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Teachers Tell Their Stories, to Help Other Teachers

Website Will Feature Interviews, Research and Strategies

“What inspires you to come to school every day and teach children?” interviewer Rosie del Valle asked Gladiola Elementary intervention math coach Kristi Baumbach.

Baumbach, who had answered previous interview questions without hesitation, paused. “Now, I’m crying,” she said, as del Valle, web content coordinator for community initiatives for the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, and her film crew took a break from recording.

After gathering her thoughts, Baumbach answered the question.

“The kids inspire me when I walk down the halls and they smile and are excited to see me, when they are excited to come into my classroom and are excited to learn,” she said, her voice still shaky.

Baumbach, a 14-year teacher in Wyoming Public Schools, is among a group of Kent County educators being interviewed for teacher profiles for the Educational Network of Greater Grand Rapids initiative. The film crew is also spotlighting teachers in Grand Rapids, Godwin Heights, Godfrey-Lee and Kentwood. Several, including Baumbach, are involved in Leading Educators, another Doug and Maria DeVos initiative.

‘For a long time I thought some of my struggles were just me.’ — Kristi Baumbach, Wyoming math coach

The major components of EDNET, as it’s known, include teacher leadership, principal support, and new teacher induction. It launched its teacher leadership work in partnership with Leading Educators in May 2017.

The EDNET website, to launch in April, will serve as a tool for educators by educators. It will include teacher profile interviews such as Baumbach’s, which document educators’ personal stories, from the moment they knew they wanted to teach, to where they are now.

“The website is an underlying foundation for all of the work — a place to bring educators from across the districts together to collaborate and learn from each other so that we can work together to support all children,” said Ashley Johnson, program officer for education for the Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, which focuses exclusively on local education practice.

The site will also include extensive research and data on education, blogs, and “Teacher Tactics” — effective strategies — submitted by educators from all over the world. Teachers will have ways to contribute content, ask questions and comment.

It’s an effort built out of the desire to come together, said Johnson, a former middle and high school teacher in Washington, D.C., who knows how isolating teaching can be. While talking to educators in the five local districts, a strong desire for a “nexus of collaboration” became clear, she said. “They wanted to talk with each other, listen to each other.”

Kristi Baumbach, a Gladiola Elementary intervention math coach, tells her story as a teacher for EDNET, a new website for teachers

Learning You’re Not Alone

Baumbach, who has taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels and with English-language learners, said she’s happy to share her story.

“For a long time I thought some of my struggles were just me,” Baumbach said. “As I’ve moved throughout my career and grown, I realized that other educators share that same experience. I wanted to voice that for people who maybe didn’t realize they are not alone.”

Baumbach said she sees the website as a great potential resource.

“Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in what’s not going well. But to slow down and say, ‘We do great things. Kids here do great things’ — to celebrate and highlight it and focus on that is cool.”

Several other Gladiola educators told their stories, including what drew them to the profession, what makes their district unique, their goals, and what advice they would give first-year teachers.

During his interview, Principal David Lyon spoke of the need for equity in education, for awareness of implicit bias and how it is rooted in the U.S. In serving Gladiola, a school with a large ELL population and high percentage of low-income students, he said he works to see potential in every child and teach them to aim high.

“Goals for this year are that we continue to grow our sense of having high expectations for all children,” Lyon said. “There is plenty of research that shows if you set a low expectation, that’s exactly where they will grow. If you set a high expectation they will grow to that too.”

Lyon said he’s excited to be part of the EDNET initiative.

“The phrase that sticks in my head is ‘We are all in this together, alone,’ because we walk into our classrooms and then whatever struggles we are having, we are figuring out by yourself,” he said. “But if you get that opportunity to hear a similar story and hear from somebody else what inspired them, it just gives you that support even if it wasn’t necessarily face-to-face.”

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Leading Educators: Teachers Train Together To Help Close the Gap

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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