Daniel Blanchard: Professional Development in the Inner City Schools
An Interview with Daniel Blanchard: Professional Development in the Inner City Schools
Michael F. Shaughnessy –
1) Dan, you have just completed a book on helping our urban schools. What brought this about?
* I have been working in urban schools for over 20 years now, and I’m always trying to learn my craft better so I can serve our youth the best I can. While constantly studying my craft, being very interested in professional development, and seeing the huge need of our inner city students, it just made sense to write a book like this one.
2) What is the exact title of the book, and what were you trying to accomplish?
* The title of the book is, Evaluation of Professional Development in an Urban High School with a subtitle: Includes Specific Steps to Make PD Successful. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. Organizations, whether they are in the business world or educational world spends billions of dollars on their professional development. Schools, and businesses alike, are trying to do the very difficult thing of passing experts’ knowledge down to their employees in a way that makes a difference to their end users. In my case, it is the students. In the business world it could be the customers. This transference of knowledge is a very complex process that is not easily done. With my book I’m trying to point those difficulties out and give those in charge some remedies to make their professional development more productive and effective in a way that results in better student performance.
3) Dan, I used to teach in the South Bronx of New York City, so I know a little about urban inner city schools. But what are the main challenges facing teachers today?
* Mike, this is a very tough question because there are so many challenges for our urban educators. Unfortunately, many of them are out of our control. For example, many students just are not school-ready when they show up on that first day in kindergarten. They are already very far behind both academically and emotionally. And then constant catch-up game begins, and then somehow society blames the teachers for the inevitable low test scores that will follow. My book isn’t designed to address the problems that are out of our control. It simply addresses, something all urban schools can do. Train, educate, and continue to train our teachers to be the best teachers they can be, as well as our schools to be the best institutions of learning that they can be.
4) One hears a lot about the achievement gap, and the “app gap” and all these concerns about “closing the gap”. Where do we really need to begin in your mind?
* Mike, I think I’ll need to write another book just about this question alone. However, since our urban teachers are facing a much larger hill to climb than their counterpart suburban teachers, I think a vast amount of this countries educational resources need to be devoted to the inner city educator, who has taken on this monumental and often thankless task of educating our urban population. We need to make our urban educators the best educators that we can make them.
5) It seems that teachers are confronted with more and more challenges than ever- specifically kids with special needs. Do we need to re-think inclusion and mainstreaming?
* Mike, I served in the army and the air force, and I think that we could borrow from their model. I didn’t have one drill sergeant assigned to me. There was three of them. So, in our most demanding schools, I think we need to have three teachers in each class. We need to have a content expert working alongside a pedagogy expert and a yearlong student teacher who is in training to become an urban educator. I know this will be expensive and we’ll have to be creative here, but allowing our urban kids to continue to fail is very expensive too…
6) What about lengthening the school day or school year? Reasonable or irrational?
* There are pros and cons to both of these approaches. Logistically, implementing this will be a nightmare. The data shows that a better approach would be more extracurricular activities. We should lengthen our school days and school years, not with more academic classes, but more extracurricular activities. Most of the urban kids don’t want more academics anyways, and most likely will resist even more than they already are. However, what we can do is provide more extracurricular activities that keep them off the streets. They would benefit from spending more fun time in their neighborhood school. Eventually, they can come to see their school as a good place where they have fun and it’s safe. Also, extracurricular activities are supervised by adults and offer the kids the best of both worlds where they get the choice of picking what they want, and the activity itself is challenging. Furthermore, they get to do it with their friends. They get to physically move around and usually be as loud as they want to. It’s a win-win, and a completely different experience than just sitting in their school seat for another class. But, it will cost more money. However, once again, how much money does student failure cost? And how money does out of control kids running the streets cost us?
7) Professional development- does it really help or is it a waste of time and resources?
* That’s why I wrote the book. Transferring that knowledge from the experts to and through the middlemen (teachers in our case) and into the end users (the students) is a very difficult thing, so some people do think it’s a waste of money. Sadly, professional development is often done wrongly. And when approaching employees about certain aspects of their job, they will often say that they already know that. However, already knowing that, and being able to apply that are totally different ball games. Professional development has to be done different and better so that we can apply best practices and get the best results with our teachers so student performance can improve.
8) Where can interested readers get a copy of your book and do you have a web site?
* Interested readers can find my book, Evaluation of Professional Development in an Urban High School on Amazon. And my website is: www.DanBlanchard.net
9) What have I neglected to ask?
* What else have I been up to? Right now, I’m working on the sequel to my teen leadership book, The Storm: How Young Men Become Good Men. I’m also working on making a movie out of one of my teen leadership books. In addition, I’m also writing my first academia book for elementary students. I’m going to call it, Granddaddy’s Success and Social Skills Secrets for Kids. Furthermore, I was just the keynote speaker for the National Honor Society’s annual conference and have been asked by the American Federation of Teachers to go on a speaking tour.