Our Story

Athena began with the recognition that the field of education has no professional memory.  Doctors have a shared knowledge base.  Lawyers refer to hundreds of years of precedent.  But teachers: we reinvent the wheel every day.  In the digital age, we should have an effective social network for teachers that also functions as a place to store and share our work: the questions, activities, and assignments that we create and revise year in and year out.

In 2013, seeing a gap in the online landscape for teacher sharing and collaboration, two teachers worked together to build a prototype, and in 2014,  support from the Robertson Foundation enabled a more robust iteration.  Soon thereafter, further support by the E. E. Ford Foundation--matched by donations by Choate Rosemary Hall, Deerfield Academy, the Lawrenceville School and Phillips Academy--enabled the development of the platform currently in use today. Still open only in limited release, the Athena platform is used by teachers at secondary schools and a graduate school of education.

The summer of 2017 marked the first Athena Summer Fellowship, which brought together teachers from around the country in an online, asynchronous professional development experience. The 2018 Summer Fellowship is underway.

Now, based on extraordinarily positive feedback, Athena is launching a next round of development to prepare for wider release.  We're currently looking for partners in this work. Please reach out via the email at the bottom of the page if you would like to learn more.

And of course, if you are a teacher (like us!) interested in collaborating with others online by finding, sharing, offering feedback on, and revising teaching materials, please tell us more about yourself:

Athena is directed by Peter Nilsson, who teaches English and is Director of Research, Innovation, and Outreach at Deerfield Academy.  Peter also circulates a weekly newsletter called the Educator's Notebook.

A research-backed understanding of effective PD

Athena is built around research--both formal and informal. On the one hand, formal, large scale, high cost, variable-controlled studies from Academia have dominated public understanding of what works. This research is valuable but generally not applicable in the classroom without substantial customization. Learning about this work is nonetheless one important kind of PD.

Additionally, practitioner experience--which includes iterative experimentation in the classroom--has created a body of professional knowledge that is known by teachers to drive student success. This practitioner research is passed on from teacher to teacher and, particularly in the context of the emerging field of improvement science, is increasingly accepted as serious research.

Both of these inform how Athena works. Athena is built both to support customizing practices that academic research has identified as effective, and also to enable educators to gather and refine professional knowledge.


Key studies and texts that inform this work

Atkins, D., Bennett, J., Brown, J., Chopra, A., Dede, C., Fishman, B., Gomez, L., Williams, B., (20 1 0). Transforming American Education: Learning powered by technology (National Educational Technology Plan 2010). U.S. Department of Education: Office of Educational Technology. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2014). Teachers Know Best: Teachers' views on professional development. Retrieved October 1, 2015, from: http://collegeready.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Gates-PDMarketResearch-Dec5.pdf

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G., (2015). Learning to Improve: How America's schools can get better at getting better. Harvard Education Press.

Hiebert, J., & Morris, Anne K., (2012). Teaching, rather than teachers, as a path toward improving Classroom Instruction. Journal of Teacher Education, 63(2) 92-102.

Hiebert, J., Gallimore, R., & Stigler, J. W. (2002). A knowledge base for the teaching profession: What would it look like and how can we get one? Educational Researcher, 31(5), 3-15.

Kaplan, C., Chan, R,. Farbman, D. A., & Novoryta, A., (2014). Time for Teachers: Leveraging expanded time to strengthen instruction and empower teachersRetrieved September 19, 2015, from: http://www.joycefdn.org/assets/1/7/Time_for_Teachers_(FINAL).pdf

Morris, A. K., & Hiebert, J. (2011). Creating shared instructional products: An alternative approach to improving teaching. Educational Researcher, 40, 5-14.

National Center for Literacy Education. (2013). Remodeling literacy learning: Making room for what works.  Urbana, IL: National Center for Literacy Education & National Council of Teachers of English.  

Smith, T., Ingersoll, R. (2004). "What are the Effects of Induction and Mentoring on Beginning Teacher Turnover?" American Educational Research Journal, 41 (2).

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (2015). Ed Tech Developer's Guide. Retrieved August 5, 2015, from: http://tech.ed.gov/files/2015/04/Developer-Toolkit.pdf

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (2014). Exploratory Research on Designing Online Communities of Practice for Educators to Create Value. Retrieved August 5, 2015, from: https://tech.ed.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Exploratory-Research-on-Designing-Online-Communities-FINAL.pdf

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology (2014). The Future Ready District: Professional learning through online communities of practice and social networks to drive continuous improvement. Retrieved August 5, 2015, from: https://tech.ed.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Section7-FutureReadyDistrictBrief-Final.pdf

Wei, R. C., Darling-Hammond, L., Andree, A., Richardson, N., & Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. Dallas, TX. National Staff Development Council. 

Wei, R. C., Darling-Hammond, L., and Adamson, F. (2010). Professional development in the United States: Trends and challenges.  Dallas, TX. National Staff Development Council.

Yoon, K. S., Duncan, T. Lee, S. W.-Y., Scarloss, B., & Shapley, K. (2007). Reviewing the evidence on how teacher professional development affects student achievement (Issues & Answers Report, REL 2007-No. 033). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.  Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs