Professional Education at UVGSE

As a classroom teacher and instructional leader, I LOVED professional development workshops. Generally, this meant a trip somewhere for a day or more, soaking up the latest trend in education with a room full of like-minded educators. The energy in the room was palpable. I would leave those workshops full of energy and ideas. However, as we all dispersed to go back to our classrooms, much of the intention of applying what I had just learned slowly fizzled away.

What was missing? Why is traditional professional development unsuccessful in making the jump from theory to application? At Upper Valley Graduate School of Education (UVGSE), we’ve thought a lot about that question and that’s why professional development is different from traditional workshops. There is no one-day delivery of content. Professional education at UVGSE takes the form of collaborative inquiry put into practice. You might be wondering, What does this mean?

UVGSE works with cohorts of educators over time to learn through experience supported by collaboration, practice in the field with coaching, and examinations of evidence from practice, all leading to more effective action. This work includes several integrated components:

Collaborative Inquiry:  UVGSE facilitates groups of educators gathered in professional community. Our coaches seek to support educator inquiry through reflective dialogue, analyzing student work, peer coaching, self-assessment, analyzing examples and models, and providing access to expertise. The intention of this approach is to support teachers’ growth in target areas consistent with their goals and building on their expertise.  The collaborative inquiry delves into a particular problem of practice related to teaching or leadership. Participants examine relevant standards and/or frameworks, collectively delve into literature on a problem of practice, and engage in inquiry — based on the “action researcher’s mindset”– and a clearly developed theory of action: identifying problems of practice, developing responses, and evaluating the results. Fieldwork  includes designing, teaching, analyzing, and peer reviewing of instructional plans, instruction, and/or student work.

Peer and Instructional Coaching: Practice and feedback are the heart of learning and honing advanced skills and expertise. It is impossible to learn a complex skill in one setting (a workshop, for example), and then to implement the skill effectively in a different setting (the classroom). This is the reason that elite performers in virtually every field receive coaching. Our coaching includes, based on each teacher’s needs and goals: observation and conferencing, modeling, collaborative planning, analyzing student work, and self-assessment.

We offer a suite of inquiry course topics such as:

Lesson Study
Analysis of Student Work
Teaching for Understanding (Understanding by Design)
Project-Based Learning

Instructional Coaching and Mentoring
Data-Based Curricular Leadership
Teacher Facilitation
Inquiry into School Change

Inquiries are offered in many ways:

  • individuals may participate through open enrollment with the Masters cohort
  • professional learning opportunities can be customized for a school’s needs and are offered on-site with a school partnership agreement
  • personalized plans can be developed on an individual needs-basis

Examples of school-based opportunities include any of the above topics, as well as differentiated instruction, co-teaching, standards-based assessment, subject-specific pedagogy, writing across disciplines, workshop model, authentic assessment of competency-based instruction, and more!

What participants in professional development opportunities have to say about our approach:

A passion for authentic student inquiry permeates every aspect of UVGSE. What sets UVGSE’s inquiries apart from other professional development is the commitment to modeling best practices. All too often, PD involves listening, reading, and talking about what should happen in the classroom. At UVGSE, you experience those practices. During the Inquiry into Project-Based Learning, I created a actual project based learning unit that helped me envision how PBL would work in my own classroom.    

UVGSE attracts positive, passionate, and intelligent people, and one of the great benefits of the School is the chance to work with such committed individuals. The culture UVGSE creates is such that you have an opportunity to share your particular areas of expertise — and others share with you.

–Matt McCormick, 7th Grade ELA/SS teacher, Woodstock Middle School, Woodstock, VT
Inquiry into Project Based Learning  (Open Enrollment Participant)

The PBL inquiry was the nudge that my team and I needed to take unit planning and implementation to the next level. We had dabbled in PBL in the past but wanted to dedicate time and energy to  creating a interdisciplinary unit of study that would deeply engage learners with a real-world issue.

–Melissa Fellows, 7th Grade Science Teacher, Woodstock Middle School, Woodstock, VT
Inquiry into Project Based Learning (Open Enrollment Participant)

UVGSE has been a different experience from other PD sessions I have attended because of the coaching and support model that has accompanied the course. So many professional learning sessions   provide wonderful information, but teachers are left with the impossible task of trying to find time to build this new-found knowledge into their classrooms. Not with UVGSE! I strongly believe their model strengthened my teaching as much as it did due to the immediate application of new skills and support from our instructor. I would most definitely recommend UVGSE to a colleague because the coursework has enhanced my teaching practices in a way that has allowed me to find the fun and joy in teaching again.  My students love the inquiry and units we have developed. They are continuously talking about past units we’ve explored and reflect back to the fun they had while learning.

–Sabrina Keller, 4th-6th Grade Teacher, Holland Elementary School, Holland, VT
Inquiry into Project Based Learning: Advanced Participant (through a School-Based Partnership)

I had became frustrated as I kept trying to make what I wanted fit into the usual professional development opportunities provided locally. Though many classes sounded interesting, they were not   exactly what I was looking for. When I shared with Becky that I was interested in the quality professional development UVGSE provides (but the timing of current offerings did not match my needs), she suggested a personalized inquiry instead. I really liked this option because I could make the professional development work for me and get exactly what I wanted for feedback and growth. The inquiry is different in that my coach and I work together to direct the path we take for improving instruction. My coach provided productive pre- and post-conferences that involved quality questioning techniques to help me reflect on my teaching and that helped to meet my personal goals.

–Heather Lepene, 7th Grade Math Teacher, Richmond Middle School, Hanover, NH
Specialized Inquiry into Practice (personalized plan)

As our school tries to move towards more innovative modes of instruction that are more relevant to our students, we had a number of staff members who wanted to learn more about project-based learning. For me, I was attracted to UVEI’s and UVGSE’s cohort model, where a team of teachers at our school work together to learn and build a common understanding of effective project-based learning approaches. That, coupled with the fact that UVGSE would come to us, made it a very attractive option for our school.|

UVGSE uses an inquiry model. After learning a framework or model for effective instruction, we try out those approaches on our own and come back to the group for feedback, tuning, and deeper learning. While many educational PD models are practicum-based, I would go out and try something ,but not get any feedback on it. This led to it feeling like a one-shot deal as opposed to UVGSE’s sustaining inquiry approach.

–Michael Ruppel, Instructional Coach, Springfield High School, Springfield, VT
Inquiry into Project-Based Learning (District-based Partnership)