To learn, change

Academy seeks to aid teach­ers Guest writer

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - PAMELA YANCY-TAY­LOR

As state lead­ers and school lead­ers across Arkansas strive to make im­prove­ments to the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion we are de­liv­er­ing to our stu­dents in PK-12, there is one per­sis­tent chal­lenge that we have yet to over­come. In eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged districts, of­ten in ru­ral ar­eas with de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tions, school lead­ers strug­gle to find teach­ers to serve in their class­rooms.

The search for so­lu­tions to the prob­lem of low achieve­ment in schools serv­ing chil­dren raised in poverty is not new and is not unique to Arkansas. In the same way, staffing class­rooms to which chil­dren in poverty re­port each day is prob­lem­atic for school districts through­out the coun­try, as in Arkansas.

One piece of good news is that this gen­uine prob­lem has at­tracted the at­ten­tion of all the key play­ers, from politi­cians to pol­i­cy­mak­ers to phi­lan­thropists to in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion. Groups such as For­wARd Arkansas have been formed to ad­dress ed­u­ca­tional chal­lenges in strug­gling com­mu­ni­ties. Foun­da­tions are fund­ing nu­mer­ous strate­gies.

One col­lab­o­ra­tion is the newly cre­ated Arkansas Academy for Ed­u­ca­tional Eq­uity at the Univer­sity of Arkansas. De­vel­oped af­ter years of plan­ning by those in the Arkansas Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion, the U of A, and mul­ti­ple com­mu­nity part­ners, it is our hope that this academy, one day, will serve as a na­tional model for how to in­crease the pipe­line of qual­ity teach­ers into strug­gling schools.

The first pro­gram that the academy in­tends to of­fer will be a mas­ter’s in ed­u­ca­tion in ed­u­ca­tional eq­uity, which will pro­vide high-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tors for strug­gling, high-poverty schools. The pro­gram in­cor­po­rates a model of teacher devel­op­ment that ex­e­cutes whole-group pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment, on­line and in-per­son cour­ses, weekly co-plan­ning and feed­back con­fer­ences, and co-teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ences that are led by ex­pert con­tent coaches. Teach­ers learn strate­gies for iden­ti­fy­ing and re­duc­ing bias in in­struc­tion, in­creas­ing ef­fec­tive­ness in in­struc­tional plan­ning, and us­ing data-track­ing to in­form in­struc­tional prac­tice in high-poverty schools.

The in­tent is to cre­ate mean­ing­ful, high-qual­ity ex­pe­ri­ences for teach­ers be­cause this train­ing is job-em­bed­ded and ad­dresses is­sues faced by teach­ers daily in­side the class­room. Be­cause the goals of the Arkansas Academy for Ed­u­ca­tional Eq­uity are im­proved class­room prac­tice and stu­dent learn­ing out­comes in strug­gling districts, coach­ing is per­son­al­ized for each teacher who par­tic­i­pates in the pro­gram.

Since many school prin­ci­pals, par­tic­u­larly those who serve in low­in­come schools, are of­ten too busy to lead the process of coach­ing for each teacher in their build­ings, the pro­gram seeks to build re­la­tion­ships that sup­port schools by lead­ing the process for se­lect teach­ers. In turn, class­rooms are equipped with teach­ers who are more pre­pared to ap­proach in­struc­tion in ways that ac­cel­er­ate stu­dent achieve­ment. This con­cept is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent to ed­u­ca­tional re­form that seeks to pro­vide eq­uity of ed­u­ca­tion for all stu­dents.

Im­prov­ing class­room in­struc­tion and stu­dent learn­ing in class­rooms where there is a high rate of stu­dents who live in poverty de­mands that school ad­min­is­tra­tors, higher-ed­u­ca­tion part­ners, and com­mu­nity stake­hold­ers nur­ture the in­di­vid­ual as well as the com­bined ca­pac­ity of teach­ers. In­struc­tional coach­ing pro­vides the po­ten­tial to fos­ter col­lab­o­ra­tion that in­creases teacher aware­ness of the ex­is­tence of in­equity that ex­ists in ed­u­ca­tion and knowl­edge of best prac­tices to elim­i­nate the in­equities.

In in­struc­tional coach­ing sit­u­a­tions, lit­tle changes can make huge im­pacts.

When teach­ers learn, stu­dents learn. The academy seeks to en­sure that changes take place, one step at a time, so that class­rooms in the state of Arkansas are equipped with teach­ers who are pre­pared for the work of boost­ing stu­dent achieve­ment.

Fi­nally, this pro­gram is not of­fered to all schools in the state; many schools and districts in more af­flu­ent ar­eas have lit­tle trou­ble gen­er­at­ing hun­dreds of ap­pli­cants to ad­ver­tised teach­ing po­si­tions. The academy was not built for these schools.

Rather, this pro­gram will work with school part­ners fac­ing chal­lenges of poverty and eco­nomic de­cline, schools which still have open po­si­tions even as we are in the sec­ond month of the school year.

For those early ca­reer teach­ers in­ter­ested in the op­por­tu­nity to re­ceive high-qual­ity and con­sis­tent coach­ing through­out the aca­demic year and the op­por­tu­nity to serve in districts where the need is great, the academy may be the right an­swer. Ap­pli­ca­tions for the 2019 co­hort are now open. Early ca­reer teach­ers of all ages and back­grounds are en­cour­aged to ap­ply. Contact Jes­sica Pon­too, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of re­cruit­ment, at pon­too@uark.edu for in­for­ma­tion on the ap­pli­ca­tion process.

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Dr. Pamela Yancy-Tay­lor is se­nior di­rec­tor of in­struc­tional lead­er­ship at the Arkansas Academy for Ed­u­ca­tional Eq­uity at the Univer­sity of Arkansas.

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