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Helping educators excel

Local nonprofit Knowles Teacher Initiative is celebrating its 20th anniversary as an organization supporting young math and science educators.

It’s not easy being a teacher these days. With many schools facing tighter budgets and larger class sizes, resources and staff compensation can suffer. These challenges are particularly felt among young teachers just entering the field who are trying to establish a foothold in a new setting, all the while beset with these limiting factors.

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The Knowles Teacher Initiative is a Moorestown-based nonprofit devoted to helping young math and science teachers weather this storm early in their careers and emerge stronger on the other side.

In order to accomplish this, each year the organization awards promising young people from across the country who are just entering the high school math and science education field with a Knowles Teaching Fellowship.

“The basic idea behind that is that the retention rate among teachers is not very high, and that’s particularly true in math and science, so the idea behind this is to support them through five years, which is the toughest time of a teacher’s career, and give them all the support they need to stay in the profession and become excellent teachers,” said Nicole Gillespie, president and CEO of the nonprofit.

Recipients of the fellowship have demonstrated not only excellent content knowledge in whichever area they intend to teach, but also a curiosity about learning and a willingness to explore areas they don’t understand.

The five-year program includes its own curriculum. Teaching fellows meet together three times a year and are connected through an online component as well. Each recipient also receives $9,000 a year, up to half of which can be used for a stipend, with the remainder  used for things like additional professional development and classroom materials.

“The most important part of this program is that it’s a community of teachers,” said Gillespie. “They get to work with other people who are teaching the same subjects, who are just as passionate and committed.”  

This year the organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary of supporting young teachers through these fellowships. According to Gillespie, over the years their focus has zeroed in on building leadership skills in the teachers they work with.

“Our idea is that teachers know better than anybody what it takes to improve education, so our goal is to trust them and empower them to do just that,” said Gillespie.

Through participation in their program, Gillespie has seen teachers grow and become leaders in their field. Bradford Hill from Oregon, now a senior fellow who has continued his involvement with the Knowles Teacher Initiative, is one such success story.

As a physics teacher, Hill was interested in teaching his subject to students in a way that would help them understand patterns we can observe in nature. He ended up developing a new method of teaching physics, now known as the Patterns Approach, that focused on students gathering and analyzing data and observing firsthand what they were learning in the classroom.

“He went on to teach it to a bunch of other teachers. His whole school district in Oregon now uses that method,” said Gillespie.

Syeda Raza is one of the latest additions as part of the 2019 group of Knowles fellows. In just a few months time with the program, she says she is already feeling the difference it can make in a teacher’s career as well as their overall approach to education.

“I applied for the Knowles fellowship because it sounded like an amazing opportunity to support my growth and development as an educator. In the few months that I’ve been a fellow, my experiences with the staff and conversations with the other fellows have already compelled me to think deeply about what it means to be an educator and how to reflect on and transform my teaching practices in ways that engages and empowers my students,” said Raza.

For more information on the Knowles Teacher Initiative and to learn about the latest batch of teaching fellows for 2019, visit its website at knowlesteachers.org.



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