2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College Columbia University

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The Professional Development School Partnership

On a cold February morning, approximately 50 members of the Professional Development School (PDS) Partnership, a collaboration between the several schools in District 3 in Manhattan and Teachers College met to draft a charter, a framework that articulates the vision of more than a decade-old partnership.

In 1988, Teachers College, in cooperation with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the leadership of the Community School District 3, took a bold step and established a Professional Development School (PDS) at P.S. 87, which has grown to include P.S. 207, P.S. 165, Middle School 44, and the Beacon High School, an alternative high school, all located on the west side of Manhattan. The fundamental organizational principle of the PDS is that schools in partnership with TC can be the equivalent of a teaching hospital.

The PDS Partnership, teachers participate in the best pedagogic practices in outstanding schools and classrooms from the beginning of their careers. The partnership provides a new kind of learning environment that is reflective and also willing to hold itself accountable for high student achievement.

When Arthur Levine became president of Teachers College in 1994, he believed that the College, in partnership with schools and school districts, could help to transform education by creating powerful new school improvement coalitions. The PDS became an important instrument of that vision.

"From the very beginning of our collaboration with District 3," Levine said, "we have made every effort to become actively engaged at the partnership level and have worked to build a formula of reform that is inclusive, in-depth and that will result in improved classroom practices."

Gary A. Griffin, Professor of Education, acts as the College's teacher education coordinator, building common understandings across teacher education programs. He says that the Partnership, which has been in operation for 11 years, will benefit from a charter. "For more than a decade we've floated along on the goodwill of all the parties involved and that's fine," Griffin says.

Nevertheless, he continues, it seemed appropriate to develop some formal set of agreements. "It was time for our school partners and TC people to come to agreement on shared understandings about what this partnership is supposed to be rather than having individual perceptions bumping into each other and sometimes contradicting one another."

"So," Griffin says, "we now have an opportunity to create discourse around what it is we all want to happen in this partnership. First and foremost, and I think most importantly, the charter is an intellectual document. It lays out what we are all committed to in terms of the preparation of teachers, the ongoing professional development of experienced teachers, inquiry about teaching, and the refinement of teaching and schooling practices."

This "intellectual document," according to Griffin, "commits the partnership to responding positively and enthusiastically to diversity in the classrooms, to inquiry an ongoing engagement for teachers and to providing whatever intellectual and practical resources we have in the participating institutions to promote teaching as a true profession."

With the intellectual piece of the initiative completed, Griffin looks forward to a more complex effort which calls for agreement on what the Partnership wants to accomplish. This will entail an ongoing process of defining appropriate roles and responsibilities and will call for strong and sustained leadership.

Griffin acknowledges the subtle but important questions that need to be faced beyond what is written in the charter. He asks, "What's the role of Teachers College? What's the role of the district? How do we conceive of the interactions between pre-service teachers, experienced teachers and principals? What kind of financial and fiscal support is needed? Where does it come from?"

According to Angela Calabrese Barton, Assistant Professor of Science Education, an active TC faculty member in the Partnership, the charter provides an opportunity to expand its purpose. She foresees it as a partnership of "people in schools and Teachers College who will work together to promote school-wide conversations and initiatives that address some of the central issues around school renewal and reform."

For example, Barton relates the PDS's are promoting and challenging teacher practice and questioning where they might go and how they might move forward in community with others.

"Right now, for Teachers College and our partner schools," Barton adds, "the issue of opportunity for all children to achieve high standards is really important. We must sustain conversations around this issue and follow it up with action. That's what comes from a Partnership that works to improve the school and the College."

Barton says that in her work with the teachers and Principal Steve Buchsbaum, at Middle School 44, school-wide conversations have led to the development of the Center for Urban Middle School Teaching and Research at the school. "This is our new way," Barton says, "to think about what our ideal middle school would look like in an urban setting, with 1,500 children. What would it be like for teachers and children? What would it be like for teacher educators who work at the school?"

Speaking about the charter, Barton says that "it is all about school improvement, professional development, restructuring a teacher's day, and the role of the teacher in creating school goals."

"I think the most important thing it's going to do," she adds, "is to set standards. Although there needs to be flexibility in the relationship, we still need to have certain standards that are common between all the different public schools in the Partnership.
I think it will formalize and make the entire role of the PDS grow, because there's strong commitment from a wide range of people."

P.S. 165, located not very far from Teachers College in District 3, became a member of the PDS Partnership two years ago. Victoria Hunt, a bilingual teacher at the school and TC alum, calls the link to the PDS a "natural." Hunt says, "For many years we had a relationship with TC's Bilingual Program where student teachers who taught in our school were eventually hired. But being involved with the PDS changed that relationship, made it more official, and also gave a lot more support to that connection."

Hunt is candid about what the connection between TC and P.S. 165 has meant to the relationship. She says, "It professionalized the relationship and extended my responsibilities as a teacher. It allowed me opportunities to examine my role, reflect on it, provide seminars for new teachers, and work with student teachers. It has taken my job one step further and extended it."

Hunt is excited about the action research projects that are expanding and enhancing the scope of her teaching. She defines them as "generating data from things that a teacher is actually doing." Hunt says, "We work together to analyze a problem within a classroom or concerning our teaching that we want to study. We're given assistance from the faculty at Teachers College who bring in new ideas, help us collect and analyze data, and eventually help us publish or present our findings." Hunt is working on a project that attempts to understand the mutual impact of cooperating teachers and students teachers on one another.

Hunt is P.S. 165's liaison to the PDS Executive Committee, which is made up of representatives from constituent PDS schools in the district and Teachers College. As liaison, Hunt has been working with the 25 student teachers and interns, many of whom are from Teachers College (student interns, as opposed to student teachers, must receive a substitute license which permits them to teach in a classroom without supervision).

Hunt is certain that her involvement with the PDS has made her a much better mentor to the interns, and in turn, made the interns more committed and better prepared for their careers. At P.S. 165, the interns spend two semesters at the school. During the first semester they teach classes for two weeks and then in the second semester, they are in the classroom from four to six weeks.

"The interns," Hunt says, "have the opportunity to take over a classroom and teach on their own, where the teacher steps back, and this lets them truly take on the role of a teacher. It's also a planned curriculum instituted within the organization of a classroom. The teacher is always there to support them but they are truly responsible."

Sandra Gumbs, a third and fourth grade teacher at P.S. 87, works with Victoria Hunt and other members of the Executive Committee to coordinate an internship seminar. The seminar is organized for two hours weekly and addresses curricular and a variety of other practical needs. Interns from the entire PDS Partnership attend the seminars, where teachers are brought in to assist the interns in learning about curriculum planning, developing effective classroom management skills, or even work toward building a better library.

TC is in the midst of institutional innovation. It is reevaluating teacher-preparation programs as part of the complete reorganization of the College. While the PDS Partnership is rather new, it is part of a national movement in which TC has been participating from the very start.

Griffin says that the Partnership captures the TC tradition. He says it goes back to people like Alice Miel, Emeritus Professor of Education, who died in 1998, and others. "They," Griffin reminds us, "advocated school-university interactions around matters of the intellect and not just as condescending ways to work on rather than with teachers."

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