||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
Community Of Learners Participants|
To Graduate From Pilot Program
MAILED: Dec. 7, 1998|
When Becky Graf entered the classroom 10 years ago, she was armed with worksheets and lecture notes the staples of the traditional high school English teacher.
Today her students are more likely to find themselves working together on group projects or leading lively class discussions than struggling to complete worksheets or trying to follow yet another lecture.
"I sensed my old style was not working; that I was not connecting with the students," said Graf, a teacher at North High School in Eau Claire. "I finally realized that students have changed and education has changed. Now I see my role more as a facilitator. My students are more responsible for their own learning."
Graf gives much of the credit for her new teaching style a style she says is much more effective to fellow participants in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's pilot Community of Learners master's program.
While earning their masters in education-professional development, 24 teachers spend one weekend a month together for four semesters sharing experiences, research and strategies for succeeding in the classroom. The weekend sessions, coupled with a required research class, give them 19 of the 30 required program credits. Participants then take other classes that interest them during the summer to earn the remaining credits.
"The idea behind the community is that these people stay together study together for a two-year period," said Bill Dunlap, a professor of curriculum and instruction and co-facilitator of the program. "They support each other and share their expertise with one another and everyone benefits."
"The real highlight has been the collaboration with my colleagues," said Stephanie Rowe, a health teacher at South Middle School in Eau Claire. "Everyone comes with an expertise that they can give voice to. As educators, we don't often have this kind of opportunity to collaborate and share. But in this program, everything is relevant. Everything was brought together under a common vision."
The community of learners concept has proven so successful that UW-Eau Claire started a second program this fall, this time with 32 members. And the pilot group has said it wants to meet even after participants have their degrees in hand, Dunlap said, noting that even he was surprised at the level of camaraderie that has developed within the group.
"All of us in the learning community are very much motivated to continue to grow and learn about educational issues and to cover issues that we didn't get to," Rowe said of the desire to continue meeting. "That to me is amazing. Sometimes when people come out of a traditional master's program, they're just relieved to be done. But with this group, the program has sparked the flame of wanting more. To come out of a program motivated and encouraged to continue lifelong learning, that's what education is all about."
Among the program's strengths is that the class is made up of teachers from all grade levels and disciplines, said Dunlap, adding that the pilot program was mostly made up of teachers from the Eau Claire School District but that the second class has members from throughout western Wisconsin.
"They have found that they face the same issues at the different levels," Dunlap said. "They can learn from one another even if one person teaches first grade and another teaches at the high school level."
As a first-grade teacher, it's rare to interact with middle and high school teachers, said Judy Staszcuk, a teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Eau Claire. But many education concepts are relevant to all ages, she said, noting that she has used in her first-grade classroom strategies shared by high school teachers in the community.
"We're sounding boards for one another," said Marjorie Craemer, a math teacher at North High School. "And we share information about everything. We don't all have to be experts on everything because someone else is and they are there to share."
The class itself determined what topics it would discuss, giving them a sense of ownership of the program, said Barbara Goings, a drama and English teacher at Memorial High School in Eau Claire. Among the topics discussed were technology, critical thinking, conflict resolution and brain-based learning, she said.
"We pick a topic we want to explore and we have all day Saturday and Sunday to do it," Goings said. "And if we want, we can come back to it the next month. It's not a time-driven program like many of the traditional classes and programs."
"This is the best thing I've ever done professionally," Graf said of the program. "I can take what we did Saturday and Sunday and put it in my classroom Monday morning."
"I think this is going to be the learning prototype for the future," Staszcuk said.
As part of the program, students must submit a capstone project that demonstrates how they have grown as a professional and how they used the information they have gathered during the program in their classrooms, Dunlap said, noting that 20 of the students will graduate in December.
"It's a way to help them connect what they've been studying to what is going on in their classrooms," Dunlap said.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Dec. 7, 1998