Reimagining the 21st Century Teacher: Professional Development From the Bottom Up

Try to find the constant in most schools, and you'll likely end up in the classroom of a veteran teacher. Students come and go – as do principals, superintendents and, with them, technology fads and ever-shifting educational philosophies.

But through massive budget cuts, a record number of school closings and widespread staff layoffs, many Philadelphia teachers believe their voices have been lost in the shuffle.

It's one of the reasons why a coalition of Philadelphia educators are joining to reimagine their role in the landscape of public education.

"We're like, what I call 'teacher-prenuers'; we're coming up with ways to transform our profession, and we're not just waiting for people to do it for us," said Samuel Reed III, literacy teacher at Beeber Middle School in West Philly. "We're doing this collectively, together."

Reed sits on the executive committee of a group of educators – serving district and charter students – hosting a series of by teacher, for teacher meetings over the next six months.

He says teachers' talents are often wasted in schools because "we're just not allowed to lead in ways that would transform our schools."

The convenings – funded by a $75,000 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant managed in partnership by the Philadelphia School District and the Philadelphia Education Fund – aim to change that trend by fostering teacher, student and community voice in Philadelphia's public schools.


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"If you can bring teachers together, give them the opportunity to collaborate and network, you can accomplish a lot of positive stuff," said Darren Spielman, president and CEO of the Ed Fund. Classrooms become hubs for innovation, he said, while teacher satisfaction skyrockets.

Networking groups such as Teacher Action Group, The Caucus of Working Educators, Teachers Lead Philly, Philadelphia Writing Project, Philly CORE, and PhilaSoup have combined to help stage and spread the word about the events.

Connecting with others engaged in same mission

Jessie Gluck, an English teacher at Mastery Charter's Mann Elementary School, says the convenings are coming at a time of great need in the city's schools. Teaching can be an isolating and draining profession, she said, especially in times of fiscal turmoil.

"But, when you go to a meeting like this, and you talk to really hopeful people, it really recharges you and reignites your spark," she said. "Makes you sure that there are people who are on the same mission, other people still fighting the same fight as you."

In the minds of some teachers, a brick wall divides those who work for the district and those who work for a charter. Gluck says this group has shown wisdom by embracing the commonality of the two camps.

"One of the things that's happening right now in Philly is this idea of ... 'every teacher for themselves.' And I think it's very important for us to remember that we're all teaching the same kids. We're all teaching in the same city," she said. "We face very similar struggles, and very similar success stories."

The first teacher convening, free to all educators, will take place Saturday at Kensington CAPA, 1901 N. Front Street, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Focusing on teacher voice, the event will feature workshops and discussions on curriculum, classroom management, politics, leadership, grant writing, and community engagement.

Meenoo Rami, author and teacher at Science Leadership Academy, will deliver the event's keynote speech.

Teachers will have the opportunity to apply for $20,000 worth of micro-grants designed to allow individual teachers to fund $300 to $500 classroom projects.

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