‘Design Studios’ Foster Teacher R and D

How can a professional development event best stimulate and support teachers, administrators, parents, and students in making serious whole-school change, while connecting them with the work of colleagues in other schools? Teachers at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (the Met) in Providence, Rhode Island and educators at the affiliated Big Picture Company think they have found an answer in “Design Studios.”

In the first of these, the Met recently welcomed a team of colleagues from the St. Louis Career Academy for several days of gathering evidence, meeting with people in different positions in the school community, and sharing the insights each school’s faculty has for the other. Visitors and hosts together observe student learning, interview faculty, review key documents, and participate in conversations between local site and district people. Out of this experience, each school then develops action plans for its own setting. Both schools belong to the federally funded New Urban High School project, five of whose six demonstration schools are members of CES.

“The idea of design studios reflects our school’s philosophy,” says Elliot Washor, who co-directs the Met’s personalized, project-based program in which a student’s curriculum is tailored to his or her interests and needs. “We learn best when we’re motivated by our interests and by hands-on application to real work.” Because they take place in real schools and ask teachers from different sites to engage in the give and take of professionals, such studios can serve a sorely needed research and development function, says New Urban High School project director Rob Riordan.

Design studios cover learning through internships, standards and assessment, family engagement, student support, leadership development and community-building, and new school design. Each studio is tailored for the particular needs of the visiting school, and can last from two to five days.