Team Sheldon—a partnership for academic excellence among SUNY Oswego’s School of Education, seven Oswego County school districts and the county’s Center for Instruction, Technology and Innovation (CiTi)—plans a “slam” in May to mark another year of learning and achievement in the Oswego County Professional Development Schools Initiative.

The May 11 PDS Slam also celebrates a reinvigorated Team Sheldon, a decades-long collaboration aiming to better document gains made in the program by pre-service (student) teachers and current teachers, as well as their students, according to Team Sheldon Director Christine Walsh, a faculty member in curriculum and instruction at the college.

Team Sheldon, named for campus founder Edward Austin Sheldon, is an academic consortium promoting countywide academic excellence from preschool to higher education in the preparation of new teachers, the continuing education of schoolteachers and opportunities to nurture student growth. It provides a vehicle for cooperative improvement projects in levels from preschools to high schools across Oswego County.

“College faculty, students and classroom teachers work together over time to support sustained professional development and enhanced student learning,” said Pam Michel, dean of the SUNY Oswego School of Education. “Our clinically rich partnerships strengthen these efforts.”

Walsh said one key goal moving forward is to assess, in detail, the program’s effectiveness. “I think perceptions are important,” Walsh said. “The perception is we can have this wonderful partnership, but the effects—the impact—we really want to start documenting that these programs are enhancing the work in our schools.”

In the slam, teams from each district will have three minutes to present new and exciting initiatives at their schools. Audience members then will visit their stations for more in-depth promotion of school-based professional development efforts.

Teaching while learning

Each supported by a faculty liaison from the college, the seven school districts—Oswego, Fulton, Central Square, Phoenix, Mexico, Hannibal and Altmar-Parish-Williamstown—decide their professional development needs and projects.

While one district may focus on improving the writing instruction of current teachers and its pre-service teachers from SUNY Oswego, another might key on professional development among special education teachers. Yet another may boost the skills of teachers working with students at risk of dropping out.

SUNY Oswego’s School of Education is accredited by NCATE, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. NCATE likens Professional Development Schools to teaching hospitals, hybrid institutions that require intense clinical preparation.

One key initiative currently taking place in the Hannibal PDS is to expand the concept of “clinical rounds,” where the School of Education liaison, with a cohort of teachers, makes rounds of the classrooms, the classroom teacher models a best-practice teaching technique, and then the host teacher and liaison meet for feedback and discussion, ideally with the school’s pre-service teachers. Kathy Biss, methods instructor at the Lanigan PDS in Fulton, is making plans to incorporate instructional rounds next year as well.

Anne Fairbrother, a School of Education faculty member who coordinates the college’s PDS liaisons with the districts, said the Fulton City School District became the first to sign on with the Professional Development Schools Initiative, creating a pilot site at Lanigan Elementary in 1998.

In one recent session in Julie Galvin’s special education classroom at Lanigan, where nearly all of the six students have an adult assistant, Walsh co-taught a literacy lesson on poetry. First using a mindfulness technique designed to focus the attention of the kindergarten through third-grade students, Walsh patiently drew out their thoughts on rhyming words in the poem “Screaming Millie” from Shel Silverstein’s book “Falling Up.”

Walsh also talked with the enthusiastic students about taking turns, the “voice inside” and how to scream with no noise.

“We are looking at the whole literacy program here, focusing on writing processes, including students who have a lot to say but need ways to express it,” Walsh said. “These learning experiences help build a sense of community and collaboration for students in our Professional Development School while creating a professional learning community.”

Galvin said she has been delighted to collaborate with Walsh. “She offered fresh ideas and wonderful resources to use in my classroom,” Galvin said. “Even the students were asking, ‘When is Mrs. Walsh coming back?’ In an educational world that demands hard data to prove achievement, it is refreshing to use techniques where the kids just want to learn more.”

Jeff Hendrickson, principal at Lanigan and a SUNY Oswego alumnus, also endorsed the program’s value: “For Lanigan, Team Sheldon and the support of our PDS means growth. It means that our student teachers grow, our teachers grow, and, as a result, our kids grow. We have the opportunity to work with student teachers to model best practices and look for new and better practices. It gives us time to observe each other and talk about the art of teaching and how we can push each other and make our school a great place to learn.”