When educators at the Costeas-Geitonas School (CGS) in Athens decided to become the the first school in Greece to implement the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) -- an educational program and curriculum that encourages international-mindedness and a positive attitude to learning -- they knew it would require intensive professional development. Zoi Geitona, Ed.M.'06, the IB diploma program coordinator and vice president of the CGS board of directors, knew success relied on the primary school teachers being comfortable and committed to the intensive curriculum. "We set professional development as a priority for all our kindergarten and primary school teachers," Geitona says. "However, we had one major obstacle to overcome: professional development initiatives in Greece are partial, insufficient, too theoretical, or nonexistent."
Geitona turned to the Ed School for help. After months of collaboration with Senior Lecturer Kay Merseth and the Programs in Professional Education (PPE) office, 75 educators participated in December's initial three-day institute, Differentiating Instruction and Team Teaching in Mathematics and Literacy. In what was PPE's first blended professional program for an international audience, Merseth along with Lecturer Pamela Mason and Senior Lecturer Kitty Boles instructed teachers on working together with administrators and support staff to solve common teaching and learning problems and improve their instructional practice. The institute also taught teachers collaborative team-based approaches to improving instruction in mathematics and literacy. Beyond opportunities to observe and analyze instructional practice and student work, participants also worked together to apply effective protocols and build teamwork to improve teaching and learning.
The institute made a lasting impact on many of the participants, a group including both members of the CGS community and educators from schools throughout Greece. "Most of them agreed that this experience was by far the best experience they had regarding professional education," Geitona says. Participants reported many positive benefits including changing the way they think about education, having an opportunity to engage with HGSE professors, and learning that teaching does not have to be stagnant because there is always room to improve their practice.
"There was this tremendous energy," Merseth recalls, noting that the attentiveness, earnestness, and specificity of the participants' questions impressed her. "It made me think, that when we leave that they are really going to do this."
Following the initial three-day, face-to-face institute in Greece, Merseth, Mason, Boles, and Professor Chris Dede will reconnect with the 75 participants via Elluminate, an online learning environment. The sessions, which will happen once a month until May, are an ideal way to build on the skills and learning participants encountered in the initial institute, Merseth says.
Geitona points out that the collaboration and ability to uniquely tailor the institute is exactly what the CGS and Greek teaching community needs. This wasn't the first time that Geitona looked to the Ed School to help implement new teaching strategies for CGS. In fact, in 2006, Geitona coordinated with Merseth, who visited the school and provided a seminar on mathematics education.
Working with an enthusiastic HGSE alumna provided a perfect opportunity to pilot a new type of program. PPE is best known for its summer and academic year institutes that bring close to 3,000 educators to the Ed School campus. The ability to work with educational professionals internationally and to develop and deliver blended learning experiences using online technologies opens up exciting opportunities to extend HGSE's reach and impact.
"This is, I believe, an innovation in education, and I am proud that HGSE gave us the opportunity and the resources to make it reality," Geitona says. "Although ... Athens is 4,735 miles from Boston, I believe we managed not only to cover this distance but also, speak the same educational language, share the same goals and promote the HGSE philosophy and practices internationally."