LARAMIE — The leader of the University of Wyoming’s College of Education recently presented UW’s Board of Trustees with a realistic view of the teacher labor market crisis confronting the state and nation. He also mapped a process for revolutionizing teacher preparation and bringing professional development to educators in ways that respect their time and needs.
Scott Thomas, the John P. “Jack” Ellbogen Dean of the College of Education, outlined a plan to ask educators the right questions to identify training that addresses specific needs while increasing access to learner-centered, competency-based professional development that is respectful and appropriately incentivized.
The College of Education is working in partnership with 2Revolutions, a national education design lab, to launch the UW Master Educator Competency Program and transform educator preparation and professional development across the arc of a teacher’s career.
“The disruption we see in the teacher labor market comes at the real cost of our children’s success, but plugging the vacancy hole without eliminating the cause of the churn of teachers provides a false remedy to the real problem — a failure to develop and retain excellent educators to serve our children,” Thomas says.
Working with a base of 7,400 full-time-equivalent teachers, Wyoming has a turnover rate of about 11 percent. Some of these teachers move to other schools in the state, some retire and some leave the profession entirely. Recent data show that, through teacher transfer and new hiring, Wyoming school districts replace about 500 of those teachers, which leaves a gap of about 300 teachers annually.
School districts in remote areas have more difficulty hiring and retaining teachers. Districts serving higher proportions of children in poverty also tend to have additional challenges hiring and retaining teachers.
“We can address the teacher labor market while strengthening our schools and communities by using a creative and self-sustaining approach to retaining well-qualified teaching professionals,” Thomas says. “The math is simple. If we can cut attrition in half, we realize a surplus of teachers. The road to this solution is paved in partnership with the teachers themselves.”
There are several complementary components to the UW plan to develop and retain master educators, including the Wyoming Teacher-Mentor Corps; UW’s High Altitude Pathway program to increase the college-career readiness of incoming freshmen; and the UW Arc of a Master Teacher model. They fit together with the new Master Educator Competency Program to support teachers early in their careers, give veteran teachers opportunities to reflect on their own learning, and develop their mentorship skills. Until recently, online professional development has been a poor substitute for in-person experiences.
The Master Educator Competency Program will help achieve the ambitions of Gov. Mark Gordon’s Reimagining and Innovating the Delivery of Education (RIDE) initiative, which aims to create the ideal education system for the future of the state.
“The model of professional development we strive for centers on the learners, creating cohorts with specific foci, and fashioning modules that can be scaffolded and arranged, according to each student’s needs and abilities,” Thomas says. “It is competency-based learning at its best, delivering professional development that is relevant, respectful and co-created with the educators who participate in it.”