Peggy Bryan: A View on Professional Development
Since this interview was held in 2000, founding principal Peggy Bryan has moved on from Sherman Oaks Community Charter School, but current principal Irene Preciado carries on the school's original vision.
Peggy Bryan, principal of Sherman Oaks Community Charter School, talks about support for new and experienced teachers, professional development opportunities, how she assesses teachers, and the importance of providing for her teachers freedom from outside impositions.
- What systems do you have in place to support beginning and seasoned teachers?
- Does your process for assessing the development of new teachers differ from traditional methods?
- It appears as though you've given your staff a tremendous amount of autonomy and freedom. Would you agree that's been the key to their success?
- What professional development opportunities do you provide for your staff, particularly novice teachers?
- What sort of professional development possibilities do the teachers have off campus?
- What conferences or training sessions have teachers attended recently?
1. What systems do you have in place to support beginning and seasoned teachers?
There's a two-tier system. One is for new teachers, which is more traditional. It's me coming in and doing observations. I've tried to tweak it so it's a little more interesting and gives them some valuable feedback. For the experienced teacher, they can choose to do a project every other year. And they work on a team and they do what's called action research where they frame a question about instruction and they collect evidence during the year and they learn from that. And then they share it with the staff. So it's professional development as well as personal development and personal accountability.
2. Does your process for assessing the development of new teachers differ from traditional methods?
Probably the only difference between our assessment for new teachers and the school down the street is that I try to model for them what I want them to do with the kids. When I go in and do an observation, I'll stay a long time and take my laptop and take a lot of notes. I'll sit down with the teacher afterwards and do questioning with them to let them arrive at their own conclusions and decide what they need to do next. They ultimately are their own experts or they'll have to find those resources that they don't have from somewhere else and it's never going to be me. I can offer some things. So it's the system and the process that's probably different from what you would see at another school.
3. It appears as though you've given your staff a tremendous amount of autonomy and freedom. Would you agree that's been the key to their success?
Freedom -- I try to keep them free from a lot of the impositions from the outside world. I don't want them worrying about the standardized tests. I don't want them worrying about whether they're going to have the resources here or books or pencils or paper. My job is to make sure that they're very secure in what they do and they can try research and development. You can't do that when you're under the gun.
I try to keep them free from that pressing determination in public education that everyone will conform, that you will be the same. Regardless that the state says they want difference -- they really don't. So I like to provide that kind of environment for them just like they then provide for the kids. So freedom? Freedom in that respect, I would say what I want to generate from them is independence and the ability to find the resources and the support they need, both within our system and outside. And, we won't do that by me ever telling them x, y, or z.
4. What professional development opportunities do you provide for your staff, particularly novice teachers?
Because we do organize ourselves around this block structure of time, there is ninety minutes every day that the teachers have together in different groupings. This fosters an incredible amount of dialogue and inquiry and discovery and learning among teachers. Each person is an expert in their own right in some area, and it's fun to see them over lunch, and share their latest math lesson. Our new teachers are just surrounded by a body of knowledge and pick it up over soup at lunch.
We also have structure. Twice every week we have either math or literacy training that's taught by our own literacy leaders. I have a teacher that's a national trainer in math, so he frames our math workshops. One day a week, they meet in their grade level and they discuss what's going on there, particularly around projects. And one day a week they meet in house groupings, which is cross-graded, so we can have a vertical slice of what's happening around us on different grade levels. We meet on language immersion teams, so that the new teacher that comes in who's teaching bilingual education has the support of more experienced teachers.
5. What sort of professional development possibilities do the teachers have off campus?
Anything that comes up that they feel is important to them they can go to, provided I can get coverage for their classes.
6. What conferences or training sessions have teachers attended recently?
I just had two teachers spend the last three days in San Francisco at a project-based learning conference. I had four teachers go to the California Bilingual Education Conference. That was for three to four days. I've had a lot of teachers go to different technology conferences. You get technology for second-language learners in second grade. I mean they can get pretty specific, and they'll say, "Hey, you know this sounds good, I think I'd like to do that." So, again, I don't say, "You can feed off this list; you can go do this at these places." They know what they need. We just keep putting out opportunities and they go.
We like to send at least two people together so they can talk. And then they come back and they present what they learned at a staff meeting. So tomorrow before we start our literacy training, the two people that went to the project-based learning conference will give a brief overview of what they learned. And then if there's anything they can coach people on around that, then we make that available. I've hired one person full-time that just substitutes every day. So she'll go in and relieve someone and they'll go over and watch another lesson.