NEH Impact: Supporting Professional Growth For Our Nation’s Educators

The National Endowment for the Humanities’ (NEH) supports summer programs across the country for K-12 educators, covering history, literature, religion, politics, art, and culture through various themes connected to local histories and cultures. This summer, we partnered with 14 programs to document their impact on educators and, in turn, our nation’s schoolchildren. Data collection will continue until summer 2020 in order to understand how educators are implementing what they learned. However, this year’s pre- and post-program surveys demonstrate these programs provide teachers with a renewed excitement for content, classroom materials that promote connections with students of diverse backgrounds, and a sense of community with educators across the country.

Our pre-survey returned 527 responses and our post-survey returned 329 from 14 programs that took place in California, Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New York, and Texas. Attendees, however, hailed from every region of the country, from Alaska, to Wyoming, to Hawaii, to Georgia. This geographically representative group also had a broad range of professional experience, from less than five years to more than 25 years of teaching experience, from private schools, to public schools, to schools administered by the Bureau of Indian Education. Across this diverse range, 80 percent of respondents found the NEH-funded workshops to be “superior” or “vastly superior” to “other professional development opportunities (required or elective) [they had] experienced.” 

Respondents particularly appreciated the directly applicable and culturally-inclusive classroom materials they gained from the experience. Ninety-five percent of respondents agreed they “will be able to use what [they’ve] learned” in their classrooms. Many reported a sense of excitement for the new school year and new confidence in teaching challenging historical and social topics. Several teachers intended changes to their curriculum to incorporate more meaningful connections between the material and the community of students they serve. As two respondents stated: “I left with more confidence and power to know that teaching the truth to students will help them understand more about slavery,” and “I have a better way to talk about history with my community of diverse learners.”

Last, these workshops are creating communities of educators and fostering ties across districts, states, and regions. Teachers dedicate part of their time off to further their professional development in a space likely far from their homes and families. Recognizing this, we asked about their opinion of the importance of gathering educators in one place. Ninety-seven percent of respondents found the gathering of a temporary community to be either “very important” or “absolutely essential.” One respondent demonstrated the possibilities in these new connections, stating: “Now I have connected with educators across the country… One Seattle teacher has invited me to travel from Ohio to her area to present on this topic at a regional social studies conference she is planning. That would never have happened had I not attended this national institute.” This same sentiment was shared in differing ways and capacities across all fourteen programs. 

Altogether, initial findings testify to how these programs ensure quality professional development and space for professional community-building for teachers across the country. Our follow-up surveys next summer will dig deeper into how participants have implemented what they learned, test for potential changes in attitudes toward teaching, and measure for increased use of humanities methodologies in their teaching. We look forward to gaining this additional insight into the impact that NEH funding has on teachers and students across the country.


Photo Credit

Thumbnail image: Group participants from Gullah Voices: Traditions and Transformations pose under a live oak with Cornelia Bailey, community advocate, cultural historian, and co-founder of the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society. Image courtesy of Gullah Voices.

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