TeachingWorks program assists teachers in training initiatives

By Jessica Gelfarb, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 18, 2012

Between designing productive classroom activities, disciplining rowdy students and more teachers have to juggle a myriad of responsibilities. A new program developed in the School of Education aims to better prepare teachers for these challenges.

School of Education Dean Deborah Loewenberg Ball, the director of TeachingWorks, said the program was developed in collaboration with faculty in the School of Education to offer increased resources intended to help train teachers, by focusing on a new set of teaching principles developed by the School of Education that it view as essential to effective teaching.

“Essentially, the organization is rooted in a set of core skills of teaching effectively,” she said. “We build curriculum for helping people prepare teachers to do those things really well.”

TeachingWorks was launched at a Jan. 12 event that included remarks by Ball, University Provost Phil Hanlon and Annemarie Palincsar, School of Education associate dean for academic affairs, with a recorded message from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, according to the program’s website.

Ball said the School of Education has significantly changed its method of training students over the past several years. The school is now concerned with the importance of interacting with children and understanding how they think and learn, rather than focusing primarily on the material they will be taught.

“Based on the changes that are ongoing at Michigan, the University of Michigan is trying to change the way that teachers are trained in other states and other universities,” Ball said. “They can learn from what is happening here.”

She added that a primary goal of TeachingWorks is to provide increased access to materials such as videos and workshops that will enable teachers to become better instructors.

Francesca Forzani, associate director of TeachingWorks, said the program will attempt to cultivate these skills in individuals who are training to become teachers by designing new materials for them to study.

Forzani said many of the educational materials are videos that will soon be posted on the TeachingWorks website and will feature examples of teachers exhibiting particular tactics within the classroom, like leading strong class discussions.

The program also offers workshops on teaching to individuals who train teachers, some of which already took place last summer. Forzani said the training TeachingWorks provides to people who educate teachers is one reason why the program is so unique.

“There are a ton of programs for learning to teach in this country, but there are very few organizations out there that actually offer resources and training to the people who teach teachers,” she said. “I think something really distinctive about us is that we do offer these programs for people who educate teachers.”

Forzani added that there has long been uncertainty within the field of teaching about which practices are most effective and necessary for teachers to learn. The program strives to alleviate some of this uncertainty by uniting groups of people to decide upon and promote the most important teaching skills, she said.

“It is really amazing that the field has not come together to have this conversation in an organized manner in the past,” Forzani said. “I think that bringing that agenda to the table and designing new things around that will be a huge contribution.”

Education prof. Bob Bain wrote in an e-mail interview that he believes TeachingWorks will become a powerful tool for improving teaching in the United States.

“TeachingWorks will take up very important questions, and will convene some of the best and most experienced people to work on these questions,” he wrote. “I suspect that TeachingWorks will soon be among the first places people come to when tackling the serious issues entailed in improving teaching and learning from pre-school through doctoral and professional schools.”