Staff development in the context of the teacher center: An exploratory study of three New York State funded teacher centers
This case study explored how staff development was conceived, developed, and implemented in the context of three New York State funded teacher centers on Long Island from May, 1997 to April, 1998.
The interview was the primary method of data collection, supplemented by documentary data and informal observations. Key people at each site were interviewed, including teachers, directors, administrators, and union representatives. In addition, a focus group of teachers who had not been individually interviewed was set up at each site to further explore and confirm some of the data.
Undergirding this study was the premise that a teacher center delivers a new form of staff development because (1) a teacher center provides a sense of community and collegiality for teachers, breaking down the walls of isolation that traditionally marginalize the classroom teacher; (2) the programs of a teacher center are intended to respond to the expressed needs of teachers; and (3) a teacher center flattens the hierarchy of the profession by virtue of the structure of the governing body, the policy board which is composed, by legislation, of 51% teachers.
Among the findings were that teachers perceived that the centers as provided a community, a place for them to collaborate on professional issues, and also as provided programs that responded to their needs. There was no evidence of teachers' dissatisfaction over not having total autonomy and control of their own professional development. This was noteworthy given the additional findings that the centers often were caught in a tension between responding to teachers' expressed needs and responding to state and district initiatives. The study found that the hierarchy of the profession was firmly in place and autonomy for professional decision making for teachers depended upon the kindness or will of the administrator or the Board of Education. The study concluded that continual uncertainty of funding annually threatens the survival of centers and the limited half-stake that teachers have in their own professional development.
For staff development in the context of a teacher center to have deeper meaning in the larger context of professional development, teacher centers would have to be given position power in the district. This implies not only restructuring our schools to collapse the hierarchy, but also rethinking the reasons for denying teachers the autonomy.
0516: Continuing education
0530: Teacher education