Teachers As Scholars
How the Model Works
The Premise: Teachers’ Professional Development
While many school districts offer professional development activities for teachers, these activities often focus on pedagogical techniques or prepackaged curricula, and frequently take place when teachers are least likely to benefit—after school hours or on the weekend. Rarely do such sessions engage teachers with current research in their fields, with the university faculty who conduct that research, or even with colleagues outside their own grade level or subject area.
Content-based seminars led by university faculty are the centerpiece of the Woodrow Wilson/Teachers As Scholars model, based on the simple but powerful premise that teachers’ intellectual development is professional development. Many participating teachers report that, by providing new perspectives, new contexts, new challenges, and crucial reminders of why they themselves love to learn, these seminars affect their classrooms profoundly. On a final evaluation, one teacher wrote:
This was fantastic! To speak and listen to colleagues and experts for knowledge’s sake…is something we miss. Also the K–12 mix is outstanding. This will make me a better teacher.
Mainly, I welcome participating in an event that, by its structure, values me as a thinking professional. The program tells me it’s OK and even important to engage in intellectual pursuits and trusts that I will not squander the opportunity.
The Resource: University Arts & Sciences Faculty
If students are to meet the latest standards of educated citizenship, their teachers need opportunities to stay abreast of new academic thought, to prepare and update themselves as liberal arts scholars and academic leaders. To provide such opportunities, the Woodrow Wilson Seminars for Teachers link K–12 schools and teachers with universities’ arts and sciences faculty, many of them scholars whose work is shaping their fields.
A college professor who taught a TAS seminar marveled at “the intelligence and professionalism of the teachers I met.” At the same time, he was struck by many participants’ dated approaches to history: “I could tell when the teachers had attended college by their comments. They knew surprisingly little of the new scholarship in history.”
At the same time, university faculty teach students who come from these same K–12 classrooms. Working with these students requires an understanding of how they have been taught. What’s more, to the extent that university researchers help translate their new knowledge to elementary and secondary schools, they need to grasp the realities of contemporary K–12 education from the perspective of the teachers who provide it. One professor commented:
I’d like to thank you again for inviting me to participate in Teachers As Scholars. My seminar on the Wild West was a great teaching and learning experience, certainly as much a step in ‘professional development’ for me as for the seminar members. The participants were wonderful students, but it was their experience as teachers that added the most interesting dimension. I left the seminar with a much better understanding of the challenges of teaching history at the primary and secondary level.
Some sites in the Woodrow Wilson seminar network encourage university faculty not only to lead seminars, but also to meet with interested school departments to discuss curricular development and academic standards. The visits help ensure that public school teaching reflects the latest approaches to scholarship and that college teaching reflects the latest in K–12 pedagogical approaches.
The Approach: Back to College
Rather than attempt to offer intellectual substance at the end of the school day, when teachers are exhausted and have other responsibilities, TAS seminars are held when they have the greatest chance of success: when participant teachers are alert, fresh, and ready to become active participants in the day’s activities. Teachers enrolled in Teachers As Scholars seminars are released during the school day to participate in the program. Schools agree to pay costs for substitute teachers.
Seminars are held on a college or university campus away from the day-to-day responsibilities and distractions of school. Meeting in a university setting not only sends a powerful message to participating teachers about the academic nature of the program, but also demonstrates both the university’s and the school’s investment in the teachers’ engagement.
The Implementation: Woodrow Wilson’s Role
Funding: The Woodrow Wilson Foundation provides start-up grants to help new sites launch TAS programs. Money from Woodrow Wilson may be used to fund any direct program expenses, but grants may not exceed one-third the total program budget (not including in-kind contributions). To maximize the impact of the small grants provided, participating institutions are not permitted to include indirect costs in their proposal as part of the two-thirds’ contribution to the program budget.
While sources of other funding vary from site to site, most sites rely on a partnership model for various contributions. School districts bear the costs of hiring substitute teachers; at some sites they are also required to pay membership fees (other sites seek additional external funds to obviate such fees). Universities provide classroom facilities, program administration, and office costs. Frequently, local foundations or PTAs also contribute to help cover school expenses.
Technical Assistance: In addition to startup funds, Woodrow Wilson also offers technical assistance, both for districts developing TAS partnerships and for similar programs not seeking financial support through WW funds. Districts and institutions applying to participate in the WW network should request pre-application review of and advice on proposals.
In-Network Support and Convenings: Woodrow Wilson convenes annual meetings of all TAS project directors, hosted by sites around the country. In addition, a WW email list offers program directors ongoing opportunities to interact and exchange ideas.
For more information about available assistance, contact Marue Walizer, Senior Consultant for School/University Partnerships,at (609) 452-7007, ext. 313.