I’ve always dreamed of creating a space and structure for teacher professional development that is different than the current one-size-fits-all approach, where “experts” far removed from the classroom give advice that is difficult to implement. Many of us have struggled through countless hours of “sit-and-get” sessions, left wondering how we can use the information to improve ourselves as teachers.
In my ideal professional development framework, educators choose what they want to learn about, and the “experts” are experienced teachers interested in similar learning. The learning is specific and targeted; the learning environment is innovative, with technology and furniture that promotes collaboration; teachers feel comfortable challenging the ways we’ve always approached education; teachers are recognized as valuable resources for growing other teachers; and—above all—teachers are treated like professionals.
This year I will partner with the Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) to begin realizing this vision, part of my overall goal to support teachers as Michigan Teacher of the Year. VAEI, the education division of the Van Andel Institute, promotes a hands-on, inquiry-based model for science instruction, offering a variety of teacher professional development programs and student programming to get students to “think like scientists.”
With this partnership, we’ll work to expand teacher learning opportunities in three key areas: math education, new teacher development, and growing teacher leaders.
Math education is going through an important shift in philosophy right now. Traditional lecture-style learning formats are being replaced with a more interactive and collaborative environment, where students create the knowledge and teachers act more as facilitators. This challenging but significant transformation needs support systems for the math teachers embracing this change. Our partnership will explore ways the VAEI inquiry-based model for science instruction can be used within a mathematical context.
The first few years for new teachers are extremely demanding, but unparalleled professional growth occurs during this time. These teachers need social and professional support to maximize their learning in these formative years. We can provide consistent support and resources for these teachers by creating a space for them to share their struggles, and specific training to grow them towards master teachers, along with targeted summer programming to help teachers prepare for each new school year.
Administrators are increasingly empowering teachers to be a part of the decision-making process, the professional learning of colleagues, and the vision creation for the school. For this to be effective, teachers must be trained in leadership qualities and thinking. We can provide programming to develop elite teacher leaders who will grow their influence within their schools and districts.
The opportunity to facilitate teacher collaboration and development is an exciting one, especially in such an innovative workspace. Feel free to email me your thoughts and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow this partnership while learning more about my work as Michigan Teacher of the Year at lukewilcox.org/blog.
Luke Wilcox is a math teacher at East Kentwood High School and the 2017-18 Michigan Teacher of the Year. See related story.