20 May 2011

Small Scale PD

Earlier this week, I chatted (by phone) with a number of supes who head tiny districts in our state. It's the kind of tiny that when you call and ask if they are planning sending teachers to some PD targeted at rural districts, they answer with "The other teacher and I are going to be there."

In Washington, there are 295 school districts. Of these, approximately 40 have enrollments of less than 100 students. If we go up as high as 500 students district-wide, there are about 100 districts that would fall into that category. Still, there must be an enormous difference between a district with 2 certificated staff...and one that has 2 for every grade level.

There are some obvious advantages to being small. NCLB? AYP? Not a problem---you have too few students to fit in the boxes. You can also tread lightly with most federal and state initiatives without anyone raising much of a ruckus. But it's easy to see the challenges, too. You are still expected to push all the same paper as any other district and you're almost exclusively dependent on state/federal funds---no levy money for you. You're probably not just doing "more with less," you're probably doing "more with ancient," in terms of the instructional materials and hardware you have. We know that 99+% of the classrooms in this state have access to a computer connected to the Internet---but how does that matter when you have 10 kids in various grade levels studying a variety of topics...all of whom might need the (8 year old) computer?

As someone in my office pointed out this week---we spend a lot of time in education talking about how to "scale up" initiatives. We don't talk about scaling them down.

For me, the intriguing thing to think about has been the educators in these schools. What does staff development look like when you teach everything to everyone? Is there even such a thing as "job-embedded" PD? I know that the Internet provides great opportunities to connect with other educators...but I also know that it isn't the same as having a trusted colleague next door when you need to explore ideas, plan new lessons, or get some help thinking about working with students.

Is there such a thing as a "Circuit Teacher"---someone who might travel between 4 or 5 small districts each week to provide additional support and instructional coaching? How would you provide opportunities for teachers in these microdistricts to go and observe other classrooms? What do they want to see and learn?

Seems like a fascinating project to find money for. Significance of impact would be qualitative (which I think is fine). But if we believe that every teacher is important and what happens in a classroom should be about kids, then there should be something for these small spaces that makes a big difference.

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