By Princess Moss
In my 30-plus years as a public school educator, I know that the best professional development is created and provided by the educators who work with our students each and every day. When educators succeed, our students succeed. I continue to be in awe of our members as I see firsthand how they work collaboratively and relentlessly to make certain that educators have what they need in order to ensure student success.
One such reminder was my recent visit to the launch of the Pikes Peak Education Association’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Public Education. The 24 locals that comprise Pikes Peak are mostly rural and small towns. Professional development provided by the school districts did not meet the needs of the educators and especially not the needs of the new and early career educators. (NEA offers a variety of resources for new educators here.) And, being in such a rural setting, traveling outside of the area to get professional development was burdensome for people who already worked well beyond the hours of a normal workday.
Phyllis Robinette, Pikes Peak Education Association president, recognized this void and saw the opportunity for the association to fill it. She immediately got to work and, collaborating with other stakeholders, devised a plan to create the teaching and learning center. Phyllis, a National Board Certified Teacher with over 32 years in the classroom, applied for a NEA Great Public Schools (GPS) grant. After a very stringent review process, she was awarded funding to assist with the center’s development.
The center, which officially launched in September, will provide educator-led courses for educators across Pikes Peak’s 24 locals and will focus on five very pertinent pathways: Instruction and Advancing Your Career; Advocacy and Support; Early Career Educator Council; Distinguished Educator and Leadership; and Community Connections.
Because organizing new and early career educators falls within my bailiwick, I am especially intrigued with the Early Career Educator Council pathway, which focuses on mentoring and support for those who are new to our profession to ensure they succeed for the long term.
This pathway addresses the great concern about the rising number of educators leaving the profession because they do not feel supported. Our new and early career educators also need opportunities to socialize, which aren’t readily available in small, rural communities. The Early Career Educator Council pathway recognizes that. Its mentoring programs, social activities, and social-justice programs seem to be making a huge difference. Of the new educators hired in Canon City last year, 92 percent returned this year.
While the main focus of the center is to provide ongoing quality professional development for teachers and education support professionals and to make sure that our new and early career educators have what they need to remain in Pikes Peak and in public education, the center will take its work a step further by opening relevant courses to the community—such as courses focusing on suicide awareness and dealing with conflicts and disciplinary issues through restorative practices.
The center will continue to seek input from educators, parents, and the community to ensure that the needs of each stakeholder group are being met.
The really cool thing is that now when a building rep—a worksite leader who is the voice and face of the local association—has conversations with new employees, the rep can talk about professional development opportunities, not simply about the insurance plans our association offers (although those are important, too). New educators react with enthusiasm and want to be a part of an organization that has their best interests in mind, especially when it comes to helping them be successful. And now, because the school districts recognize that the association has quality professional development to offer, the local associations comprising Pikes Peak have gained access to new places.
Pikes Peak is a perfect example of what America looks like when it comes to small towns and rural communities. NEA has a responsibility to ensure that our educators students have the support they need to connect with each student and unlock their potential, no matter where they are. The Pikes Peak Education Association is doing its part to make that success a reality.