Collaborative Teachers Institute
Outcome Area: Early Childhood
Teachers play the pivotal role in providing quality experiences for young children in early education programs. In order to continually create more robust learning experiences, it is essential that teachers have ongoing opportunities for professional growth.
In many early childhood settings, however, professional development falls far short of this goal. One-time, disconnected workshops rarely offer relevant materials that address issues found in the classroom. Teachers’ real concerns are too often left out of the professional development planning process. Every major academic study of professional development in early learning settings in the last 30 years emphasizes the lack of effectiveness of this approach.
The Collaborative Teachers Institute proposes an alternate model of professional development. The Institute is a group of Santa Fe-based early care and education programs that support teacher professional growth while studying children’s interests. A shared pool of substitute teachers allows participating programs to devote time for teachers to reflect, plan and collaborate.
 Guskey, T. R., & Sparks, D. (1996). Exploring the relationship between staff development and improvements in student learning. Journal of Staff Development, 17(4), 34-38.
The Collaborative Teachers Institute has identified the following Outcomes using the Results-Based Accountability (RBA) framework.
Professional literature on early childhood teaching practices often suggests using children’s interests as a basis for organizing learning. And, indeed, numerous pedagogies have been implemented in early childhood classrooms across the United States and abroad that value the interests of children. Approaches such as emergent curriculum, the project approach, and the Reggio Emilia approach all focus on the study of children’s interests to guide classroom activities. The Collaborative Teachers Institute will refer to the use of children’s interests in curriculum planning as “Studies with Children.” This reflects the idea that children’s ideas, inquiries and interests will be used for planning and implementing classroom activities. For example, a group of children might be curious about trains, building blocks, how the water fountain works or making music. Teachers would then encourage the children to pursue their interests in different ways – through painting or drawing, building sculptures out of different materials, telling stories, listening to stories, inviting adults to come to the class to build things, etc.
How is this training different?
The Collaborative Teachers Institute’s opportunities for learning will rely on teachers’ use of documentation and reflection to enhance their instructional practices while consistently and collaboratively studying the interests of children. This professional development will focus on how teachers begin to think and act differently as a result of participation in teacher meetings and how they begin to show evidence of change in their classroom activities. The professional development is, therefore, relevant, immediately applicable and part of a teacher’s daily work.
Since October 2013, teachers and directors from early childhood centers and home-based programs in Santa Fe County have been meeting at the Santa Fe Community Foundation to discuss the shared services model of collaboration. Shared services are community-based partnerships of early childhood educators. The goal of the partnership is to share costs and deliver services in a more efficient way. Cost savings are put back into programs to offer more affordable, high-quality services for children and their families.
Two specific areas of interest emerged during these monthly meetings: the opportunity for advanced professional development and a shared pool of substitute teachers.
As a result of these conversations, the Collaborative Teachers Institute was created.