Recent Calvin grant promotes collaboration between teachers

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Calvin College will use a recent grant of $208,000 from the Michigan Department of Education to provide professional development to local teachers. This is the fourth grant Calvin has received over the past seven years focused on improving language arts and promoting teacher collaboration in both private and public area schools.

More than 50 teachers from Buchanan Elementary, Potter’s House and Living Stones Academy attended a start-of-the-year, four-day professional development program on Calvin’s campus. Five goals — Universal Design for Learning, Writing, Assessment, Technology and Professional Learning Communities — were introduced for the year.

Additional support will be provided by field experts who will meet with teachers throughout the year. These meetings will range from open conversations about how the goals are being implemented to modeling a lesson while teachers observe.

“It’s easier to apply something once you’ve seen it rather than just hearing about it at a conference,” said Megan Cooke, a Calvin graduate who helped to coordinate the grant and one of the field experts involved in the program.

Field experts Nancy Hull and Gary Schmidt work under the assumption that by making teachers comfortable in their own writing, they will become better writing teachers. By challenging teachers to improve their own portfolios, some are now on their way to being published while passing their gift on to their students.

They said research has found that this support system is one of the most effective ways to help teachers implement new concepts into a classroom. In addition to the continued conversations with field experts, Professional Learning Communities will allow the various schools in the program to exchange ideas and methods.

The professional development is not a way to check up on teachers, but rather a way of changing schools’ cultures. Participating schools are learning the importance of carving out time for teachers to work and collaborate as professionals.

“Sometimes education is forgotten as a profession. It’s thought of as a job,” said Cooke. “These teachers come to the table with knowledge, skills and eagerness to learn.”

Despite recent budget cuts and teachers being expected to take on more responsibilities for less pay, the teachers in this program remain motivated to stay current in their changing industry, said Cooke.

“It’s nice to be able to validate the work they do and let them know they’re doing a good job.”

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