Simply put: Investing in teachers' growth matters.


Simply put: Investing in teachers' growth matters.

Prior to joining the William Penn Foundation, I was a public school educator for 14 years. I spent 12 of them as a classroom teacher and instructional coach, and two additional years in a district leadership role, directing K-12 history and social studies programming in the Boston Public Schools.

It’s a professional path that gives me great pride, along which I have been lucky to teach some incredible students in partnership with many inspired colleagues. Without a doubt, I have the highest respect for teachers and the teaching profession.

Good teaching, as I’ve experienced and any seasoned educator will tell you, is a carefully honed craft. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has articulated five core domains that highly-skilled teaching requires: deep knowledge of students, expertise in subject matter, ability to monitor and manage student learning, ongoing reflection of one’s teaching practice, and active membership in learning communities.

It’s a lot. And many of these elements can be difficult to identify and measure, particularly for adults who haven’t been in a school environment since they were students themselves, or to those who haven’t been formally trained as teachers. It makes me think of the Conscious Competence ladder, a framework that I learned about in my graduate teacher education program.

Students pictured from Solis-Cohen Elementary School.


According to the model, an individual moves through four distinct phases as he or she learns a new skill and increases in competence. Applied to teaching, you are likely to start off unconsciously unskilled (Teaching? It can’t be that hard!), before quickly arriving at the stage of being consciously unskilled (Teaching is a lot harder than I originally thought…).

Then, through a combination of practice, support, refinement, and reflection (and a whole lot of anxiety-filled nights), you start becoming consciously skilled. You become deliberate at building your repertoire of strong, evidence-based, and classroom-tested practice. This is where the William Penn Foundation’s funding is targeted, providing teachers with the training, resources, and continued learning that’s necessary for their teaching skills to meet the high bar that Philadelphia’s students deserve.

And ultimately, after hard-earned experience and effort, you become unconsciously skilled as an educator. 

Good teaching takes time, requires practice, and can flourish when individual schools and school systems invest in supporting teachers to develop along this path.

Student pictured from Solis-Cohen Elementary School.


The William Penn Foundation has a long history of supporting public education and educators in Philadelphia. In 2015, we joined the Lenfest Foundation, The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, and District leadership to launch a multi-year effort to train teachers on how to use the specific best practices that are proven to help more students read on grade level. The initiative provided summer training to K-3 teachers in all 150 of Philadelphia’s district elementary schools, purchased libraries for every classroom, and provided two years of on-site literacy coaching for every school. The result? As superintendent William Hite said, “the hard work and dedication of our teachers and principals is paying off… we are making progress as a School District, and our strategies and initiatives are building a strong foundation for academic success.”

And a few months ago, the School District of Philadelphia had something significant to show for its recent investments in its teachers. Students achieved promising gains in 3rd grade reading proficiency, and teachers significantly increased their use of evidence-based literacy practices.

Simply put: investing in teachers matters.

Still, more remains to be done, and the ongoing investment in and support for Philadelphia’s teachers remain paramount. In partnership with educators, district leaders, and education support organizations, we continue to fund and explore avenues to make this happen. The following are some examples:

  • Temple University re-established a National Board support program in order to provide fee subsidies, professional development, and mentors for teachers to strengthen their practice and pursue their National Board Certification—the most respected and recognized professional certification in K-12 education.
  • Mastery Charter Schools embarked on a comprehensive revision of its curriculum in order to support teachers in their adoption of these new standards-aligned materials.
  • Teach Plus and the Center for Teaching Quality, organizations that both focus on building systems for teacher leadership, partnered with the School District of Philadelphia to support educator-led teams to improve K-3 literacy outcomes in five high-need elementary schools, and to shape new leadership pathways for city teachers.
  • The Institute for Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME), a nationally recognized leader in making high quality educational resources accessible, will be supporting the School District of Philadelphia’s curriculum office to enhance the materials available to teachers online, primarily through engaging teachers to advise and contribute the instructional materials that they’ve used in their own classrooms in Philadelphia.


I feel incredibly fortunate to be at an institution that invests in teachers to improve education outcomes for all children. And while I miss my days in the classroom, I’m gratified to be a partner and believer in the professionals that are making a difference in the lives of kids every day.

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