Reflections on Collaborative Professional Development and the Fellows Program

Glenn McClure, Adjunct Professor of English, SUNY Geneseo

As I look back on my experience as a 2013 CCTE Fellow, I can identify three areas of professional development that have emerged from the guidance and collaboration that was at the heart of this project.

First of all, the collaborative discussions with great K12 and higher education teachers was very fruitful and inspiring. I have worked in both worlds and I currently spend more time in higher education. That being said, the rift between these worlds is not constructive for our students. The meta-structure of Western education moves from general to specific. The holistic education of the pre-school classroom gradually gives way to increasingly specialized study that culminates in the narrowly focused Phd thesis. Running parallel to this increased specificity of instruction is the increased isolation of disciplines and the teachers who teach them. We have specializations within our academic departments that discourage many fine teachers from general education. Furthermore, our disciplinary boundaries are reinforced by a professional culture that values specialization over synthesis. All this happens within the higher education world. For many college professors, talking to someone from another department is a “bridge too far, “ so we can only imagine the gaping chasm that exists between college professors and K12 teachers. This rift is exacerbated by assumptions behind the hierarchical nature of professional achievement. Also, within the K12 world, the daily schedule discourages collaboration between teachers of different disciplines, especially between academic teachers and arts teachers.

However, while we as adult professionals create systems that reinforce and deepen our intellectual isolation, our students must live within and attempt to achieve something in the middle of it all. The Math teacher teaches math all day while the high school student must shift from Math to English, Social Studies, Science, Music, etc. to get to the end of the day. In direct opposition to institutional education, the digital world encourages a culture of multi-tasking that combines many activities within the same time frame. While the digital world has its own propensity for isolating ideas and customizing our attention, there is an underlying assumption that connectivity is better than “siloed” knowledge.

If we are going to serve our students better in an increasingly connected world, all of us in the P-16 spectrum need more opportunities to collaborate like this fellowship. We will be able to respond to the needs of our students better by understanding where they come from and where they are going.

Secondly, this fellowship has offered new opportunities to work with colleagues I already know. I have worked with Prof. Tracy Peterson for many years prior to her appointment to the education school at SUNY Geneseo, but this fellowship brought us together in a new way. It was a joy to work with Tracy in designing my action research project and her observations of my classroom were very useful. Furthermore, the observations of Michelle Costello also brought new insights into my teaching. Peer review usually happens only within the context of promotion reviews or grant panels. I found their observations so useful, that I intend to coordinate observations with trusted colleagues each semester. While this will be done in an informal setting, it may lay the groundwork for a more formal plan in the future.

Thirdly, the focus of the action research has led to a renewed commitment to use music and multi-media materials in my Humanities classes. I have learned new ways to hone down the design of my current lessons and found materials for new lessons. The evidence generated by both the quantitative and qualitative measures of the study offers a new way to discuss the effectiveness of this strategy in the hopes that others may choose to incorporate it into their lessons. I come away from this fellowship with enough material to develop a new academic paper and conference presentation that will be presented both on campus in several formats and also for an international education conference in the Fall of 2014. Finally, I am most excited about how this year has laid the groundwork for a new, multimedia textbook proposal to the OPEN SUNY initiative. This is a new program hires professors to write online textbooks that will be distributed throughout the many campus of our state university system.

I look forward to staying in contact with this growing community of practice in the future.  For more about my work in the Fellows Program, please see my research report on Arts Integration in the Teaching of Western Humanities.



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