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University of Wyoming is planning a program to improve teacher education & professional development

Lindsey Balbierz
National Public Radio

The University of Wyoming’s (UW) College of Education is planning a new Master Educator Competency Program (MECP) for teachers in the state. The idea is to create a process for revolutionizing teacher preparation and bringing professional development to educators in ways that respect their time and needs. It’s tailored for educators teaching in a rural environment and is set to build competencies throughout a teacher’s career in the classroom.

The College of Education is working with 2Revolutions, a national education design lab, to launch the program. Part of the process is to get teachers to provide input on what issues and areas they think should be covered. It also would achieve Gov. Mark Gordon’s Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) initiative, announced in December.

“There are a lot of experts on these types of things around the country, [and] we wanted to know from the educators what they needed, and what they see is a need,” said Scott Thomas, the John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Dean of the College of Education at UW. “The State Board of Education has been touring the state and they've been developing something called Profile of a Graduate, and this looks at what we want from our graduates in the future. We went and visited with teachers and districts across the state and asked the question, ‘What do you want your students to know in 2030?’ They were pretty quick to be able to describe that because they had described this for the State Board of Education recently as part of the Profile of a Graduate.”

Teachers answered another question, “What they will need to know to prepare their students for life in 2030?”

“Many said change is scary for a lot of people [and] there's a great deal of time that needs to be invested in getting to the point where schools truly function in a manner that’s best for students,” he said. “’Sometimes schools are run on what best fits the schedule, and not what best fits the students. How can you help us with that?’ So, these were not things like, ‘Oh, I need to know about new techniques for teaching third grade algebra or for balancing the demands that are being placed on me from literacy.’ These were more about centering the experience around their students.”

Currently, there are several professional development initiatives that teachers can engage with throughout their careers. The Wyoming Department of Education offers some opportunities for educators as do school districts in addition to third party vendors, which are part of the multi-billion education market.

The teachers that would participate in MECP would primarily be mid-career and have significant teaching expertise. The competency aspect differs from many existing professional development initiatives as it focuses on mastering competencies instead of seat time, such as what workshops offer educators.

The partnership with 2Revolutions is also unique and struck Thomas as such when it became clear the company’s desire was to form a partnership, not a traditional client-customer relationship.

“They have connections globally on the teaching and learning front that are yielding an opportunity to work with some of the cutting edge research and teaching and learning and cognitive behavior that exists and so we felt that that was it was, as a research based College of Education, we felt that that was something distinctive, something missing in the market, and something that we could align ourselves with proudly,” Thomas said.

The College of Education has been working with seven districts across the state for the past eight months and will develop eight competencies before expanding them to 48. The ideal situation would allow for school districts to personalize professional development for their respective situations. Once a teacher demonstrates mastery of a competency (a topic of importance to a teacher, school, or district), it could possibly be used as a credit applied for a master’s degree or certificate at a university.

“We're not like scrambling to figure out how we deal with an expanding education market in Wyoming, it's a crisis of attrition,” he said. “I made the case that if we can cut the attrition rate in half by supporting, by treating our teachers as the professionals that they are and by supporting those teachers accordingly and working with them, that we could actually have a surplus of teachers in the state and we could begin thinking more deliberately about how we then raise quality of our over education workforce.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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