Teachers of Promise Institute brings top future educators to VCU campus

On March 18-19, VCU welcomed the best and brightest prospective teachers from schools of education across the commonwealth for the 13th annual Teachers of Promise Institute.

Originally created by a small group of Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award recipients, the two-day event brings promising pre-service teachers together with leading educators for inspirational talks, informative training sessions and networking opportunities.

Each year, the top students from each of the 37 schools of education in Virginia are invited to attend the Teachers of Promise Institute, using criteria established by both the foundation as well as the schools themselves.

“The goal of the institute is really three-fold: to celebrate the decision to teach, to elevate the teaching profession to the status we believe it deserves, and to activate all of our attendees to make a positive and lasting difference in classrooms,” Wade Whitehead, the event’s co-founder and president of the Teachers of Promise Foundation, said.

“We believe every student deserves a terrific experience in every class every day,” he added, “and studies have shown that, of all the variables schools can control, the only one that seems to matter in terms of student success is teacher quality. All other influences — including class size, technology and curricula — are a distant second.”

A total of 110 students took part in this year’s institute, which featured keynote addresses from Dr. Alex Carter, a 2003 Milken Educator Award winner and vice president of the Colorado Education Initiative, 1993 National Teacher of the Year Tracey Bailey and Dr. Jo Lynne DeMary, Virginia’s former state superintendent of public instruction.

Participants also took part in a variety of small group workshops, run by master teachers from across the state. Workshop topics included using formative assessments to analyze student progress, creating a classroom writing culture that encourages all students to write and making school a great experience for even difficult kids.

“Studies have shown that, of all the variables schools can control, the only one that seems to matter in terms of student success is teacher quality.”

“We deliberately try to create a sense of frustration [in the attendees]; we want to have so many interesting and impactful sessions that they’re disappointed they can’t make it to all of them,” Whitehead said. “In many ways, this models what great teaching looks like: creating an environment so engaging that students don’t want to leave.”

Even with these instructional sessions, however, Whitehead believes the biggest benefit participants get from the Teachers of Promise Institute is the lifelong network of support.

“The teaching profession hands a 22-year-old straight out of college the same job as a 45-year-old veteran,” Whitehead said. “This institute gives beginning teachers the feeling of authentic support in their own classrooms. In addition to our master teachers, we also have a network of more than 2,200 Teachers of Promise we’ve recognized over the years as well, some of which have come back to serve as mentors themselves.”

Funded by the Teachers of Promise Foundation – a nonprofit organization founded by Whitehead in 2010 and supported by the likes of Virginia Professional Educators and the Virginia Lottery – the institute has been held at VCU each of the last five years.

“VCU has been such a terrific partner for us,” Whitehead said. “The support we get from the university and its staff allows our team to focus on the big picture and the major objectives we have for the institute.”

“The Teachers of Promise Institute was an incredible experience,” Courtney Scherting, one of nine students who represented VCU at this year’s event, said. “I felt so fortunate to be surrounded with such phenomenal educators: it filled me with humility, gratitude and awe toward the teaching profession. I walked away truly remembering the reasons why I want to be a teacher.”

For more information about how you can support the institute, visit the Teachers of Promise Foundation website.