Thursday is a day off for students, but it will be a busy one for schools, where staffs are getting their first opportunity since Election Day for a full day of training.
Since 2006, the first Thursday of June has been a mandatory training day for teachers, principals and staff members. This time, “Renewal” schools are meeting to decide what performance benchmarks they want to hit in the coming years, others are planning field trips across the city, and — at Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s urging — many others will check out a TED Talk about the importance of connections between teachers and students.
“It’s an incredibly moving talk that may just change the way you approach education,” Fariña wrote of the video to principals last month.
It’s also the first full professional development day since Fariña’s newly-empowered district superintendents have been firmly in place, and a few are exerting their new authority. At least two superintendents instructed their principals to send them an agenda for their training days, raising eyebrows among school leaders who said it was a small but significant example of lost autonomy.
“In my five years we have never been asked to have our PD plans vetted in advance,” a principal said. “It’s a brave new world.”
An elementary school principal who also had to submit an agenda said she was surprised, but then realized it’s to be expected now.
“The stated rationale for returning to a stronger district structure is so that there is both more oversight of and support for schools,” the principal wrote in an email. “This request seemed in keeping with that intention.”
Other principals said their superintendents are taking a hands-off approach as they tailor their trainings to their schools’ needs. Judy Touzin, principal of East New York Elementary School of Excellence, said she is sending her teachers of gifted and talented students to visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in an effort to “use different spaces across the city to support the learning in the classroom.” Other teachers are going to Teachers College for a training session on restorative discipline practices, while paraprofessionals will stay at the school for training on how to better serve students with disabilities.
The idea is “to focus on professional learning that’s most important and targeted” for all teachers, said Touzin, who took several of her teachers to a training session hosted by the Uncommon Schools charter-school network Wednesday.
The professional development day, called “Chancellor’s Conference Day,” grew out of the (now mostly apocryphal) city holiday of Brooklyn-Queens Day. Between 1829 and 2006, schools in the boroughs were closed to honor Sunday school teachers. The tradition faded over time and was changed altogether with the 2005 teachers contract, which extended the day off to students across the city but turned it into a professional development day for teachers.
The day can serve as a reflection of changes happening in the city’s schools, and gives teachers a chance to prepare for what’s ahead. In 2012, teachers were prepping for the rollout of the Common Core standards, and hiring committees at some “turnaround” schools that were headed for closure were meeting to discuss staffing. (A judge eventually blocked the closures.) But school workshops can also be more offbeat, in the past incorporating circus skills, hip-hop dance, or rugby.
This year, much of the day for teachers and principals of the city’s struggling Renewal schools will be spent working on an improvement plan that is due to the state later this month. Among the tasks will be for school leadership teams to come to a consensus about which performance benchmarks will be used to measure their progress over the next two years.
Fariña, who has made professional development a department priority, will be visiting a Queens middle school, although a spokeswoman did not provide the name. In the afternoon, she’ll go to the School for Global Leaders, a school in her collaboration program known as Learning Partners, for the program’s end-of-year celebration.
The chancellor said in her letter to principals last month that she wants schools to watch the TED Talk by the late Rita Pierson, and recommended at least 30 minutes of “deep conversation” about the passing school year. To end the year on a high note, principals she read from a book or praiseworthy letters, she offered.
“It’s important to end the day on an uplifting note,” she wrote. “Remind your staff that you are a community and that you are joined together by a shared mission to provide for your students’ success.”