For over 50 years, the NEH has gathered K-12 teachers—over 90,000 to date—from across the country together every summer for intensive workshops which immerse them in diverse subjects and introduce engaging teaching methods. Through our NEH for All initiative, we’re conducting research that demonstrates how these NEH workshops help keep effective teachers engaged in the profession despite the many challenges that have made teacher retention a national issue.
We recently surveyed 137 alumni of one such workshop, The Most Southern Place on Earth, hosted by Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi for ten years. Respondents credited this NEH-funded professional development opportunity with keeping them engaged in the essential endeavor of educating the next generation.
“[This workshop] is part of the reason I’m still working in education,” one respondent wrote. “If I didn’t have the chance to meet with other colleagues and learn from them, I think I would have burned out.” Another testified that “this deeply immersive and emotional experience surrounded by equally responsive educators remains a touchstone in my personal and professional life.”
These responses highlight how NEH workshops provide teachers with training and connect them to communities of support, two key factors in preventing attrition according to research conducted by the Learning Policy Institute. Eighty-four percent of respondents reported that gathering educators from around the country together in one location is “absolutely essential” to the program’s success (another 13.4% said “very important”). Results further demonstrate that these mutually supportive connections are frequently sustained year-round. Eighty-one percent reported that they have maintained contact with fellow participants, and 61% elaborated with specific examples of how they have supported one another’s teaching throughout the year.
Respondents described sharing lesson plans, resources, and professional development opportunities that enrich one another’s teaching through Facebook groups and email and text chains. “As a result of this workshop, I have maintained a vast network of colleagues, more so than any other workshop I have attended,” reflects one past participant. “It's not just a ‘hey, what's up’ relationship on Facebook. Rather, it is a continued learning community that works together to help one another out.”
In addition to tangible forms of practical support, respondents testified to benefiting from social and emotional support that positively impacts their teaching. “I literally gained best friends from this workshop. I speak with them on a weekly basis,” reflected one respondent. “These connections were life-changing because I love being a part of a group of educators that is as dedicated to teaching as I am.”
The invigorating shared learning experiences the NEH provides each summer motivate teachers to work harder to foster that kind of learning community in their classrooms. “[This] team approach to learning,” said one participant, “provided ways to build on that by having the students collaborate and discuss concepts among each other.” As another respondent put it, “I went from a lecturer to a coach.”
Stay tuned for more reports from this ongoing research on how NEH workshops help K-12 teachers around the country create the kinds of engaging learning experiences they’ve enjoyed together for their students back home.
Thumbnail image: Program participants share a laugh as they reflect back on their week together in the Delta during their final session. Photo Courtesy of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.
Program participants tour the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The museum was recently expanded and renovated with the help of an NEH grant. Photo courtesy the Delta Center for Culture and Learning.