Teacher Institute: Teaching Our Ways
When we originally developed TAF Academy, our goal was to open a total of five TAF Academy schools in the Puget Sound area. The reemergence of charter school interests and the 2012 charter school initiative made it very difficult for TAF to get additional investment in the model—regardless of how successful it was. While that was disappointing, it really opened up our minds to a much better solution for scaling the TAF Academy academic model. Things happen for a reason, and when the time is right.
We started getting inquiries from various teachers about how we conducted our professional development and saw this as an opportunity to replicate at least a part of TAF Academy. Typical of our culture, we set out to bootstrap a teacher professional development program we could offer to public school teachers from anywhere in the state. We had lofty goals around being different than the other programs out there.
We partnered with the University of Washington, Bothell (UWB) College of Education to develop a 4-day curriculum in a way that would give our enrolled teachers clock hours. As a bonus, any teacher who was currently in a graduate teaching program could, for a fee, could get credit towards their master’s degree.
We were golden. We had a curriculum, instructors, technology tools, guest speakers, a partner STEM business (Fred Hutch Cancer Research Center) to host the last day, website, and a few ideas on how to support the teachers when they get back to their classrooms. We even gave it a name, the ‘STEMbyTAF Teacher Institute,’ and linked it to our new STEMbyTAF brand.
All we needed was for teachers to enroll.
Let me start by saying, ‘build it and they will come’ did not work here. We made the mistake of thinking that just because there was interest, people would actually sign up. None of us were salespeople either. We had to figure it out one way or another so Zithri Saleem (who just transitioned from being Director of Education to Director of Program Strategy) made a mad dash hustle to visit school districts and contact all our networks to get butts in seats.
Our first class opened in the summer of 2013 with 33 teachers and 1 principal! Whew!
While the first offering was quite successful, we did have a couple of hurdles to get over if we were to continue:
- How do we live up to our commitment to support the teachers beyond the four day class if they are from so many different schools and there is only 1 or 2 teachers per school who have been to the training?
- How do we offer classes other than during the summer and will that impact the quality?
- How do we find investors in this model when the trend is to put more value on virtual professional development?
We solved the first problem by requiring a minimum of full grade bands from each school. For instance, all the 6th grade teachers from a school would register together. That way, they can support each other in the interdisciplinary project-based learning model and we could support full teams.
We never really solved the second problem, but we did take a little detour by seeing if we could offer a shorter version of the training to program managers of nonprofits that offer programs to students that are tied to state learning standards. It was somewhat of a success, but we left feeling like it wasn’t going to be enough to get what the program managers wanted out of it. At some point, we will have to figure this out.
The third problem is a bigger nut to crack because we’re talking about pedagogical philosophy. We really believe that teachers like to learn the same way we’re teaching the kids and in fact it’s a practical approach to teaching them the techniques. The survey results each year suggest to us that our approach is preferable and more rigorous. We will continue to pursue investors who see value in our approach.
Today, the STEMbyTAF Teacher Institute is primarily offered to the schools that are in our STEMbyTAF School Transformation program (you’ll read about that in the next article) and as the place our TAF Academy teachers prepare for the next school year and exercise their instructional coaching chops by helping the newbies.
In 2016, we hosted our largest cohort of nearly 80 teachers and 2 principals!
You can read more about the STEMbyTAF Teacher Institute here: http://techaccess.org/educators/
Here’s a few pictures from our most recent STEMbyTAF Teacher Institute: