Teachers explore the world

Wendy K. Kleinman
Dayna Rowe, Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence

Canada, England, Germany, France. Trips of a lifetime. More than 150 Oklahoma teachers took those dream trips this past summer with the help of a unique grant program.

The Fund for Teachers gives educators up to $5,000 – or more for those who travel together – to go and explore whatever they think will help them enhance what they teach and how they teach it

“That’s the freeing thing about this type of professional development” compared to state requirements based on standard objectives, said Michael Payne, an Oklahoma City theater teacher who went to Canada with grant funds.

And the grants are not restricted to traditional subjects. Teachers of music and special education classes; elementary and high school students; and public, private and metro tech centers all have been awarded money.

Plus, the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, which administers the program, gives teachers 90 percent of the money up front. Teachers get the rest when they turn in receipts and write-ups after they return.

“This becomes an exciting way for teachers to be responsible for their own learning, which is something we ask of our students – to be responsible for their own learning,” Payne said.

A trip full of theatrics

Payne spent a week-and-a-half in Ontario attending the International George Bernard Shaw Festival, watching plays, listening to a lecture series and participating in workshops.

When he returned to the Classen School of Advanced Studies, Payne had his students choose fables and create scripts from them using the same methods as Shaw.

Now the students are turning those scripts into performances using a technique called Shadow Theater with puppets. They also applied for and received a $935 grant from Youth Cornerstone to bring their performances to elementary schools.

“We could have done it (if I hadn’t gone to the festival), but we wouldn’t have had the expert experience needed to get it right,” Payne said.

The language of travel

Nancy Boudreau, who teaches German in the same school as Payne, went to Germany, Austria and Switzerland during the summer.

She’s taken many trips to Germany before but wanted to start incorporating accents and dialects into her classes. Boudreau, accompanied by her husband, who paid his own way, spent a week in each country.

In Germany, Boudreau recorded friends on a cassette tape as they spoke their names and talked about their interests and hobbies. Then, she found people to do the same in Austria and Switzerland, both German-speaking countries.

“I try to make the kids understand that language is not something you read out of a book or a class that you take in school – these are real people,” Boudreau said.

Special visit for special needs

Gretchen Cole-Lade traveled to the Priory Woods School in England, which is recognized as a leader in educating severely disabled students. Cole-Lade and Tana Germundson, who teach 12 Enid High School special-needs students, went together on a team grant.

They spent five days there absorbing Priory Woods teachers’ techniques and taking note of their technology. Already, they’ve changed the way they interact with their students.

Cole-Lade said she used to set up everything for a project and then have the students take it from there. But at Priory Woods, the teachers allow time for the students to do the prep work – and now Cole-Lade does, too.

“My students now in class they take the attendance and then turn it into me. They label notes that go home and then hand them out to each other and make sure they get in backpacks. I’m empowering them to take charge of their school life and I’ve seen such a change in my students since I started doing that.”

She’s also working to get technology used at Priory Woods that she saw could be effective. A program called Dazzle is on its way – the first one the company has sold to the U.S., she said – and she’s applying for grant money to buy others.

Bringing history to life

Alice Pettit accompanied her son on a trip with his Edmond Memorial High School’s AP European History course. The fourth-grade teacher at Cleveland Elementary in Oklahoma City toured Italy, Switzerland, France and England with the group.

Pettit has more than 1,500 pictures she’s compiling into PowerPoint presentations. She’ll use the pictures, along with other materials she picked up, when she teachers her fourth-graders about the Middle Ages.

She’s also working on presentations for the school’s third-graders’ lessons on Rome and the fifth-graders’ lessons of the Renaissance.

“The whole premise behind it is that teachers don’t keep it all to themselves, they kind of share it. Hopefully it will inspire other people to apply but also inspire our students,” Pettit said.

But she got more out of the trip than European history.

“I just kept thinking, ‘Well, what’s the catch here?’ and there was no catch. They treated us as professionals….It gave us freedom to say, ‘I need to know more about this and this is how I need to learn it.’”

About the Fund for Teachers

The Fund for Teachers is a nationwide program started by business-man Raymond Plank, founder of the Houston-based Apache Corporation.

The fund began operating statewide in Oklahoma in 2006.

That year, the fund gave out 68 grants for 107 teachers – the numbers don’t match because some teachers went in teams. This past summer, 82 grants were awarded to 165 teachers. There were more than 200 applications each year.

Individuals can ask for up to $5,000 dollars. Teams can ask for up to $10,000 beginning this year.

The program currently is operating with funding from the national organization, and the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is trying to raise $6 million to keep it going independently.