Skip to main content

Lisa Smulyan '76 Hosts Campus Urban Education Conference

Lisa Smulyan '76 Hosts Urban
Education Conference on Campus

by Michael Gluk '12

Scott Storm '08
Conference participant Scott Storm '08, a highschool English teacher in Chester, Pa., hopes to develop a professional learning community for his fellow teachers.

Educators from urban elementary, middle, and high schools across the east coast recently came to campus to share and learn from each other the skills needed to initiate internal reform and improvement. Professor of Education Lisa Smulyan '76 co-authored the grant that made the Consortium for Excellence in Teacher Education (CETE) Urban Teacher Leadership Institute conference possible.

"There is a lot of turnover in the teaching profession," Smulyan says. "It is often seen as a career without much opportunity to develop unless you leave the classroom. We would like for good teachers to feel that they can stay, succeed, and grow."

The conference is one component of a two-part project to prepare teachers for leadership in urban public schools, a program funded by a Ford Foundation grant. The first component of the program, launched in Boston and New York City in 2010, is the Urban Education Fellowship, which aims to introduce college students to the possibility of urban school teaching. Three Swarthmore students participated in the inaugural program this past spring.

Last week's conference was geared toward more experienced teachers, those with three to eight years of teaching experience. "Research shows that during the first few years of teaching," Smulyan says, "teachers concentrate on developing their basic classroom teaching skills and getting to know their school context. After three years, teachers feel more competent and ready to explore."

Applicants were chosen from a variety of public schools in east coast cities and were asked to submit a proposal for an independent project they would like to undertake in their schools. To prepare teachers for the task of spearheading such projects, the conference focused on engaging participants in conversations about what constitutes teacher leadership, introducing participants to teacher leaders in the Philadelphia area, and developing some of the skills that might be useful to participants as teacher leaders, such as mentoring, collaboration, entrepreneurship, and action research.

Kathleen Melville '04, for example, who teaches at Constitution High School in Philadelphia, will begin bringing together colleagues in her school to design a peer-mentoring process that will allow teachers to observe in one another's classrooms, provide feedback, and begin to develop a curriculum map for the school. Jennifer Lunstead '03, a second grade teacher at Wissahickon Charter School in Philadelphia, would like to gather a group of support staff and teachers at her school to discuss issues central to the experiences and effectiveness of the support staff as they carry out their role in supporting instruction.

"We haven't gotten official evaluations back yet," Smulyan says, "but word of mouth is that the conference went very well. Everybody seemed to think it was inspiring and powerful to be surrounded by so many likeminded educators concerned with social justice."