In 2015, the Steelcase Foundation and the Education Trust-Midwest created the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to apply some of the practices and strategies proven to work in leading states across the country and explore whether they can raise student achievement in Michigan, particularly for the most vulnerable students.

By building the capacity and support for teachers and principals in high-poverty schools, in close partnership with district and school leaders, CETL is showing that it is possible for schools to see clear gains in student learning.

While a top ten education is an urgent priority for Michigan’s kids and Michigan’s economy, many Michigan teachers are without the support that they need to improve the quality of teaching and learning in their classrooms.

“Our support for this project is representative of the Steelcase Foundation’s commitment to quality public education in our community,” according to Julie Ridenour, president of the Steelcase Foundation. “We believe this work is of paramount importance to the long-term well-being of this area and beyond.”

“One of most important and underappreciated assets of Michigan’s public education system is its high-performing teachers,” according to Amber Arellano, executive director of the Education Trust-Midwest. “CETL was created, in part, to innovate new ways to leverage this incredible asset to improve public schools and support both educators and students to achieve at higher levels. And they are doing that.”

Led by veteran educators

Led by veteran educators with expertise and experience in improving low-performing, high-poverty schools, CETL provides instructional support, coaching, consulting, data analysis and other technical assistance to P-12 schools and educators.

The Center was launched in fall 2015 in four high-poverty elementary schools in Grand Rapids Public Schools and Wyoming Public Schools under the leadership of Chad Tolson, a veteran school administrator. The program has plans to expand to reach eight West Michigan schools and more than 30 teachers over four years.

“I learned what great teaching was by seeing great teachers at work, and no one works harder in education than an elementary teacher,” Tolson says. The program involves a team of “teacher coaches” who meet with five or six teachers in each school each week to provide feedback and offer instructional support in a collegial approach.

“Our aim is to give teachers a chance to be reflective about their work, with a purpose of improving their skills and a focus on student achievement,” Tolson says. “That’s where we come in, to help the good teachers become great, and help effective teachers become even more highly effective.”

CETL also works directly with principals on systems-level approaches to support students and teachers in their schools. “Looking at systems gives us a chance to help teachers see where they fit in to the overall goal of helping students achieve,” Tolson added.

Another goal of the program is to develop a performance-based model to identify “master teachers” and a career pathway to get there.

For The Education Trust-Midwest, the lessons learned in the practical, day-to-day work of helping teachers and school leaders become more effective will inform the organization’s research and advocacy efforts across the state.

“We believe that all students can succeed at a high level,” Arellano says. “And we believe this work will help us get there.”

The Steelcase Foundation was established more than 60 years ago by the founders of the Grand Rapids-based office furniture manufacturer.

The Education Trust-Midwest is a non-profit organization that promotes high academic achievement for all Michigan students, with a focus on African American, Latino, American Indian and low-income students. As a non-partisan research and policy organization, ETM works alongside parents, educators, policy makers, and community and business leaders in Michigan to transform schools to serve all students well.