N. What are the possibilities for mentor teacher learning in a PDS?
An overarching goal of a professional development school is to "provide for continuing development and professional growth of experienced in-service teachers" (Lieberman and Miller, p. 105). In the daily work of teaching in a professional development school, mentors have many opportunities for their own growth and development as teaching professionals. Many mentors report that the process of mentoring itself (making explicit to an individual who is learning to teach your thinking and reflecting on teaching) is a vehicle for personal and professional development. In addition, engaging in an inquiry project during the second half of the internship year enables mentors to explore an issue they are interested in learning more about in an in-depth, systematic way that is supported by the intern and the PDA.
Thus, a PDS offers a variety of opportunities for teachers to develop professionally. All educators, both classroom teachers and specialists, within a PDS have the opportunity to:
Engage in Course Work
To support teachers' professional development as well as their new work as teacher educators, mentors can elect to earn graduate credits from Penn State for their work in the PDS setting. Courses are offered each Fall in one of the PDS buildings and focus on a variety of topics connected to PDS work. During the Spring of the PDS year, the mentor course focuses on teacher inquiry. In this course, mentors engage with their interns in conducting a teacher research project that is meaningful to both mentor and intern.
Grow through Becoming a Teacher Educator
Becoming a mentor teacher requires public school teachers to take on new roles as teacher educators. By assuming this role, mentors begin to reflect on their own practice in order to model the teaching process for their own intern. The process of making one's own thinking about their teaching practice explicit raises one's understanding to a new level. Additionally, becoming a mentor teacher provides possibilities for co-planning and risk-taking in planning for instruction and the intern offers another perspective or insight into the children in your classroom.
Participate in Inquiry
One of the most promising movements in teacher education during the last decade has been teacher research (Lieberman & Miller,1990; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Carr & Kemis, 1986; Dana, 1991; Kincheloe, 1991; Miller, 1990). Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1993) define teacher research as "systematic, intentional inquiry by teachers" (p.5). McKernan (1988) suggests that teacher research is the Rigorous examination of one's own practice as a basis for professional development, the idea is that each school, and indeed each classroom, is a laboratory in which the curriculum and problems- experienced as problems by teachers (not outside researchers) - are subjected to empirical examination by practitioners (p.154). One of the hallmarks of professional development schools is that they are places of inquiry (Holmes Group, 1986). Therefore, one of the hallmarks of being a mentor in the PDS setting is the opportunity to engage in a teacher inquiry project in collaboration with the PDS intern and supported by the PDA. During the second half of the internship year, PDAs will also hold seminars focused on providing samples of teacher inquiry work and developing teacher inquiry skills for interns and mentors.
Serve on Course Planning Teams
Each of the methods courses has a planning team composed of university faculty, mentors, principals, and curriculum support teachers connected with it. These teams plan, deliver, and evaluate the methods courses. They also plan, deliver, and evaluate professional development for veteran teachers. Serving as a member of a planning team has proven to be a very valuable professional development growth opportunity for many mentors.
Collaborate with University Faculty
Work in a PDS also allows for relationships to develop between university faculty and site-based teacher educators. By collaborating on topics of mutual interest, university faculty members and mentors can learn much about their respective work. As a part of this Penn State-State College Area School District collaboration, we hope to develop relationships and find the necessary resources to support this type of professional collaboration. Mentor teachers interested in investigating a particular area of their classroom practice and collaborating with a university faculty member should feel free to contact them. Similarly, university faculty interested in specific areas of classroom research should feel free to approach the mentors.
Participate in CIG (Conversation as Inquiry Groups) or other Forms of Collegial Study Groups
A CIG is a forum in which teachers, principals, PDAs, curriculum support teachers, university faculty, and graduate students engage in professional conversation focused on the daily work of teachers and students. A CIG uses protocols or conversation guides as tools for helping professional educators to make their work public. The members of a CIG (usually 8-12) agree to work together regularly over time. Each CIG develops its own working relationship and set of norms. A collegial inquiry group is a space where teachers can "reinvent" classroom practices and share professional perspectives. A collegial inquiry group relies on teachers to select the focus area of discussion, share professional readings, and tell their stories. The goal is to provide a space for teachers to develop and embrace an inquiry stance as they analyze their classroom practice.
Participate in the PDA/Mentor Discussion Forum
The PDA/Mentor Discussion Forum is a web-based tool through Penn State's ANGEL that allows mentors and PDAs to discuss issues and concerns in a public forum that is open only to mentors and PDAs. In addition, a calendar of upcoming events is also listed on the discussion forum. For information concerning how to log on to the PDA/Mentor forum, contact Webmaster, Deb Simpson at email@example.com or Jim Nolan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Engage in Self-Created Forms of Professional Development
In the Spring when the interns are teaching full-time, mentor teachers can engage in professional growth activities of their choice. Possibilities might include:
- Engage in peer coaching with other members of the PDS faculty
- Conduct observations on other schools in the district or Charter Schools
- Engage in professional readings.