Commentary - UVEI - Upper Valley Educators Institute

  • The Learning by Doing Advantage

    Over the past decade, I have had the privilege of working with the Upper Valley Educators Institute’s (UVEI) administration, faculty, and students and, as a result, I have learned first-hand the impact of their philosophy: learning by doing. UVEI is a place where the art of teaching and leadership is learned through practice, and its programs heavily engage candidates with colleagues and mentors in real-life situations over extended periods of time.

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  • The Sine Qua Non: Thinking Like an Assessor

    Throughout my ten years as a teacher educator, I have continually wondered about the work we do: What are the conditions, structured opportunities, and practice preservice teachers need now in order to become effective educators in the future?

    In a way, seeking an answer to this question is like pushing a boulder up a hill, because the greatest impact on a new teacher’s practice, and a factor largely out of our control, is their teaching context--their students, colleagues, the school’s values and routines, mentoring. On the other hand, we also know that creating the conditions for teacher candidates to develop some basic repertoires of practice--such as participation strategies--and an inspired vision of their work is crucial to set the stage for their future practice.

    With this in mind, my colleagues from University of New Hampshire and Southern New Hampshire University and I were particularly interested in how new teachers learn what’s been recognized “as a sine qua non for today's competent educator” (Popham, 2009, p. 4) and is one of the most challenging elements of teaching for new teachers to understand and practice successfully: assessment literacy. Assessment literacy is broadly defined as the knowledge and skills teachers need to effectively develop assessments, and interpret and use their results, for a variety of educational purposes, and to communicate those results to a variety of educational shareholders (Brookhart, 2011). In our study, we focused on a particular aspect of assessment literacy, the formative assessment process, which includes:

    • Creating opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding of standards and objectives

    • Analyzing evidence of student thinking and learning in order to

      • Uncover the patterns of understanding across a group of students

      • Provide helpful and specific feedback  to individual and groups of students that are aligned with standards and objectives and

      • Design next steps for instruction that are informed by this analysis  

    Specifically, we were interested in the relationship between beginning teachers’ assessment literacy while they were in their teacher preparation program and during their first year of teaching. To study this relationship, we analyzed six recently graduated teachers’ performance on the New Hampshire Teacher Candidate Assessment of Performance (NH TCAP), a robust performance assessment completed during their student teaching; and interviews with and observations of these same teachers during their first year of teaching. Collecting these qualitative data on individual teachers’ experiences and learning that span the preservice and induction years is essential for understanding what really impacts beginning teacher learning.   

    Here’s what we found: Across our cases, the teachers’ assessment literacy on their TCAP was strongly related to their assessment literacy during their first year of teaching. For example, teachers whose feedback to students in their TCAP assessments focused on correct and incorrect responses tended to continue using this kind of feedback during their first year, and teachers who aligned their assessments on the TCAP with key outcomes tended to do the same one year later. However, when there was growth in teachers’ assessment literacy, we attributed it to the collaboration and collective practices the teachers were engaged in their schools (e.g., collectively analyzing student work).

    Another key finding related to the importance of alignment. When there was alignment among teachers’ assessments, outcomes, and instruction, teachers saw students’ performance as evidence of true understanding, and consequently gave students relevant feedback to further their progress. When there was misalignment, teachers’ understanding of student performance tended to be surface-level, and their feedback was vague and did not guide students’ progress toward learning objectives.

    What did we learn from this study about beginning teacher learning of assessment? First, thinking--and teaching--like an assessor is hard, but important. I’m grateful that at UVEI we emphasize backward design and teaching for understanding throughout our program. Second (and this is not new learning, but important to reestablish), learning to teach is a complex journey, shaped by individual proclivities and motivations and contextual practices and values. It has always been fascinating to witness and take part in the journey with those inspiring individuals who choose teaching.

    I want to leave you with a quote from Deborah Ball that captures the importance helping beginning teachers develop both a mindset and the skills to think about student thinking, to think like an assessor:

    “What you do when you’re teaching is you think about other people’s thinking...You don’t think about your own thinking; you think what other people think. That’s really hard.”

    Commentary by Christopher Ward, PhD

    Chris Wardis the Graduate Studies Coordinator and member of the Program Faculty.  Along with colleagues at the University of Washington and Vanderbilt University, he received the Best Article of the Year award for the article, Situated Motivation, published in the journal, Educational Psychologist.

    For more, see

    For more commentary by Chris, see


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  • The UVEI Coach: Your Personal Guide

    An internship at UVEI is a lot like the long distance thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. Both have an exciting, though somewhat apprehensive outset into the unknown, followed by an arduous journey of several months, leading to a clear and lofty goal at the end.  But the novice hiker on the UVEI trek has a priceless asset in the services of a highly experienced, trail-wise personal guide:  the UVEI Faculty Coach.

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  • Three Things I Wish I'd Known

    I’m a graduate of UVEI’s teaching program, and was a middle school English teacher. I now work with aspiring teachers, and I’m often asked, “What do you wish you had known before taking your first teaching job?” Since I don’t have a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor, I can’t change what my 25-year-old self knew before accepting my first position. But I can share what I’ve learned with new and aspiring teachers.

    Here are my top three pieces of advice that I share with new teachers – and wish I could have told myself.

    1. Seek feedback - Most schools will assign you a mentor teacher. But these people are often seen by new teachers as the go-to for information like how to use the copier, and what forms to fill out when registering for professional development. Invite that person to watch you teach. Ask for feedback. Schedule a time to sit down with him/her and plan lessons or look at student work together. If your mentor teacher isn’t receptive or available, find someone in the building who is. Some schools even have instructional coaches. Reach out to those individuals early and often.

    2. Beware the faculty room - My first principal asked me if I knew why he liked that the faculty room was windowless, stuffy, and uninviting. Because you’re cheap? I wondered. He wasn’t, so I knew that wasn’t the answer. “So the teachers don’t sit in here too long and complain or gossip.” Genius. But the truth is that some teachers will congregate wherever they can to complain-- about administrators, colleagues, parents, and, most horrifying, students. Don’t engage in this behavior. And know that some teachers will rope you into these conversations wherever they can-- the parking lot, hallway, your own classroom.  

    3. Immerse yourself in the culture of your students - You should, of course, bring your own passions and interests to the classroom. But to earn trust and understanding with your students, the foundation of effective teaching, you need to make their interests your interests. Noticing quite a few #88 shirts in your third period English lit class? Then it’s time to learn some basics about NASCAR racing. Is your second grade class obsessed with cats? Learn about several unusual breeds and bring this information into lessons when possible. It wasn’t until my fifth year of teaching that I finally immersed myself in YA literature. That year, with my principal's blessing, we took a school bus to the nearest movie theater (35 miles away) to see the premier of Twilight. Yes, I even read the Twilight series. Full disclosure: I was kind of enthralled! Students brought up this trip years later as one of their fondest memories of 8th grade.

    There’s simply no way to be fully prepared for every challenge that teaching will bring, but a little advice can’t hurt. Any tips veteran teachers want to share? Visit our Facebook and Twitter pages and post your best nuggets of wisdom for new teachers!

    Commentary by Kristen Downey

    Kristen Downey is UVEI’s Associate Director for Teacher Education.  Her other blogs can be found at:

    You can follow Kristen on Twitter @UVEIconnect


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  • Trending: Competency-Based Education

    I attended UVTI (before we became UVEI) from 2006 to 2007 as a teacher intern, taught math in Seattle for five years, then returned to the Upper Valley and began working at UVEI in 2014. Quite a bit has changed here in ten years, but one constant has been our commitment to competency-based education.  In my capacity as Registrar, I prepare transcripts -- the documents that describe to employers, licensing bureaus, etc. what our graduates have achieved.  Because our graduates are assessed as to whether they are competent as a beginning teacher, one of my challenges is to find a way to write those descriptions so that they can be understood by a wider audience, including those only familiar with a traditional grading system. I must admit that there are days when I catch myself thinking “if only we gave grades…”

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  • Jim Nourse

    Why I Hired UVEI Graduates

    During my ten years as principal in area schools, the UVEI graduates I hired were all exceptional, and they enjoyed a significant competitive advantage in the application process over other teachers with less than five years of experience.  UVEI graduates stand out because:

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  • Worrying About Praxis? Here's Help

    Becoming a teacher isn’t as simple as passing a test (and we’re glad it’s not!), but there is one test you simply have to pass: the Praxis Core. People ask us a lot of questions about this infamous standardized test: What is it? Why do I have to take it? What do I do if I don’t pass? Although nothing but studying can help you pass the test, there are a few basics that are good to understand.

    What is the Praxis Core?

    The Praxis Core (formerly known as simply “ Praxis I”) is a basic skills test all aspiring teachers in New Hampshire and most other states in the U.S., including the territories of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa (fun fact!), must pass in order to earn certification. There are three components: Reading, writing and math. You must pass all three in order to be fully admitted to UVEI’s teacher certification program.

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