Over the summer, I had a wonderful reenergizing experience doing professional development around teacher leadership at Swarthmore. Coming out of the week, we were all asked to initiate a leadership project of some sort for the coming school year. As I was moving to a new school, I was in the unique situation of needing to find something to do outside of my school.
As I was brainstorming ideas, I remembered a conversation I had a few weeks prior with Kate Weiss, a teacher who I met while doing a Facing History seminar. Like myself, Kate was a Social Studies Department Chair and the senior history teacher before being done with her first decade of teaching. We found we had much in common in terms of feelings of stagnated professional growth, isolation, and frustrations with our schools as they reached maturity. I found myself wishing I had met her much earlier; perhaps the past two years would not have been a little bit easier.
When I got back from Swarthmore, I met with Kate, and we decided to try to do something to help teachers in similar situations, by forming a group of NYC Social Studies teachers based on the Critical Friends Group model. I am very excited by the group we were able to assemble to meet monthly. We have 11 rock star teachers from 7 different NYC public schools, as well as a full time social studies coach. The group includes numerous department chairs and teacher mentors; everyone in the group shares some leadership role at some level. We met for drinks a few weeks ago, and had our first formal meeting this past Monday.
Our plan is to meet monthly. At each meeting, all teachers will spend the first thirty minutes doing some reflective writing, which will be shared on our blog. Then, 2-3 teachers will present their work, student work, or an issue they face as a leader using National School Reform Faculty protocols. We hope that we will challenge each other to grow as teachers and leaders as we share resources and ideas. We have also committed to sharing as much as possible publicly, so the work of the group can benefit others beyond the walls of our schools.
Our blog is now live. Please subscribe and comment as posts arrive. Below, is our official mission:
The mission of the Social Studies Critical Friends Group (S2CFG) is to provide accomplished social studies teachers, who have foundational experience in the classroom of at least three years, with a peer network to support their continued development beyond that which the small school can always provide. Taking inspiration from both the National Writing Project and the National School Reform Faculty, S2CFG members will hold monthly in-person meetings in addition to participating in an online network to share and develop best practices, curricular units, and performance tasks. The group will also provide a forum for teachers to discuss the issues they face in formal or informal leadership roles in their schools. Members will be expected to produce at least one piece of reflective writing each month about some aspect of their professional practice, as well as present at least two NSRF protocols during the year looking at either their classroom or larger school issues. Members can expect to gain a wealth of ideas and support from other strong and accomplished social studies teachers. However, it is our goal that the S2CFG will not only give teachers an increased sense of community and purpose for their own professional lives, but that it will also serve as a springboard to develop teacher-leaders who will serve as professional and curricular developers for the larger education community. S2CFG will share our work (units, performance tasks, tools and documentation of our project) across networks of schools, and members will have opportunities facilitate and present at various conferences and institutes.