The Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools, which builds upon the success of a four-year National Demonstration Project, promotes the establishment of new Teachers Institutes that adopt the approach to professional development that has been followed for more than thirty-five years by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute.
Established in 1978, the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, an intensive and sustained collaboration among Yale faculty members and public school teachers, is the premier partnership between Yale University and the New Haven Public Schools. The first such university-school partnership to be permanently endowed as a unit of a university, it is a widely recognized model of high-quality teacher professional development. In 2004, after the successful testing of this model in a four-year National Demonstration Project, the Institute launched the Yale National Initiative to strengthen teaching in public schools. The Initiative is a long-term endeavor to influence public policy on teacher professional development, in part by establishing Teachers Institutes that will provide state and local policy makers effective examples of the innovative Institute approach in their own communities.
The Teachers Institute Approach
Teachers Institutes focus on the academic preparation of school teachers and on their application in their own classrooms of what they study in the Institute. By linking institutions of higher education with urban or rural school districts where the students are mainly from low-income communities, Institutes strengthen teaching and learning in public schools and also benefit the institutions whose faculty members serve as seminar leaders. Each Institute also helps to disseminate this approach.
A Teachers Institute places equal emphasis on teachers increasing their knowledge of a subject and on their developing teaching strategies that will be effective with their students. At the core of its program is a series of seminars on subjects in the humanities and sciences. Topics are suggested by the teachers based on what they think could enrich their classroom instruction. In the seminars, the university or college faculty members contribute their knowledge of a subject, while the school teachers contribute their expertise in elementary and secondary school pedagogy, their understanding of the students they teach, and their grasp of what works in the crucible of the classroom. Successful completion of a seminar requires that the teachers, with guidance from a faculty member, write a curriculum unit to be used in their own classroom and to be shared with others in the same school and other schools through both print and electronic publication.
Throughout the process seminar leader and teachers are colleagues. Unlike conventional university or professional development courses, Institute seminars involve at their very center a collegial exchange of ideas among school teachers and university or college faculty members. The teachers admitted to seminars, however, are not a highly selective group, but rather a cross-section of those in the system, most of whom, like their counterparts across the country, did not major in one or more of the subjects they teach. By including teachers of kindergarten through twelfth grade, the Institute promotes articulation of curriculum throughout a school system, as well as interdisciplinary teaching and curriculum, in which teachers of the earlier grades can assist teachers in the later grades who have tended to specialize in one or two subjects. The Institute approach assumes that urban or rural public school teachers can engage in serious study of the field and can devise appropriate and effective curricula based on this study.
Articles of Understanding have been developed to provide the constitutional grounding for Teachers Institutes that adopt this model. Although listed as separate Articles, they are interrelated elements of an organically unified approach. Each is accompanied by Procedures for its implementation. The Understandings and Procedures define the Teachers Institute approach and distinguish it both from conventional professional development offerings of school districts and from traditional continuing education and outreach programs of colleges and universities.