Exciting Changes to the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Program

Daphne RobinsonPrograms, Teachers

The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award, a competitive award which focuses on literacy professional development for Chicago Public School teachers, is making changes for the 2021-22 cohort. Since the program’s inception we have offered the award to individuals and study groups. All participants receive professional development in our Summer Institute and earn continuing education units toward re-certification, as well as a stipend to purchase books for their classroom.

For the 2021-2022 program year, book awards will only be awarded to study groups. The shift allows the program to focus on developing a larger number of teachers as leaders within their schools.

Study groups are a group of 4-8 teachers at the same school who want to study the same topic centered around a professional text. WITS purchases the selected text for the group members. Each study group has a coach that meets with each group two or three times a year, in addition to an individual meeting with each member during the first semester of the school year. The group sets a goal and works on different strategies with their students to achieve the literacy goal.

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Study groups have a strong impact on the literacy focus in a school, since there are several teachers using strategies with students in the same school community. By focusing on study groups in the next program year, the RLTA program will allow a greater depth of impact. “Collaborative teacher learning, in which research knowledge and teachers’ knowledge and experience are connected, is considered to have a particularly positive impact on teacher professional development, school development, and the professional learning climate in schools (Hubers, Schildkamp, Poortman, & Pieters, 2017; Stoll & Kools, 2017).”

New to RLTA in 2021-2022, teachers who have no previous relationship with the program will be able to apply as the study group leader. Formerly, study group leaders had to be former Awardees. To ensure the success of the Awardees who haven’t participated in the program previously, the groups will receive additional coaching and work with experienced study group leaders.

One of the core components of the RLTA program is the professional development. During the summer, teachers are offered an opportunity to participate in workshops that are facilitated by teachers who are using strategies in classrooms like their own. Many of the facilitators are current Chicago Public School teachers and former or current Awardees who understand the needs of the students in the district. Individuals will still be encouraged to participate in the professional development workshops during the Summer Institute, though they will not receive a classroom book award. One teacher from the 2020 Summer Institute said, “I valued the diversity of thought and getting ideas to incorporate in the classroom.” Another offered, “It’s always nice to hear the experiences of teachers from different school settings (like schools with different focuses, like STEM or arts) as well as teachers from different areas with different populations. Listening to how they tackle challenges is always enlightening for me.”

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Each summer, the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award offers workshops centered around literacy, specifically its use in core subjects, arts, and pedagogy. This principle of providing high-quality literacy professional development to teachers has not changed, though the topics have. During COVID-19 restrictions, even as the Summer Institute workshops were shifted online, teachers were still able to engage with one another. One participant said, “In this time of Coronavirus, it is so important to stay positive, connected, and collaborate with other teachers. These workshops gave me another opportunity to do this!” Another teacher mentioned resource sharing was one of the best parts of the summer workshops. “Even if just suggestions dropped in chats–that was great!”

Allowing teachers to learn from one another, as well as engage and share ideas and resources, remains a vital part of the program. Though individuals may still participate in the workshops, they will not receive book grants and do not need to apply. Teachers will still be able to participate in the program even if they are not receiving classroom library books.  Individuals can participate in workshops and receive continuing professional development units for re-certification in Illinois; share their knowledge and strategies by leading elective workshops; mentor new study group members through the required workshops, or facilitate a teacher book club.

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