself going to improve teaching and learning in our schools; to effect such a change, teachers must be encouraged and given the time and opportunity to stay abreast of new academic thought. At the same time, faculty who are at the forefront of their disciplines must find ways to translate their new knowledge to the schools. To those ends, faculty who have led Teachers as Scholars seminars have benefited enormously from their interactions with teachers.
In addition, the scholarship from the university is also made available to the schools for targeted work on a particular curriculum issue. Teachers as Scholars faculty meet with interested departments or grade levels in their home sites to discuss curricular development and academic standards. The visits help insure that K-12 curriculum reform reflects the latest academic thinking and research.
”“I’d like to thank you again for inviting me to participate in Teachers as Scholars. My seminar on the Wild West was a great teaching and learning experience, certainly as much a step in ‘professional development’ for me as for the seminar members. The participants were wonderful students, but it was their experience as teachers that added the most interesting dimension. I left the seminar with a much better understanding of the challenges of teaching history at the primary and secondary level.”
An evaluation sponsored through a Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation grant attests to the value of Teachers as Scholars’ professional development program. Out of 71 randomly selected evaluations, on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), teachers ranked their TAS experience an average 9.5, compared to 5.8 for other professional development programs. Finally, our impact is eloquently expressed by teachers who have participated in TAS.
Organizational Structure & Funding
Henry Bolter is the Director and Founder of the program. The Teachers as Scholars Advisory Board is composed of representatives from member schools and school districts, scholars and other interested parties. Teachers as Scholars is funded through school and school district membership fees and through program grants.
”This program is a gift - a gift of time to reflect, discuss and struggle with issues that are exciting and challenging. It is also a gift with no strings - no curriculum to write, no lessons to create, no exams to take or papers to write. And it is finally a gift of faith in me - that I am interested in these issues and that I will not waste the opportunity. It is like a huge injection of oxygen into my teaching life. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.