Literacy Teachers Defend Professional Development Initiatives
By: Alex Scofield
Literacy teachers this week spoke out to defend their work in the district, and said that teachers' union President Laura R. Carlyle does not speak for everyone when she criticizes the district's investment in professional development.
Ms. Carlyle, however, said that while she respects the work that literacy teachers are doing, she has a pair of surveys that prove that a majority of Sandwich teachers feel that the district's professional development does not work for them.
School committee members heard from K-8 literacy teachers Maureen M. Wiklund, Donna J. Eident, and Susan Lupone Stonis, Wednesday evening, who said that, from their experience, many teachers in the district are enthusiastic about the Lesley Literacy Collaborative.
Through the program, literacy teachers undergo training at Lesley University in Cambridge, where they learn new literacy instruction methods that can be integrated across curriculums.
The literacy teachers are then responsible for passing down the techniques they learned at Lesley to their colleagues by teaching classes, mentoring their colleagues, and assisting them in their classrooms.
"Teachers both experienced and green have taken on new learning with a great deal of enthusiasm," Ms. Stonis said.
In past school committee meetings, though, Ms. Carlyle has argued to the contrary.
In February, Ms. Carlyle released the results of an Sandwich Educators Association survey, which said that 78 percent of teachers did not believe that they had enough input into the district's professional development choices.
Some committee members and teachers have questioned the accuracy of the survey, which the SEA developed with help from the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
Former school committee chairman Robert F. Simmons Jr. said he heard from several teachers that the overall tone of the survey, which school committee members were not allowed to receive copies of, was negative.
Last year, Ms. Carlyle also presented the committee with the results of the Massachusetts Teaching Learning and Literacy Survey, which was conducted by the University of California Santa Cruz in schools across the commonwealth.
Ms. Carlyle said that more than half of the teachers in the district participated in the survey, and 89 percent of them felt they had little to no role in determining what kind of school-sponsored professional development they participated in.
Also, according to the survey, 44 percent of Sandwich teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed that the professional development they have recently participated in has been useful to them.
School committee members pointed out, though, that the survey preceded the literacy program and Superintendent Mary Ellen Johnson's hiring as superintendent.
Ms. Carlyle reiterated to the committee in April that many teachers felt the professional development the district was investing in was not effective.
"I know from teaching adults myself that the best thing you can do for them is give them something they can take back and use in their classrooms the next day; that is very often the measure of an effective program," she said. "Does it translate to the classroom? In too many cases teachers expressed that it did not. It's well intentioned, it's very interesting, but it does not necessarily translate to what they do."
Ms. Carlyle said her main concern with the district's professional development had to do with costs. She said that while the professional development the district was spending money on was valuable, if it came at the cost of a teacher, then the cost was too high.
She said she was particularly concerned about the district bringing in outside "sage on the stage" guest speakers like teacher and noted literacy author Laura Robb and William R. Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership.
Ms. Wiklund told the school committee that, regardless of the intent of Ms. Carlyle's comments, it has obscured the good work being done by the literacy program.
"There are amazing things going on in our schools," she said. "There have been so many teachers who have been excited to taken on this challenge."
She also hinted that there may be pressure from within the union for teachers who were in favor of the district's investment in professional development to remain quiet.
"It's unfortunate that the teachers [who support the literacy program] have remained a silent majority, or a silenced majority," she said.
Ms. Carlyle said she had never pressured any member of the union to keep their positive comments about the literacy program quiet.
"Absolutely not. I have no right to do that," she said. "They are intelligent people and they are going to speak to what they feel is true and right."
Ms. Wiklund gave the Enterprise a copy of a survey conducted following a professional development day led by literacy teachers on January 15.
On a scale of one to five, K-8 teachers who took part in the professional development day answered an average of 4.6 to the prompt of "I feel confident I could apply what I learn to my work."
"There is no doubt that the picture Ms. Carlyle paints does not reflect the experience of the teachers that I am working with; it is likely that it does not reflect the experience of most of the teachers in the K-8 schools," she wrote in an e-mail to The Enterprise. "In my mind, it is very unfortunate that she claims to speak for all of the teachers in Sandwich. Yes, she makes her parenthetical comment that some teachers are having a good year, but most are not. The impression that her oft-repeated parenthetical comment leaves is that she is discounting the positive experiences and is only mentioning them so she cannot be challenged."
In a previous interview with the Enterprise, Ms. Carlyle said she has never once questioned the validity of the Lesley Literacy Program.
In fact, she said the program represents exactly the kind of program in which she feels the district should invest.
"To me, teacher-to-teacher teaching is best practice and what we have advocated for all along," she said. "Make an investment and pass it along."
Ms. Carlyle added that, regardless of the school committee's questions about the two surveys' validity, it was her responsibility to speak out about their results, especially when they show such a dramatic dissatisfaction in professional development.
Yet, Ms. Wiklund said that, in order to promote a healthier teaching environment, she needed to do a better job of refining her message.
As a literacy teacher, Ms. Wiklund said she is responsible for encouraging her fellow teachers to buy into the new program, and Ms. Carlyle's comments could cut against that mission.
If Ms. Carlyle does, in fact, support the literacy program, she has yet to hear her say it publicly, Ms. Wiklund said.
Ms. Wiklund said that while Ms. Carlyle may not be intentionally disparaging the literacy program, it is easy for the public to get the wrong impression when they hear her comments regarding professional development.
Ms. Carlyle asserted that, in her comments about professional development, she was not aiming to undermine the work of the district's literacy teachers.
"There are other aspects of professional development that teachers are concerend about, and I represent what teachers bring forward," she said. "I'm delighted that teachers are having an excellent experience, but I have to bring forward other concerns that do not relate to literacy."
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