It’s 4:30 on a Thursday afternoon in the middle of October. A group of a dozen educators–new and veteran teachers, UVEI graduates, UVEI teacher interns, teachers with no previous experience with UVEI, some in person and others through video–are gathered to collectively analyze video of each other teaching as part of the UVGSE Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) Program. They share a common goal: to improve their teaching through collaborative inquiry. And feeling connected is key to improvement.

We say that graduates of UVEI’s Teacher Intern Program (TIP) who choose to continue their education through UVGSE’s masters programs “come back” to Lebanon because they expect and ultimately experience a connected community of teacher learners that mirrors their experience in TIP. Melissa Thaxton (TIP ‘11, MAT ‘18), an English teacher at Thetford Academy, clearly articulated this: “Having gone through TIP, entering this masters program was exciting, knowing the level of support I would receive from my colleagues and coaches.” Furthermore, she stated that the cohort of teachers in her masters program formed a new community in which they learned in a safe and supportive environment: “To be able to talk about our different environments, practices, and experiences with a group of people who are not part of my own school is refreshing, enlightening, and validating. We gain a lot from listening and talking about our practices together.”

The feelings of connectedness and community are not limited to being in the same room. They are felt by masters candidates who live some distance from UVEI but are still able to fully participate. Brigette Dumont (TIP ‘05, MAT ‘17), a technology teacher at Noble Middle School in Berwick, Maine, shared her experience living more than two hours from our campus: “Collaboration made a significant impact on my leaning and growth last year. Despite living some distance from the physical campus, I was able to build strong collegial relationships with the other candidates and, using virtual conferencing tools, was able to be an active part of group experiences. Especially impactful were the times when we brought work to share with our colleagues to receive and give feedback.”

When teachers form community, research suggests that they benefit from the earnest sharing of diverse perspectives (Achinstein, 2002), which Ben LaRoche (TIP ‘12, MAT ‘19), a 6th grade teacher at Thetford Elementary School, echoed, “One of the great strengths of this program is that it brings together educators with such diverse backgrounds and experience, and provides us with the opportunity to not only learn together, but also from each other.”

Perhaps there is no greater motivation for teachers to improve than feeling part of a community in which they share a commitment to each other’s learning. You know that every time you meet you are going to receive and give support, change how you think, and leave feeling inspired.