Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA) Summer Institute 2021

Daphne RobinsonInside WITS, Programs, Teachers, Uncategorized

As Chicago Public School (CPS) teachers were planning and preparing lessons for the fall, Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees (RLTA) were also improving their own literacy skills by participating in the WITS Summer Institute. The RLTA Summer Institute is a program requirement for grant recipients that allows teachers to receive free professional development and earn continuing professional development units (CPDUs), used toward license renewal. The professional development offered in The RLTA Summer Institute is geared toward literacy. This is the first year that all awardees are participating in study groups. As a way of resetting and making sure that everyone knew about the study group processes, both new and returning group members were required to attend study group member orientation.  

New Study Group Member, Joe Pekarek, a teacher from The Ogden International School of Chicago, shared: “I thought this session did a really good job of laying out the framework for the group work we will do this year.  I am excited to go through this process with colleagues I can share with and learn from.  I look forward to making the most of the opportunity this program will provide.”

Classroom Libraries, Read Alouds and Independent Reading

Program participants are required to take a one-session or two-session elective in addition to either a study group member or leader training workshop. New teachers also received an orientation to the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award program. Orientation focuses on the three basic tenants of the RLTA program – Classroom Libraries, Read Alouds and Independent Reading.  New awardees also participate in Becoming Readers Institute: a two-session workshop to reignite teachers’ passion for reading. This year’s selection was The Leavers by Lisa Ko. The workshop provides participants and opportunity to have a deep discussion with other teachers about the selected novel. The story touched upon immigration, detention, racism, and interracial adoption.


Summer Institute attendees had the opportunity to select from nearly 20 elective workshops from offerings such as: “Let’s Play: Increasing Engagement Through Performance and Collaboration”; “G Suite in the Writer’s Workshop”; and “An Autistic Teacher Shows You How to Make Your ELA Classroom Friendly to the Neurodiverse”. The elective workshops all focused on different aspects of literacy, for educators of Pre-k through upper grade students. The workshop content was created by facilitators, many who are current CPS teachers and former awardees. The workshops allowed teachers to look at content differently and provided resources that could be utilized in their classrooms in the fall.

Summer Institute 2021

Summer Institute 2021 was the first time that non-awardee teachers were allowed to participate in the elective workshops. In addition to the 122 awardees there were 108 teachers who expressed interest in workshops; 47 registered; and 34 attended at least one workshop. These non-awardee teachers received the same high quality professional development along with our awardees and were able to network and receive the resources that were shared.

Teachers who participated in the Summer Institute had great things to say about the content and facilitators. Megan Ozark-Rutishauser, a participant in “Get Your Mind into the Gutter: Strategies for Teaching Graphic Novels” reflected:

This was a wonderful presentation! I am very excited to bring this back to my school. I have a few colleagues that are some of “those teachers” that don’t view graphic novels as legitimate literature, so I am eager to share these resources with them.  Thank you so much!

Megan Ozark-Rutishauser
COVID-19 Adjustments

For the second consecutive summer, due to COVID-19, all workshops were presented on Zoom. Limited capacity allowed participants to ask questions in real time. This shift still allowed for teachers to engage with one another through breakout rooms and using chat for discussion. To hear from one of our facilitators, discussing her experience with this year’s Summer Institute, see “Social Justice in the Classroom: How Teachers Inspire Students to be Heroes” by WITS Program Manager Laurie Brooks.