Graduate School

A Look Into The Integrative Master's Project At Bank Street

Posted by Claire Daniel on February 27, 2012

Bank Street Graduate Student Daniel CalvertDaniel Calvert brought play back into the classroom as the focus of his Collaborative Student-Faculty Inquiry on Teacher Leadership.


Earlier this year, a little more than two-dozen Bank Street graduate students sat down in front of peers, faculty, family and friends to share what they learned and accomplished at the close of their IntegrativeMastersProject (IMP). On this particular occasion, it was the students who had chosen to pursue the Collaborative Student-Faculty Inquiry format for their IMP.

IMP: Collaborative Student-Faculty Inquiry

The Collaborative Student-Faculty Inquiry (CS-FI) route is a popular IMP option for a number of reasons. It’s only one semester, for starters—but more importantly, there’s a clear focus given to a student’s work that’s grounded within a strong peer support group.

What's more, CS-FI topics are born out of passion—Supporting kids on the autism spectrum, Diversity: different for a purpose, How toddlers make friends, International Education, Play, to name a few—and represent a particular interest or concern of a Bank Street faculty member that will then be explored collaboratively throughout the semester amongst a handful of likeminded students.

For faculty member Gil Schmerler and the five students who joined his IMP, the passion was Teacher Leadership. Created on the firm belief that “successful schools require leadership from a full range of players, not just principals,” and with the full recognition that “Bank Street-prepared teachers will invariably be looked to for leadership in the schools in which they work,” this inquiry proved to be a key stepping stone towards the integration of theory and practice. 

As Schmerler points out, 

Our graduate programs at Bank Street are so instructionally rich that there is not much time to study leadership per se. Further, not all the actions of leaders are intuitive. As such, this inquiry may be the best opportunity to learn and reflect on the skills of leadership.

This year's Teacher Leadership Inquiry brought together five students in relatively early stages of their teaching careers, all quite eager to help their colleagues and influence their schools' continuing growth. For Daniel Calvert, that meant play! Here’s his story:  

Let them play: Building teacher leadership in a public school

by Daniel Calvert

I'm a special educator at an Upper Manhattan public elementary school that fits all the buzzwords: high need, high poverty, high-risk kids. We teach our students to read, write, and count but we don’t give our students a well-rounded education. One of the pillars of the Bank Street philosophy is play. Kids learn and express themselves through play. My inclusion class however, was the only kindergarten class that let students choose from a menu of developmentally appropriate centers. 

Entering my third year of teaching, I wanted to be a leader at my school, so I set out to get play into the K classrooms. My colleagues and administrators loved the idea of play.  It reminded the younger teachers of their own childhood and the older teachers of how they used to teach.

Everyone believed in play. But no one let the kids play.

I was able to get the three other K classes to start playing and support those teachers as they implemented center time.  I encouraged them to include it on their schedule, I suggested materials that could work in their rooms, and I invited them to observe while my kids played.  I ultimately led a meeting, with all the Pre-K and K teachers and my assistant principal, about how and why to do centers.

I met some resistance, but by the end of November, each K teacher had waved me into their room to watch their students rolling around cars, drawing, playing with pattern blocks, and talking. We are using centers as the topic of a new D.O.E.-mandated inquiry team and I'm integrating centers into the curriculum.

I didn't uncover a blueprint for successful leadership, but I saw a real change in my school.  It started with embracing my role as an expert. I'm the youngest teacher in my school, but Bank Street prepared me to implement effective techniques in my classroom and confidently share my ideas with older colleagues. I spoke in the rhetoric of my school, discussing the academic benefits of play as it related to the new Common Core Standards and improved literacy and math scores.  Ultimately, I was willing to be a leader. Schools are constantly in need of leadership, with new positions to be filled and new initiatives to spearhead.  I saw a gap and I took advantage of the opportunity to make my voice heard and bring Bank Street's ideals uptown.