Learning all summer long at Western Colorado University

Photo of a group of teachers taking a break from a hike.

Learning all summer long at Western Colorado University

Dr. Jay Whitacre
Photo by: Sep 4, 2019
 

The summer months usually mean a break from school for students and teachers, but the Western Colorado University Department of Education has been hard at work over the past three months providing learning and professional development opportunities for Western students and currently licensed educators from Colorado and beyond. Through Summer Licensure Orientation, Principal Licensure Orientation, Western’s Summer Teacher Institute, and Capstone Summer Session, Western faculty have worked to help students and teachers alike hone their pedagogy skills and create lasting connections to help them excel in their positions as educators and administrators.

Another successful Summer Licensure Orientation

Western’s Education programs focus on experiential learning and provide each student with a full school year apprenticeship in a classroom with a master teacher. This transition from student to apprentice teacher can be intense, but Western’s three-day Summer Licensure Orientation worked to alleviate any uncertainties and help undergraduate and graduate teacher candidates learn the skills they need to effectively transition into their roles of educators. Jeff Hulbert, faculty lecturer in Education, directed the event attended by almost 90 students. Hulbert explained the purpose of this session was to familiarize teacher candidates with their responsibilities as educators in addition to their role as Western students.

The Summer Licensure Orientation provided attendees with strategies and techniques on how to manage their classrooms effectively, teach in a way that ensures learning, and build rapport with students from a variety of backgrounds. Students left the Summer Licensure Orientation feeling confident and prepared for their residencies. They emerged with a skill set that they will continue to build upon throughout the upcoming school year.

Prospective principals get ready to lead

Similar to Summer Licensure Orientation, Western’s Principal Licensure Orientation is a hands-on educational experience geared toward helping Colorado’s next generation of principals learn the skills they’ll need to be competent and effective leaders in their positions. Dr. Brian Coppess, Western’s Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Director of Principal Licensure, headed the three-day session attended by 24 students. Coppess explained that the main goal of this session is to help students shift their thinking and practice from being a teacher to being a school leader.

Among other things, he invited students to reflect upon what kind of leader they wanted to be, and how to implement their visions for success and growth in the schools they direct.

“It’s a mindset,” explained Coppess, “Principal candidates need to understand their new role, reflect on their own purpose, and value and believe in their work.”

Students who attended the session gained ample knowledge of how to not simply be a chief school administrator, but a leader who envisions fulfilling their school’s mission and purpose.

Enriching and invigorating teachers through Summer Teacher Institute

In addition to preparing Western students for another school year, Western’s Summer Teacher Institute worked to help currently licensed educators network with scholars and teachers from around the state and nation improve their pedagogy skills to enhance learning in their classrooms. Jenny Whitacre, lecturer in Education, served as director of the institute, which was held June 10-22. Over 100 teachers attended the session conducted by expert educators, local community partners, Gunnison Watershed School District teachers, teachers from other districts in Colorado and Western professors. The Institute offered over 30 courses which covered a variety of subjects including math, art, sign language, science and educational technology.

Reflecting trends and needs in contemporary schools, all sessions touched upon themes such as teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students, implementing project-based learning in classrooms, and teaching in ways to enhance motivation and engagement for learning.

"My hope is that teachers who attended were able to develop new, professional relationships, and feel inspired and invigorated for the upcoming school year,” Whitacre noted. She plans to continue growing the institute in future summers so teachers can continue to advance their pedagogical prowess at Western.

Preparing teachers to be informed, thoughtful inquirers

After successfully completing their residency, graduate students take post-licensure courses and complete a Capstone Project to earn a master's degree. Western’s Capstone Summer Session aimed to prepare students to conduct action research on an educational topic of interest. Nearly 40 students attended the session directed by Dr. Ian Renga, Assistant Professor of Education, to learn how to design studies, gather data and ensure ethical compliance.

Over a weekend in late July, students took the first steps to begin developing their research ideas, which in previous years have included topics such as parent involvement, best practices in teaching literacy, and different strategies for teaching culturally and linguistically diverse student populations.

“One of the big things we work to encourage is leadership through gathering and sharing research information,” Dr. Renga explained, “But we also want to help students become engaged and excited to conduct their own research. It’s rigorous, but fun work.”

In the coming months, students will advance their projects and build expertise on a topic of relevance to their work.

Looking forward

As the 2019-2020 school year begins, students and educators who attended summer sessions at Western will be well prepared with new and important skills that will help them thrive in their classroom positions. Attendees’ experiences from these summer sessions will help them build meaningful relationships with students, promote student learning, and create cultures of inquiry and compassion in their classrooms. Through Summer Licensure Orientation, Principal Licensure Orientation, Summer Teacher Institute, and Capstone Summer Session, Western faculty and guest lecturers provided innovative techniques and strategies to students on how to be the most effective educators possible and provide equitable learning opportunities for all students they’ll teach throughout the upcoming school year and beyond.

Story by Katie Lyons.