Why Teacher-Centered Professional Development Matters

Delaney EarleyEvents, Programs, Support, Teachers

Educators are required to engage in continual professional development in order to improve their practice and better support their students. Through the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA), WITS invests in Chicago Public School teachers by providing them with free professional development opportunities that are both empowering and pertinent to their specific classrooms.

WITS Summer Institute
Professional Development Workshop at our 2019 Summer Institute
Professional development workshop at our 2019 Summer Institute.

The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award is a professional development program that prepares Chicago Public School teachers to advance their students to literacy and a love of reading. Applications for the program open in early December and all RLTA Awardees begin their WITS experience at our Summer Institute. This past summer, teachers received 21 options for professional development workshops and could select which sessions to attend. In this way, teachers made professional development decisions based on what would most benefit their practice and their students, and were not obligated to learn about topics that may not be relevant to their individual classrooms.

The RLTA Difference

Unlike most commercially available, district endorsed professional development, WITS workshops are led by teachers, many of whom were former RLTA Awardees themselves. This gives educators a platform to design useful professional development and provides leadership opportunities for teachers to share their expertise with others in their field. 

WITS believes that teachers are the experts in their students and their students’ learning. All of the resources, including curricula, organizational tools, and book grants, that our Awardees receive belong to them after completion of the program. This allows teachers to apply the strategies they’ve learned immediately after attending workshops and gives them an opportunity to acquire diverse and meaningful literature for their students.

Teacher Engagement Seminars

To give a preview of what our professional development entails, WITS hosts bi-yearly Teacher Engagement Seminars that are open to all educators. Our upcoming Seminar, Mirrors and Windows: Diverse Books, Curricula, and You, has been rescheduled for November 21st.

Mirrors and Windows

The workshop is presented by Kids Like Us, a local source for high-quality multicultural and urban children’s literature that was founded by Jane Fleming, current Director of Literacy for Chicago Public Schools. The seminar will give teachers a space to network and plan together on how to best diversify their classroom libraries. We are very excited by how many CPS students this workshop will reach! It is incredibly empowering to see yourself and your life experiences represented in the books you read, and we look to provide professional development opportunities that will help make this a reality for more of our students.


The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Alumni Network consists of over 5,400 teachers. By placing teachers at the center of their professional development, WITS strives to equip educators to design and select meaningful learning opportunities to both grow in their practice and revisit their love of reading so that in turn, our students have the tools and the passion to become life-long readers.

WITS would like to thank BMO Harris Bank, Exelon, the Polk Bros. Foundation, and the Seabury Foundation for making our Summer Institute possible.

Every year WITS offers
Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees over

0 hours

of free, educator-led professional development workshops.

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