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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

Can We Talk? Professional Conversations at a Glance in Three Collaborative Processes Theresa London Cooper

Recommended Book of the Month:
Teacher Study Groups: Building Community through Dialogue and Reflection by Barb Birchak, Clay Connor, Kathleen Marie Crawford, Leslie H. Kahn, Sandy Kaser, Susan Turner, and Kathy G. Short

One of the best ways I know to be knowledgeable is to engage in ongoing professional conversations. Educators come to value these meetings for the increased collegiality and knowledge that ensue, which eventually translate into higher student achievement.
                                                                                                 Reggie Routman

Simply stated, "two heads are better than one" often holds true when one meets a challenge and attempts to solve a problem. It also holds true for teachers who are willing to "push the envelope" of their thinking to create a responsive environment for their students to learn in meaningful, challenging and interesting ways. Over the years, I have used three processes that have enabled me to develop activities which creatively support student learning for both children and adults. When I pause to reflect on a common thread that made each process effective, it would be the practice of engaging in what Reggie Routman refers to as "professional conversations."

Make a "critical" friend. It is helpful to have a "critical" friend who will support your effort to reflect on and develop new ways to improve your practice. John Dewey said the "chief aim of teacher education should not be immediate proficiency in technique, but rather thoughtful analysis and understanding. Reflection is the "magic dust" for improvement. Individuals and schools who do not have time to reflect do not have time to improve." A critical friend is an invaluable resource who can support in-depth reflection and meaningful change. Throughout my career, I have always sought to maintain a relationship with a "critical" friend. I have come to realize how important the relationship becomes to improving my practice. Having ongoing professional conversations has helped me clarify my thinking, examine my practice, and develop sound listening skills. It has also supported my learning and application of new and interesting ways to challenge my students. If you are interested in using this model of collaboration, visit http://ncrtec.org/pd/llwt//coach/tips.htm.

Form a study group. Study groups provide wonderful opportunities to problem solve teaching issues that arise in the classroom. Participants experience the benefit of presenting concerns and receiving feedback from a number of colleagues. Just last year, I met with a study group to discuss ways to best support teachers. It was an awesome experience. Each participant had an opportunity to share a particular issue and problem solve with a group of colleagues. After hours of professional conversations, writing, and application of the ideas presented, each of us walked away with a deeper understanding of how we could hone our practice as professional developers.

One of the structures we used to analyze our work was the Tuning Protocol developed by Joseph McDonald and David Allen. It is a structure used to reflect on teacher and student work.

A major element that underlies the Tuning Protocol is collegiality. Carolyn Bunting's article "Teacher, Improve Thyself: A Call for Self-Reliant, Reflective Practitioners (http: www.ascd.org/publications/class_lead/199908/bunting.html) lists collegiality as one of the important elements of self reliance. She asserts that when colleagues share their new found expertise they boost their own classroom performance. Again, professional conversations are a critical aspect of developing collegiality.

Take advantage of networking opportunities. In Reggie Routman's book entitled, Reading Essentials:The Specifics You Need to Teach Reading Well, she writes about the importance of having professional conversations. She believes that to facilitate the best teaching decisions for our students, we must be fully informed about credible research, exemplary teaching practices, the social aspects of learning, how children develop as learners, and much more. She further asserts that one of the best ways to achieve these goals is by engaging in ongoing professional conversations.

Routman believes through reading, studying, reflecting, and engaging in professional conversation on our practice, we are able to be decisive and have fresh ideas. Although the focus of her book is reading, she writes about the importance of professional behaviors that one can apply to any practice in order to learn, change and grow.

Over the years, I have attended numerous conferences, seminars, and other networking affairs. Never have I walked away without at least one idea that I could try with my students to enrich the learning environment. Indeed, it was because of my listening to and engaging in professional conversations.

Teachers need time to work with each other, to think and analyze and create conditions for change in their specific circumstances and in ways that fit their own needs and their students (Birchak, Connor, Crawford, Kahn, Kaser, Turner, Short, 1998). Making a "critical" friend, engaging in a study group and attending conferences are all practical examples of collaborating that will provide any participant with a wealth of ideas to liven up a classroom. Can we talk? How can these processes address your specific needs as a teacher and/or educator?

Do you have a comment or question about this article?  E-mail Theresa.


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