Innovative teacher ed degree program earns national distinction

The graduate-school component of the University of Florida’s groundbreaking Florida Master Teacher Initiative won the Association of Teacher Educators’ coveted 2011 Distinguished Program in Teacher Education Award last week.

The Master Teacher initiative’s Teacher Leadership for School Improvement (TLSI) program offers highly effective, free, on-the-job, advanced degree programs in education to teachers in Miami-Dade, Pinellas, Duval and Collier counties’ most vulnerable schools.

UF College of Education faculty provide the online TLSI instruction, while local master teachers are hired and trained as “professors-in-residence’ for first-hand observation and on-site instruction at the schools. What  teachers learn can be applied immediately to improve student learning and school performance.

The program – a joint effort of the college’s Lastinger Center and the School of Teaching and Learning – earned the award for exemplifying “collaboration between local education agencies and institutions of higher education in program development and administration,” according to the association’s website.

“What began as a boutique program with 40 teachers from two districts has become one of the fastest growing graduate programs in the state,” Lastinger Associate Director Alyson Adams said. “It’s growing because teachers and districts recognize the impact this program has on teacher quality, teacher leadership and, ultimately, student learning.”

This is the latest in a series of major recognitions that the Master Teacher initiative has received in recent months. The U.S. Department of Education recently named it one of the country’s top educational programs, awarding it a $6 million Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from that included a $1 million match from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“We’re increasingly told that what we’ve been creating in high-need schools in Florida in the past several years now serves as a national model for all public schools,” Lastinger Director Don Pemberton said.

Professor Nancy Dana

Professor Nancy Dana led presentation

UF teaching and learning professor Nancy Dana, a global expert on educator professional development who teaches and conducts research in the program, views the award as a call for expanding it around the country.

The award places the program on a “national stage,” she said. “In this capacity, it’s positioned to impact the ways teacher education is conceptualized and enacted throughout the nation.”

Dana and her TLSI team submitted a 30-page application for the national award, including an evaluation report to validate the program’s effectiveness and a rationale for adapting the program to other teacher education programs nationwide.

At the host association’s recent annual conference, the group gave a 40-minute presentation to a judging panel for the highly competitive award. Along with Alyson Adams and Nancy Dana, the other presenters were:  UF education faculty Dorene Ross, Elizabeth Bondy and Colleen Packer; UF professors-in-residence Magdi Castaneda, Sylvia Boynton and Crystal Timmons; associate education dean for academic affairs Tom Dana; TLSI graduates Rob Ovalle, Rachel Walkenhauer and Shaunte Elliot; and Carol Thomas, area superintendent for Pinellas County Schools.

Writer: Boaz Dvir, creative services coordinator, UF Lastinger Center for Learning, 352-273-0289;

Media Contact: Larry Lansford, news & communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137;