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November 1, 2016

Creating stakeholder engagement infrastructure focus of Trustees Education Initiative launch

With the hiring of new Executive Director Rebecca Watts, the Wyoming Trustees Education Initiative (TEI) has entered the first of two phases leading to potential transformation of teacher preparation in the state and beyond.

Phase one of the five-year initiative focuses on creating the infrastructure to evaluate UW’s existing programs and to research best practices adopted by other institutions charged with preparing future teachers. One of Watts’ earliest responsibilities has been setting up the processes for nominating volunteers needed to staff three groups:

  • Eight TEI program study groups, charged with researching all aspects of teacher preparation in an assigned disciplinary area;
  • The TEI strategic planning committee, charged with supporting development of a five-year TEI strategic plan; and
  • TEI education community feedback group, recruited to provide feedback on proposed models and practices emerging from the program study groups.

Getting acquainted with Wyoming, its education community, and other stakeholder groups with a vested interest in the success of K-12 students has been another early responsibility for Watts. For example, she spent her first day in the role attending a meeting of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee in Casper. She attended the recent Rural Education Conference with Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Wyoming Center for Educational Leadership Director Mark Stock.

Rebecca also introduced herself to the staff of the Daniels Fund, which provided a $5 million grant to fund the TEI’s planning phases. Within the Daniels Fund Watts found a clear ally.

“It is so good to hear from such a strong supporter,” she says of her initial conversations with Daniels Fund representatives. “Their absolute interest in this is making things better for K-12 students. They have prescribed nothing about what the outcome will be, what the models will look like or how the process will work. The sole constraint here is that, in the end, things are better for K-12 students in Wyoming.”

“I’m getting pieces of it,” she says of her ongoing introduction to the state and the needs of its education constituents. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. You have to take all of those pieces and put them together.”

Facilitating wide engagement and encouraging openness of participation will be critical across the five-year planning and implementation processes.

“You rely on your communication skills to ensure that your messaging is clear, understandable – that folks know what to do – but also that they feel that they are part of that immediately,” Watts says. “The communication around that is what sets that frame.”

The process begins with the Wyoming Teacher Education Program’s (WTEP) existing strengths.

“The College of Education here has built a very strong foundation, and now it’s ready to leap forward, all of that within the frame of the unique needs that Wyoming has, the unique history that Wyoming has, and the unique settings that program graduates will be going into,” Watts says.

While the outcomes of the Trustees Education Initiative will shape how Wyoming prepares and supports its teachers for decades to come, the TEI itself has a five-year boundary.

“Success in five years will be that the College of Education is deeply engaged with all school districts in Wyoming, that that engagement means that the school districts not only embrace the preparation of the candidates that student teach in their schools and that they hire, but that they will feel and be active partners in the preservice preparation of candidates in the field,” Watts says.

“Also, the university will be seen as an effective partner in the ongoing professional development of all educators in those districts, not just those who graduated from the University of Wyoming,” she adds. “It will look like much more of a statewide professional learning community that encompasses initial educator preparation and an ongoing professional development.”

To learn more about Dr. Watts, please click here.

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