Sunday, March 31, 2013

Kimberly Gutchewsky

For me, one of the biggest mysteries in education is why in so many buildings, The Faculty Lounge is where Joy Goes to Die.  I’ve learned that the last place to take my positive energy is where groups of people, often fantastic educators, hang out.

That being said, I admit I’m kind of geeked about some of the changes the Common Core might bring us.  While new standards can cause quite a lot of anxiety, the folks at the Gateway Writing Project have offered some quality professional development to let me see what the coming changes can do for kids.  In addition to seeing possibilities in a curriculum that uses uniform language across disciplines, I feel energized when I am reminded of how powerful it is to work with other professionals to sift through common goals.

My next steps, how I engage others to join me in my enthusiasm, is tricky.  I have to squash my impulse to announce at lunch, “Hey Everybody! I went to this workshop and it was soooo awesome! Everyone needs to sign up now to learn how to do things even better!”  That would send that workshop to the slaughterhouse.  My faculty isn’t unique, of course.  We are composed by the same percentages that every school faces: a percentage of “Been There Done That” cynics, a handful of Nice-Enough Isolationists, and Pollyanna Cheerleaders who face change with enthusiasm.  I’m sure I do not need to self –identify. 

The implications of this grouping for professional development purposes, though, is what concerns me.  Trying to sell people who do not naturally value PD is a poor use of resources, but to only concentrate on the Cheerleaders rarely creates the momentum needed to effect school-wide change.  One way my district has encouraged growth and collaboration is through professional development cadres.  Much like a professional learning community, this model utilizes a trained lead teacher who then trains others, who then train others, and so on.   Our first use of this model occurred when we focused on raising ACT and other test scores; improving reading instruction was noted as central to that goal, but very few of us in the high school felt competent to teach kids how to read.

That led Joanne Curran, our reading teacher at the time, to apply for a grant that allowed her to be trained in Silver Strong reading best practices.  She was trained to teach others how to use strategies across the curriculum, and she then invited a handful of interested freshman teachers to attend two summer workshops and a handful of release days during the year.   Together we discussed our practices and how we perceived the results.

The model worked.  Mostly because teachers invited to participate in the cadre had something in common:  ninth grade students who could be more successful.  And as our participation was voluntary, we allowed ourselves to feel excited, vulnerable, and at times confused, without apology or enduring eye rolls.  We did not have to wait for our district PD committee to find money for speakers or create a calendar for SMART goal alignment, etc. We owned our process, and as we made our discoveries public, we generated interest in our cadre, allowing our numbers to grow.

As we countdown to the Common Core becoming the real deal, I am hopeful that this cadre model can work for districts. If there are a handful of teachers in a building willing to attend workshops or participate in book study groups, they can carry that energy and interest to a small group of teachers willing to learn and grow together.  Anything you learn about the Common Core as applied to your district’s curriculum and students will inevitably spark attention seekers.

A grass roots approach to something as seemingly intimidating as new national standards will keep the learning curve in our hands and under our watch as we support each other.  Being reminded of Margaret Mead’s famous words, I know that a handful of dedicated people can change the world. Changing the faculty lounge culture, though, is something I’ll have to leave for others.


  1. Kim--You are so right. The lounge is like a tar pit. Dinosaurs get stuck in the muck and mire and cannot move.

    I hope you're coming to Gateway's common core workshop/meeting on the first Saturday in May. It sounds like it will be the beginning of something really good...

  2. Kim - It is powerful that you have embraced the collaborative model of examining practices TOGETHER, studying the professional research out there TOGETHER! You will find the whole experience of on-going improvement and exploration...that whole learning enthusiasm that explodes when you share with others ...will sustain you for the rest of your career as an educator. Being a lone wolf puts educators in strange corners, and the faculty lounge...well, let's just say I completely agree with you!