What’s the most important part of a child’s education? Is it resources? Environment? Content? What about the teachers? They have the power to shape the way a child learns. A good teacher can be the difference between success and failure. But what about the teacher’s teachers?
The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) teamed up with the Rhode Island Office of Innovation and picked the top educators from around the state, posing the question: How can we better prepare our state’s teachers for the unique challenges they face in 2018? Several teams have tried to figure out the answer.
Over the course of about two months, educators from Westerly to Woonsocket, kindergarten teachers through college professors, have gathered in teams to determine areas that Rhode Island needs to improve upon. Proposals varied widely, with the teams putting forth program designs for everything from recruiting and diversifying teaching candidates to better implementation of technology and 21st century thinking in the classroom.
“Nobody’s ever done something like this before,” says Daniela Fairchild, the Director of Education for the Rhode Island Office of Innovation. “The K-12 community came together with the Ed-Prep community and they collaborated and designed. They thought together.”
The two projects chosen both had a focus on English Language Learners (ELL) and their teachers. Alexa Brunton is a former Providence ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher and a member of a winning team; according to Brunton, Rhode Island has a growing population of ELL students and not enough teachers or resources to focus on them. Her team presented the idea to pair first-year teachers in the field of ESL with those considered “expert teachers”, allowing them to take the time to observe and shadow these seasoned veterans (with planned, excused days from their own classrooms) so they can build a better day for their own students.
Michael Broschart, Brunton’s team member, agrees that this is vitally important. “A lot of these students have been marginalized,” he says. Students who speak English as a second language often don’t get the personalized kind of services that English-speaking children receive. RIDE hopes to change that pattern by implementing these two plans within the coming school year.
Dr. Kelly Donnell, a professor with Roger Williams University, was a member of the second selected team - a team that also focused on ESL teachers - and she entirely agrees with her colleagues. “Rhode Island has an urgent need to support English learners in our PK-12 systems,” she says. “We also have a shortage of ESL teachers.”
Dr. Donnell’s team’s proposition is similar, but slightly different. They will use a bank of videos, geared to ESL teachers, to showcase what she and her team call “power standards” - things all ESL teachers should know and utilize in the classroom.
Both of these projects are timely and important - the population of people speaking languages other than English in Rhode Island is growing, but the ESL teaching population remains the same. The entire judging panel was on board with both ideas, recognizing the need for improvement in the state.
“The suggestion of the Commissioner [Ken Wagner] was for us to work together,” says Broshcart. “These projects have the potential to show real, scalable, systemic change.”