Jacksonville Group Connecting Teachers To Improve Training

Jul 27, 2015

Schultz Center president Deborah Gianoulis.
Credit The Schultz Center

At one point, the Schultz Center had state funding and a big, multi-million dollar contract with Duval County schools to help teachers improve their craft.

The Schultz Center has trained thousands of teachers since it was founded in Jacksonville in 1997. But when state revenues declined, the Schultz Center funding was cut.

“The recession happened,” says Deborah Gianoulis, president of the Schultz Center. “That [state budget] line-item was never restored.”

And Duval schools decided to provide their own staff development.

So the Schultz Center had to change. The non-profit is expanding beyond Northeast Florida to offer training to teachers statewide, both in person and online. And they’re building an incubator for education entrepreneurs.

They’re also helping teachers adjust to big changes in the classroom.

Common Core, or -- a variation of it, like Florida is using -- is a roadmap of what students should know at the end of each grade. But the standards have also changed the way teachers plan and present their lessons.

Listen to our interview with Schultz Center president Deborah Gianoulis.

Common Core asks students to collaborate -- to figure out the lesson’s goal on their own. Gianoulis says teachers also need to work together to understand what the standards mean and what’s expected – but that can be hard.

“Teachers are natural collaborators,” she says. “And I, as a former journalist, years ago did documentaries in schools. And I was told once by a principal something that really stuck out in my mind. She said, ‘You know, teachers are islands. They’re alone in their classrooms.’

“And yet if we look at what’s happening in the countries in the world that are surpassing us in student achievement, in many cases their students spend less time in student instruction than ours do. But their teachers spend so much more time working collaboratively together.”

One way to do that is getting rid of the traditional model of professional development.

When Florida districts were preparing for the switch to Common Core, they often had teachers spend hours in traditional lectures learning about what was new. Often, those lectures gave teachers just a few moments to discuss with colleagues what they were learning.

Gianoulis says the Schultz Center is trying to train and connect teachers through in-person conferences and online lessons.

“Time is the greatest factor, right, there’s never enough of it,” she said. “And American teachers, in particular, do not have the collegial time and the professional learning time that teachers throughout the world experience.

“So, being respectful of teacher’s time and being able to help them adapt professional development in a customized way is something that the Schultz Center, as a tiny little nimble non-profit, can do.”

Last month, the Schultz Center was chosen for a statewide training session to help teachers use more technology in their classrooms.

When the upcoming school year starts, state law will require schools to spend more money on digital lessons.

The Schultz Center training used some of new methods that Florida teachers are experimenting with in classrooms.

“We used face-to-face, we used blended models, we used online, synchronous, asynchronous,” Gianoulis says. “We were in 12 counties and affected more than 400 educators.”

That means lessons were both in person and recorded, interactive videos. Sometimes teachers were taking classes at the same time. And sometimes they were working at their own pace.

Gianoulis says teachers will learn from Schultz Center training, but also from their methods.

“What you want in adult learning is exactly what you want in student learning,” she says. “You want engaged learners that find their instruction relevant to their lives.

The Schultz Center is now the home of EdSpark, a kind of incubator for education-related business ideas from ‘edupreneurs.’

“Edupreneurs are not necessarily people who are teachers,” Gianoulis says, “but they’re people who care passionately about children learning. “We have discovered engineers. We have discovered Ph.D. psychologists who have really great ideas in learning that we’re helping to cultivate."

Gianoulis says the Schultz Center is tracking the results of their teacher training efforts to try to figure out which methods have the most benefits for students.