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Third annual workshop highlights collaboration with schools, principals' perspectives

erica gilbertson

November 20, 2015

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Teachers, administrators and faculty came together recently to get an in-depth look at an award-winning collaboration—and also got a lesson in "inquiry" in their own lives.

The College of Education's Office of School Engagement, in conjunction with the Clarke County School District, hosted its third annual Professional Development Schools Workshop on Oct. 26-27. The event included teacher educators and school district personnel from across Georgia, as well as a guest from China who came via Michigan to learn about forming successful school-university partnerships.

After an opening presentation about the UGA-CCSD Professional Development School District partnership, participants visited six schools that are part of the partnership. Here, they talked with mentor teachers, teacher candidates, Professors-in-Residence and principals about how the collaboration works at each school. In some schools, participants visited classrooms where UGA teacher candidates were working with students.

For example, at Cedar Shoals High School, visitors observed a ninth-grade government class where six UGA field placement students in the secondary social studies program worked alongside their professor, Sonia Janis, who also teaches the ninth-grade class at the school. The UGA students stayed afterward to speak with participants, sharing how much they are learning both from working in a classroom alongside Janis and from the Cedar Shoals students who give them honest feedback about their practice teaching. Participants also noted that the Clarke County students clearly benefited from being in a class where they experienced excellent teaching and individualized attention.

Monday evening's dinner at the Hilton Garden Inn featured remarks from Jack Parish, the College of Education's associate dean for outreach and engagement, and Philip****Lanoue, Clarke County's superintendent. Nancy Dana, professor at the University of Florida College of Education, gave an interactive keynote address, "The Role of Inquiry in a Professional Development School."

"Inquiry is a way of being … It's about systematically studying your teaching practice," she said. Starting with a "wondering," a question or dilemma about teaching, a teacher then collects and analyzes data, such as student work, field notes and feedback from colleagues.

"Inquiry is not the same as 'research' in the traditional sense … The value of inquiry for PDS work is that it is very empowering and gives teachers ownership of their own practice."

Janna Dresden, director of the Office of School Engagement, said Dana was asked to keynote because inquiry is a growing area of interest and is one of the nine essentials of the PDS model. She has worked with numerous schools and districts across the country and abroad to craft professional development programs of inquiry as well as conducted extensive research on the process. She has published 10 books and more than 60 articles in leading professional journals focused on teacher and principal professional development and teacher inquiry.

The workshop culminated with a panel discussion involving five Professional Development School District principals who shared their perspectives on working in the partnership.

"PDS work requires responsiveness and nimbleness," said Tad MacMillan, principal of Clarke Middle School, where the closing panel took place. "It's a very alive partnership and it's always changing."