WITS engages teachers through the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award because we know we cannot advance student literacy without supporting the educators who lead them in the classroom each and every day. The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award provides Chicago Public Schools teachers with access to the tools, resources, and community they need to create and support professional learning communities within their schools. This elevates their instruction and fosters a culture of learning and collaboration among their peers, administrators, and students.
The cornerstone of this program is the RLTA Summer Institute, when Awardees come together to improve their literacy instructional practices, tailoring their experience to gain the techniques that are most applicable to their students. During the Summer Institute, Awardees receive access to 200+ hours of teacher-led professional development workshops, study current educational texts in the RLTA library to plan their upcoming school year, and earn Continuing Professional Development Units (CPDU’s). At the end of the summer, they receive a classroom library grant to increase students’ access to age-appropriate, culturally relevant books in their classrooms.
WITS recognizes that choice is essential for educators to gain the best possible tools, and for WITS to foster equitable, long-lasting impact on the school communities we serve. We create program offerings based on teacher requests, educational trends, and consultation with the CPS Department of Literacy. This ensures relevant, effective professional development experiences. Across the board, educators value the freedom to select courses based on their instructional goals and return to RLTA year-over-year because the program offers flexible, applicable techniques.
Through the program, Awardees learn to develop balanced literacy practices and bring a love of reading into their classrooms. The RLTA alumni network consists of over 5,400 educators who continue to use their learning to spread a lifelong love of reading to their students and others. Tai Basurto, RLTA alum and current Principal at Dore Elementary School, reflects on her biggest takeaway as an awardee,
“RLTA is so valuable to me as an educator because the focus isn’t just on content and pedagogy – it is also on your own development as aleader. When you’re an educator having socialization with other educators is so important, especially when you want to transition into a leadership role. RLTA helped me to make this transition by nurturing my own development so I could become a leader. I have a reading specialist certification but that’s all theory – the Rochelle Lee award put it into practice.”
Just as WITS programs for students are centered on empowerment, the RLTA program encourages educators to invest in their own development as leaders and cultivators of a broader culture of literacy throughout the city of Chicago.
WITS sees the value in adults modeling an attitude of lifelong learning, as evidenced in both our volunteer powered literacy mentorship programs and our teacher professional development program. RLTA alum Brian Puerling, Director of Education Technology at Catherine Cook School, emphasizes,
“The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award helped me keep certain things at the forefront in my learning and helped me maintain a learner perspective. I gained so much knowledge from people in the program and now I get to share some of my own learning. I think of learning as a two-way street and now I’m always trying to help teachers make connections to literacy and reading with students.”
Many Awardees mention the effects the opportunity has on their school culture, with the benefits of the program going beyond their participation during the summer. Melissa Handler joined the RLTA program during her first year of teaching at Brentano Elementary. She says about her time in the program,
“Brentano went from almost closing down to being a Level 1+ school in five years. The Rochelle Lee [Teacher] Award helped close this gap through the professional development myself and other teachers received. I was able to work with teachers across CPS and hear their stories on what they had access to and what they didn’t have access to. This program was a common place where everyone has access to high-quality professional development.”
Now the Assistant Principal at Taft High School, Melissa notes that her participation as a RLTA study group leader helped her understand the importance of lifelong learning and credits her current leadership style to opportunities she had to grow during her years in the RLTA program.
RLTA alumni gain momentum for teacher leadership, professional collaboration, and sustainable instructional change. As teachers establish themselves as literacy best practices experts, their strength and innovation permeate school and district-wide, affecting system level changes that improve education outcomes for all students.