With each issue, Tasbo+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to education. Here is this week’s subject:

Paige Ware chairs the Department of Teaching and Learning at Southern Methodist University's Simmons School of Education and Human Development. She recently received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to prepare ELL (English language learners) teachers by instructing them on-site at their schools and helping them work with families in community centers. 

Tasbo+Edu: Can you expand on the U.S. Department of Education grant you recently received? 

Paige Ware: Yes — I co-wrote it with two of my colleagues. The Department of Education can offer these grants every five years; traditionally, they’re called professional development grants, and it’s basically money that flows into tuition to provide teacher training. However, this particular grant required an embedded strong research design into the teacher training components. That’s never been the case with these grants — it’s been exclusively just teacher training. 

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There were over 300 applications, and only 55 were funded. For our particular grant, we think we got funded for two reasons. First, we partnered really well with Dallas Independent School District. There’s a real desire right now for higher education and teacher training programs to do more partnering and work with districts to be more purposeful about the kind of professional development teachers need. We also partnered with the community; there’s a place in Dallas called the School Zone, which is a consortium of nonprofit groups that are there to help impact West Dallas. 

The second reason we think we got the grant is our teachers will be deeply embedded in these community settings. They’ll be learning not just how to teach English better to those learners, but also learning the context. There are also multiple opportunities to work with parents. 

Tasbo+Edu: The question your team is trying to tackle is whether it makes a difference for teachers to be practicing in community settings. How are you planning to move forward on it? 

Ware: The question came about because most of the time in higher ed for master-level courses, we deliver instruction on university campuses; it’s divorced from actual practice in the field. Or we deliver our instruction on university campuses and then assign teachers to work on their own with English learners. There’s not engagement in the community at the graduate level. What do teachers learn differently when they’re not isolated, but when they’re actually out there in the field? We’re interested in knowing what advantages are there, and what you gain by placing teachers in the community.

There are six reasons why we think it will be advantageous for teaching in the community. First, professional development typically focuses on instruction. Second, our teachers will have more opportunities to engage with families, which isn’t always possible in a school setting. A third reason is our teachers will be able to learn from one another. Fourth, they’ll get to know the children really well because they’re only working with two children for an entire academic year. Fifth, there are a lot of opportunities for feedback, since our instructors will be with teachers in the field, giving them feedback on a weekly basis. Finally, we think this approach will help cultivate a mindset such that when teachers think about English learners, they’re seeing the education of new immigrants as a larger web of bringing people into the community.

Tasbo+Edu: How many teachers are in the program?

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Ware: Over a five-year period, we’ll be training more than 200 teachers. Also, we were given funding for 40 teachers — but we have 65 teachers in the program because so many want to do this project. Once next summer hits, we’ll have annual research findings, and our funding gets renewed every year based on our program’s performance. We just completed a pilot that ran from January to June with 20 teachers, and we developed all our research tools from it.

Tasbo+Edu: Is there anything else you’d like to add to today’s conversation?

Ware: One of the really cool ways we’re going to measure the teacher’s growth is through using cognitive reality. Basically, in August, the teachers will be pre-tested and in April, they’ll be post-tested. We’ll have a survey that’s focused on self-perception and confidence in their ability to teach English learners. There’s also real-time interactives that are responsive to the community, and every teacher will have a 10-minute session where they teach these “avatar” children. 

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