Everyone knows it’s better to teach someone how to fish than to hand out fish. In terms of professional development, this philosophy means empowering classroom teachers to grow their own practice by facilitating the learning of other teachers. This peer-to-peer professional growth is the idea behind the 2019 National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics annual math conference session entitled “Teachers Teaching Teachers How to Fish.”
The session was led by a unique mix of the Collaborative’s own Prof. Mary Hynes-Berry along with early childhood teachers who are a part of a Big Shoulders Fund project aimed at developing teacher Professional Development Leaders who support early mathematics teaching and learning across a network of Catholic schools in Chicago. Karen Griffin, Tia Hanna, Faith Jones and Stephanie Tominov are full-time Catholic schoolteachers who have been working with adult learners for several years. They shared their professional journey with nearly 100 math educators and specialists from all over the country.
I can enhance my professional development as a learner in the process as well as be a knowledgeable other to teach my colleagues. It is a phenomenal feeling!
The four educators talked about how working with Erikson Institute has given them a deeper understanding of math and effective instructional strategies that they can share with their peers.
“The model that we use at Erikson,” Griffin said, “is unique in that the professional development leaders (PDLs) are teachers who are in the classroom everyday. Most professional development I have attended is presented by a person who is not in the classroom anymore and hasn’t been for many years. We as the PDLs are the knowledgeable others but we are open to learning from our peers. I have left every learning lab with a new idea or understanding.”
These teacher leaders lead a four-part series of professional development sessions each year involving about 25 PreK-2nd grade teachers. Precisely because they are speaking teacher-to-teacher rather than as an academic “sage on the stage,” they have an authenticity. They can share how working with Erikson has transformed their own practice They can testify that the best way to engage young children’s minds and hearts is to function as a community of learners who are making discoveries and problem solving.
Ms. Jones adds, “I can enhance my professional development as a learner in the process as well as be a knowledgeable other to teach my colleagues. It is a phenomenal feeling!”
Perhaps the best evidence of how participating in the project has transformed classroom teachers into effective professional development leaders for their peers is the fact that immediately after the presentation, the four educators initiated a thoughtful reflection on the session. While they took pride in how well it went, they were able to identify areas they could see as needing improvement the next time they present at a professional conference.
The impact of creating such professional learning opportunities in early childhood education is not trivial. Far too many early childhood teachers hold negative attitudes about math. There is a huge need for professional development that will meet teachers where they are and help them to change their perspective along with their practice. Learning from a fellow teacher is an effective way to do this.
We are deeply grateful to our partners, Big Shoulders Fund, and to the CME Group Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation for funding this important work.