Despite the depth and breadth of the conversation about the need for school reform, we still find our teachers marginalized. They are undervalued, underpaid, sometimes under trained, and clearly overworked. And especially today with the increasing demands put upon them, they are working in a pressure cooker environment. Yet, next to parents and family, they are arguably the most important people in our children’s lives. The quality of our teachers, the quality of the environments within which they work, and the quality of the relationship between teachers and our children is hugely important.
The Kirlin Charitable Foundation is committed to helping develop and support a new level of quality teaching in our schools. In doing so, we believe we must pay equal attention to the evolution of the systems they work within. Like many large and old institutions, the public school system is beset with inertia and resistance to change. Even when change is welcome, there is often not the time or energy available among the staff to fully engage in the necessary steps toward implementation.
In order for successful change to be implemented system-wide in our schools, we believe that a new field of change management consultants and coaches must be developed with skills tailored to affecting change within the public education culture, and supporting the stakeholders through the process. Expertise in the best practices of change management, as they have been successfully developed in the corporate culture, will be wedded with knowledge of the unique dynamics that exist within schools and districts. This will generate a field of professionals uniquely prepared to help teachers, leadership, and districts navigate the challenging waters of cultural change.
As the Kirlin Charitable Foundation hopes to be a creative contributor to cultural change within the education world, we are keeping an emphasis on the professional development of teachers, and the quality of their work. We support a wide spectrum of professional development, including subject area training, technical assistance, personal renewal, and peer collaboration.
In the words of one of our grantees, Powerful Schools:
The old model of professional development consisted primarily of district-mandated workshops that teachers would attend on a one-time basis. Participation was an individual responsibility and prerogative. The workshops were conducted by external “experts” and they included little or no mechanisms for follow-up. Today, the conventional approach to professional development is criticized as being shallow and fragmented. In its place is a new paradigm for teacher training, one that promotes interaction, is primarily school-based, and is continuous and ongoing. Moreover, professional development is being examined in the context of a broader school-wide commitment to building a “collective learning community.
We believe that by focusing our attention simultaneously on teachers and the systems within which they work, we will contribute to the overall potential, vitality, and happiness of our children. We will help create safe, supportive, and healthy learning environments where children can exercise, to the fullest extent, their imagination.
Photo ©Susie Fitzhugh