While Michigan Teacher of the Year Luke Wilcox has already delved into his statewide responsibilities, he isn’t forgetting the new crop of teachers at East Kentwood High School. In fact, he plans to use his experience with them to impact other Michigan schools.
Wilcox recently welcomed 11 new high school teachers, several fresh out of college, to boot camp for Rising Teacher Leaders, a group he started with English teacher Mike Traywick. They gathered inside the AP statistics classroom he has to leave for the year to fulfill his Teacher of the Year roles.
“One of my goals is to figure out how to best support new teachers, not just in Kentwood but across the state,” said Wilcox, who received the honor in May and is credited for helping create a culture of success at East Kentwood. “I’m now thinking of what we are doing here in Kentwood as an experimental lab, where we are trying ideas and refining ideas with the goal that we replicating some of the things we are doing here.
“As Michigan Teacher of the Year I have that platform where I could expand the programs into other schools,” he said.
Tapping into Kentwood Talent
With its third cohort beginning this fall, Rising Teacher Leaders serves as a schoolwide teacher support system with 32 teachers now involved. Each year a new cohort begins, receiving mentorship from the previous ones. The goal is for the majority of teachers in the school to eventually be Rising Teacher Leaders.
Wilcox greeted teachers before leading them on a tour of the school. In classrooms, teachers in the first two cohorts presented on topics they find of value for new Kentwood teachers.
“It’s super exciting,” said math teacher Sarah Stecher, who is beginning her first year at East Kentwood. “I met Luke awhile ago and I was really inspired by his teaching style and I am excited to get to work with him.”
“I feel like it’s really comforting just to know you have a group to lean on and go to with questions,” said Katie Roth, a health and biology teacher starting her first year after graduating from Central Michigan University. “They are having the same struggles. You feel less alone. I think it’s cool that (Wilcox) wants to give back to teachers.”
Rising Teacher Leaders meets weekly for professional development focused on helping teachers in their first few years. Topics are anything teachers want to discuss, questions they have, or things they want to brainstorm. Wilcox sees it as a way for teachers to grow in the profession surrounded by colleagues they know, trust and can learn from.
Traywick said Wilcox’s work as Teacher of the Year means more opportunities and value for the group.
“I’m hoping it brings us more ideas. It should amplify what we are trying to do here tenfold,” he said. “Wilcox is one of the best in the nation. To be able to tap that knowledge will be a big deal.”
Wilcox wants to help keep momentum going at East Kentwood, which climbed from the 4th percentile (meaning 19 out of 20 schools in Michigan were deemed better) to the 49th percentile rank statewide since 2012, after receiving Priority School status based on standardized test scores, graduation rates and achievement gaps.
“I still want to have impact, and I want East Kentwood High School to be great. I feel like this is a way I can maintain some influence on the positive direction we’ve had in the past few years.”
Wilcox’s work to support teachers is already expanding further than East Kentwood. He is developing a teacher leadership academy at Van Andel Education Institute for teachers to support each other, develop skills and learn new strategies.