Upper Valley Educators Institute starting collaborative teaching research program

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/30/2021 6:42:51 AM
Modified: 10/30/2021 6:42:50 AM

LEBANON — The Upper Valley Educators Institute has started a new program where educators will work together on topics that impact schools across the Twin States.

Named after the nonprofit organization’s founder, the Barbara Barnes Initiative for Collaborative Learning launched this school year after a pilot program in recent school years.

“The centerpiece of the project is each year UVEI convenes a network of educators who are interested in a common challenge or a common problem of practice they’re facing in their schools,” said Page Tompkins, president of UVEI, where he is also an instructor.

The Lebanon-based nonprofit organization trains teachers and administrators throughout the Twin States. Teachers can also earn their master’s degrees at the institution.

During the first pilot year for the collaborative in 2018-19, educators looked at how to teach students to work together effectively in groups. It involved 11 fellows from nine different schools.

“Part of the challenge that they identified was that this is a critically important skill for being successful in work and life and what we find is that we put students in groups, but we don’t really teach them how to be effective members of a team or working group,” Tompkins said.

The topic for the 2019-20 school year — “instructional leadership for early childhood education leaders” — involved one fellow, but it was put on pause due to the pandemic. In 2020-21, the program resumed with “equity-centered deeper learning for teachers,” but it was scaled down due to the continuing pandemic.

This year — with a topic of “equity-centered deeper learning classroom practice” — it has officially launched. It involves eight fellows from White River Valley High School, Lin-Wood Public School, Milan Village School, Vilas Middle School, Lyndon Institute, Profile High School and The Lyme School.

The program is being supported by a $750,000 grant from the Byrne Foundation. One tenet of the program is that the researchers are the educators themselves who are in a school setting day in and day out. That’s something that was really important to Barnes, Tompkins said.

“This is educators coming together and understanding and solving shared challenges that they face,” he said. “It can’t be educational researchers talking to each other; it has to be practical.”

One of those educators is Amy Burlock, a special education teacher at Milan Village School in northern New Hampshire. One reason she joined the Barnes Initiative is that she wants to help teachers who are interested in deeper learning, which shows students how to apply the lessons they learn in the classroom to real-life problems.

“With deeper learning you demonstrate (by actually) doing something and using those skills,” Burlock said. “You may have done the worksheet, but now you can use those same skills to do something like make a quilt, using the geometry you learned in school.”

Burlock, along with the other educators in this year’s class, is working on collecting data from colleagues through a questionnaire. Then they will compare findings to identify common themes that educators across their schools note. That information will be used to come up with potential techniques teachers can try out in their own classrooms across districts all over the Twin States.

“I think the benefit really is having that wide variety of experiences ourselves and bringing different things to our research,” Burlock said. “It’s exciting right now; we’re just at the stage where we’re gathering initial data from our sites and it’s really interesting to see how similar and how different each of our schools are reacting to our topic.”

One of the things that appeals to Burlock about the Barnes Initiative is that it is grassroots and coming from educators themselves.

“In general, out of the schools that I’ve worked in for the last 16 years, it is more difficult to follow direction of somebody who is not or has never been a teacher because they don’t understand some of the little nuances, so I think it will be more open, people will be more open to it,” Burlock said. “It really reminds me of how we teach students, and what works with students also works with teachers. If you give the choice they’re going to want to do it more or they’re going to be more likely to want to do it.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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