While the Heart of Education Seems to be in a Constant, Turbulent Riot, the Penn Literacy Network Remains a Consistent and Steady Force in Education


My apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald aside (sorry, no allusion to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock), roughly 7 years ago I was lucky enough to get involved with a group of incredibly bright, open minded, and caring educators involved in the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Literacy Network (PLN).  Founded in 1981 by Dr. Morton Botel, the Penn Literacy Network provides graduate level coursework, in the form of professional development, mentoring, and curriculum work for teachers.  The work Dr. Botel began has its roots in Louise Rosenblatt’s reader response theory, and has grown into a Comprehensive Professional Development Framework and Methodology for Co-Constructing Evidence-Based Teaching/Learning (Botel, 2010).  In a nutshell, what PLN does is gives teachers the tools they need to run a literacy rich, student centered, co-constructivist classroom; which in turn helps students maximize their ability to become lifelong readers, writers, and learners.

So with that background on the program in mind, I wanted to share a few reflections on the past 3 days, during which I attended the annual Summer Leadership Workshop at U Penn’s Graduate School of Education.  Led by the PLN’s Executive Director, Dr. Bonnie Botel-Sheppard, the week was a series of professional sharing sessions between and among colleagues, rich conversations around education, reflection on teaching, learning, and students, as well as tons of course planning for those of us facilitating in the Fall.  It is always a week that I walk away from feeling re-energized, like all in the world of education is right and fair and balanced, and, in a way, fall in love with the teaching profession again.  It’s that ‘new start’ I know I tend to need from time to time each year.  While I could go on and on about how my professional life was changed for the better because of PLN, about how, since I have adopted the PLN Framework, my students are constantly becoming more competent readers, writers, and thinkers, or even about the success that this work has had in districts in cities such as Philadelphia, Baltimore and Detroit, as well as various other Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Delaware school districts (that’s not to mention their work in Ireland), all I would like to share is a statement, from Mort, that was shared with us this week.  Dr. Mort Botel’s statement is as follows:

“When I founded PLN in 1981, a key aspect of my philosophic stance, built into its fabric, focused on validating and honoring teachers.  I believe that the most precious resources we have in education is teacher energy.  Our students and our society are the losers when teachers lose energy as they have from overly top down and scripted curricula and from reform efforts that fail to include their intellects, their wisdom and their histories.

PLN offers teachers and school leaders a democratic co-constructionist framework.  As our staff works with teachers, they engage in a long-term process of collaborative constructing of their versions of curriculum.  They do so through extensive critical reading of challenging texts, through critical writing and through critical conversing with their peers.  They do so by conducting classroom try-outs and sharing their experiences with their colleagues.  As they do so they find common ground on critical issues as well as to learn to respect differing interpretations and options in teaching, learning and assessment.

This dynamic, energizing and caring approach to teacher learning carries over to teachers’ classrooms, where they are more likely to provide their students with the same kinds of productive experiences that they have had in their PLN experience.”

What was incredibly powerful, for me, was the last line that talks about teachers providing their students with the same kinds of productive experiences that they have had in their PLN experience. It is really a very simple concept that underlies this belief, engage teachers in meaningful and powerful and dynamic learning opportunities to learn and grow, and by nature they will work to provide those same types of experiences for their students.

We closed our week with some honest and inspirational words by Dr. Jack McGovern, who, along with Mort and my PLN colleagues, left me thinking that, no matter the kind of nonsensical chaos that is currently enveloping, and in some cases destroying, education, our belief in honoring, trusting, and respecting teachers as intelligent, dynamic, and professional educators, will only help us get to the heart of what we know to be the sometimes forgotten epicenter of education: the student.

For more on The Penn Literacy Network, please visit http://www.gse.upenn.edu/pln/.

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