Professional Learning
Professional Learning

Educators are the lead learners in schools. If they are to enable powerful, authentic, deep learning among their students, they need to live that kind of learning and professional culture themselves. When everyone is part of that experiential through-line, that’s when next generation learning thrives.

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Boston Public Schools is working with local industry partners to create a virtual externship program for district educators this summer.

Just a few, short weeks ago, Boston Public Schools (BPS) was getting ready to head into the downslope of the 2019-2020 school year. Students were getting ready for state exams, getting ready to graduate (in-person), and getting ready for their choice of summer enrichment programs. Well.

In the weeks since the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, decisions are being made hard and fast. The district closed our physical schools in mid-March. We immediately began delivering Chromebooks to students’ homes, setting up wifi hotspots, and serving lunches. To date, BPS volunteers have given out close to 400,000 lunches for students and their families. Teachers worked diligently to figure out how to still deliver quality academic content to their students.

Once our students were as settled as they could be, the central office turned to our teachers, school counselors, and paraprofessionals. The requirements for professional development have not changed. Folks are still looking to spend their summers (whatever they may look like) meeting their professional development requirements with fulfilling opportunities.

Professional Development in a Rapidly Changing Climate

In my district office, we were well into the planning of our Summer 2020 Externship Program for teachers. We had put extensive thought into how we were going to engage with our returning externs. All of our industry partners were excited to iterate on the incredible content they provided last summer. We were just as optimistic as everyone else when our industry partners started to get the word that things needed to shut down. For a little while, the entire program was at risk. We were unsure what our new priorities were going to be under the new guidelines. As our industry partners started to settle into their new routines and regain control of their time, we were getting our students and teachers settled into the idea of what the rest of the 2020-2021 school year would look like.

The key lesson that Summer 2019 Externs took away from their experience was that they needed to emphasize professional skills with their students, not just technical training. Things like communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills were presented as necessary for the 21st-century employee. With that in mind, our program’s new goal is to be adaptable to the changing climate in the same way teachers ask their students to be. We need to put our money where our mouth is.

2020 BPS Externships Go Virtual

When we got the go-ahead from district leadership that summer professional development can and should continue, the externship planning team reached out to take the temperature of our industry partners. We found that the BPS calendar was not the only one to see dramatic changes. Many if not all of the industry projects that externs were to join this summer came to a halt.

Fortunately, to the credit of our partners, everyone was still fully on board with offering a summer externship program. They recognized the opportunity to take full advantage of learning what we could from the situation we are in and fulfilling a need our teachers, school counselors, and paraprofessionals still have.

Working together with these industry partners, we designed a virtual externship program. The primary purpose is to maintain the key values of the originally planned externship program. We are going to make sure that the externs have a clear picture of what it means to work in the industry their externship is focused on. They’ll be able to ask industry professionals how they got from high school to where they are now so that they can better advise their students. They’ll have an opportunity to work with other externs to think through how they want to bring what they’ve learned back into their classrooms and create the lesson plans and units to do it.

Summer 2020

Short series of webinars hosted by industry partners

  • Overview of the industry
  • Short interactive activities via breakout rooms
  • Use of a platform with a discussion feature to keep Externs in touch between webinars

Fall 2020

On-Site Visits

  • Coordinate a short series of onsite visits with the industry partners that participated in webinars
  • Industry partners can work with Externs to coordinate a visit or visits to their classroom/school

Granted, so much is still changing, and at a lightspeed pace. There’s no way to know what the world—and Boston, in particular—will look like when the program starts in late July. That’s why we created a program that will be adaptable to anything.

Even though it is not what we imagined it would be, the externships team is still excited to be able to offer a program this summer, and we’re eager to connect our teachers to this network of invaluable resources. We have not sacrificed quality in anything we are planning to offer. We’re optimistic that there may even be aspects of the virtual program that we decide to keep in future iterations once everyone is up and running at full capacity. Stranger things have happened.

Photo at top, courtesy of Kellyanne Mahoney: Boston Public Schools teachers on site during their summer 2019 externship.

Karissa Goff headshot

Karissa Goff

Boston Public Schools

Karissa Goff works in the Boston Public Schools Office of Expanded Learning Opportunities.