MTSU’s Center for Educational Media continues to further collaborative, mostly free and now virtual professional development for educators across the state of Tennessee.
Part of the College of Education, the CEM uses its media resources — high definition video production equipment; satellite, cable and web broadcasting capabilities and a large, on-campus training center — to facilitate professional development training for the local, state and global education community.
Teachers, schools and school districts can partner with the center to conduct on-site or virtual professional development or other work. The center’s experienced staff of media production and distribution experts make their unique services possible.
Laura Clark, the director of the CEM, began the facilitation of one such professional development program in 2017 for English language learner educators, the ELL-Collaborative.
“As I began to talk with teachers, I determined the teachers of English learners needed some help,” Clark said, adding that those teachers were often isolated, with some areas having only one ESL teacher serving the school or entire district.
The center connects ESL stakeholders from across the state so that they can “identify best (teaching) practices happening in Tennessee schools, draw on those practitioners and to share what they do.”
Clark aimed to make the initiative “authentic” and “relatable” by ensuring “the topics are participant-driven. They’re not driven by the district. They’re not driven by me.” Meeting dates, too, are determined by participants to best accommodate their schedules.
Local participants with expertise and success present at the sessions.
“We didn’t have the budget for … experts from San Antonio, Texas (or elsewhere),” she said. “Plus, it’s not as relevant in Tennessee to bring in people” from out of state. “It’s relevant to bring in the Tennessee people who are doing it well.”
The demand for this expertise is growing. “Tennessee’s been a destination for immigrants and refugees. The population has really grown in the last decade, more so than the teachers are equipped to support,” Clark said.
Now in its fourth year, the ELL-Collaborative has grown tremendously. To date, the CEM has hosted multiple, on-site training sessions during the school year with educators from 47 districts in Tennessee.
After the arrival of COVID-19, sessions successfully moved from on-site to online, also eliminating the long trip for educators who previously commuted from far away. Over 1,000 people virtually attended the ELL Summer Academy from 112 districts, including attendees from charter and nonpublic schools, out-of-state schools and other universities.
Recently, the CEM team expanded the initiative to another high-need area in education —school counseling — and rebranded the full program as the PK-12 Initiative.
How to attend
The collaborative sessions during the school year are free for teachers. Jenny Marsh, the coordinator for the CEM, explained that “we know these teachers spend a lot of their own personal money on their classrooms to give these kids what they need.” Most cannot fund additional training.
The summer academy, the single session of the year with a fee, costs $35 and includes lunch and parking. Marsh noted that other conferences may cost hundreds of dollars, so the CEM team wanted to ensure their conference remained affordable.
Most sessions last from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and, for on-site sessions, participants are given a certificate to show home districts for possible professional development credit. Teachers, education officials and pre-service teachers are welcome to join.
“Jenny Marsh and Dr. Clark are amazing people,” said Joseph Whinery, an ESL supervisor for Williamson County Schools who has been involved with the initiative since the beginning.
“What they do to bring professional development to teachers through the ELL-Collaborative and summer academy is the best in the state!” he explained. “The content is always presented by ‘locals’ … so the materials, resources (and) ‘tips and tricks’ are practical and applicable.”
In the future, Clark said her “next dream for the third collaborative is for special education teachers.”
The PK-12 Initiative website is currently under construction, but those interested can email Jenny Marsh at Jenny.Marsh@mtsu.edu to join the distribution list to remain up to date on the initiative’s meetings and resources, such as links to archived livestream sessions.
“We have a heart for teachers,” Clark said about the initiative as a whole. “We wanted teachers to walk out of here feeling … better informed, and their time was well spent and not wasted.”
She hopes word of the center spreads, that attendees leave thinking “the training they give us in the professional development center at CEM is meaningful. It’s authentic. It really relates to what we’re doing, and I want to keep doing it.”
— Stephanie Barrette (Stephanie.Barrette@mtsu.edu)