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Authors Say Teachers Can Influence Colleagues, Change Schools

Teachers are an untapped, powerful asset that can spur school-based changes, according to a new study.

In "Does your school have a Doug Franklin?", an article published in February by the Journal of Staff Development, the authors studied a two-year partnership between faculty from a state university and three rural schools. The journal is published by Learning Forward, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting professional development, and the article is available online to members (or to nonmembers for a fee).

The study didn't identify the schools or university involved, but it said the partnership was created to help facilitate professional learning communities in mathematics. Its major finding—teachers are powerful yet overlooked assets—has applicability to all types of schools, and it can be an especially important truth for rural schools facing diminishing resources.

Other lessons cited in the study include:
• Administrator and organizational support must be in place for teachers to meet;
• Participant roles for learning in a professional learning community must be clear and agreed upon; and
• Teacher/university partner relationships influence what gets accomplished during professional learning community time.

Researchers focused on Doug Franklin, a pseudonym for a first-year teacher who came to a small math department of four. They said Franklin had strong content knowledge and leadership skills but spent most of his first year listening.

"He knew he was an outsider in a rural, small community that wasn't always welcoming," according to the article. "The people in this community were accustomed to new teachers coming in with a lot of energy, starting new programs, and then leaving after a short time. As a member of the professional learning community his first year, Franklin was active but not in charge and often followed others' leads."

That changed in the second year. Franklin facilitated teacher meetings with clear objectives, and the teacher group talked through classroom problems and solutions. The meetings led to changes in teachers' classrooms.

"Educators must consider each other the most valuable resource in a system, to be developed and supported with leadership, structures, tools, and processes for promoting continual professional learning," according to the research.

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