SEED grant aims to bolster professional development opportunities for Northwest Colorado teachers
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With a new initiative focused on growing teacher leadership within area schools, the SEED grant project is showing positive results for the Northwest Board of Cooperative Educational Services, which serves seven school districts in the region including Steamboat Springs, Hayden and South Routt.
The highly competitive $2.9 million grant was awarded to Northwest Colorado BOCES in 2014 as part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation — i3 — program, and part of the award required the regional organization to secure 15 percent in matching funds.
The primary goals of the grant are to improve teacher effectiveness and provide high quality professional development in rural areas.
Julie Dalke and Beth Melton, along with the rest of the NW BOCES SEED team — Raylene Olinger, Maggie Bruski and Anna Blakeslee — designed the program and course offerings and spent significant time planning and gathering feedback from teachers and administrators to narrow in on the greatest needs in the varying districts.
Dalke is the i3 SEED grant project manager, and Melton is a lead innovation coach. Now in its second full year of implementation, Dalke called the program “a great success,” particularly based on the level of participation and reaction from the teachers.
One emphasis has been on job-embedded training, which allows for more consistent in-the-moment application and assessment than a summer workshop. The program offers a semester-long course called Teacher Learning Community.
Melton pointed to the importance of keeping teachers engaged as learners themselves and providing continued opportunities for growth. Classes also give teachers the chance to earn graduate-level credits.
“The focus of the class changed my focus for the semester,” said Steamboat Springs High School language arts teacher Lauren Delay-Curcio. “I just focused my lesson planning and intentions on growth mindset and student ownership, and because of that focus, I was able to change my practice. I liked having something specific and manageable to work on.”
Melton said she’s received feedback from long-time teachers who admitted complacency and reported the training was rejuvenating and helped them feel a sense of re-engagement.
“The TLC gave me the tools to try new teaching practices in my classroom,” said Steamboat Springs High School science teacher Kristen Brendtro. “I really liked encouragement to try new things so that I could grow as a teacher.”
For new teachers, the training also has a powerful impact as they gain more experience and develop their styles.
With the leadership component, teachers meet throughout the year with the program facilitators in-person, virtually and with other teachers. Their leadership roles vary widely based on the needs in their classrooms and schools as well as their individual interests and skills.
“I have found myself increasing in leadership roles,” said Soda Creek Elementary School physical education teacher Erin Early. “I also feel as though this was the first time I had true interest in the Colorado state standards and how to apply the standards to my every day teaching. I have been filled with ideas and have been so excited about it.”
Some teachers have focused on improving the use of technology, while others have led book studies with other teachers. The vast amount of resources provided by BOCES and the staff have also shown useful for teachers to bring into their schools and share.
For Dalke and Melton, in addition to their roles in training and support, they are constantly monitoring and evaluating what is working and where needs remain.
And while teacher recruitment and retention is a challenge facing districts across the nation, “If you feel more supported in your work, You are more likely to stay in that work,” added Melton.
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