Finding Meaningful Ways to Recognize Teachers’ Crucial Work

Rebecca LewisEDC Senior Project Director Rebecca Lewis is an expert in STEM education, integration of academic and career education, teacher development, and high school reform. Rebecca leads initiatives that get students excited about STEM learning in formal and informal learning settings, while giving them the tools to succeed in and beyond school. Currently, as the Director of the Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) Program Office at EDC, Rebecca is guiding an EDC team in providing technical assistance to the ABE Program's sites and participating teachers. In this post written in celebration of National Teacher Appreciation Week 2017 (May 8-12, #ThankATeacher), Rebecca shares some thoughts on the importance of finding ways to honor and support teachers that go beyond an apple and a pat on the back. She suggests that one great way to go is to follow the ABE program’s lead and ask teachers how they would like to be recognized.

At EDC, we deeply respect educators and honor their expertise. We collaborate with teachers as our highly valued partners in instructional design. We also prioritize engaging teachers in professional learning experiences that give them the tools they need to hone their instruction and achieve their goals for students. You can read more about this in a recent EDC brief, In Support of Educators: Strategies That Work.

In fact, many EDC staff, including me, began our careers as teachers (“What Did Teaching Teach You?”). Every day, as we work to advance EDC’s mission to transform lives with learning, we apply our insights from our days in the classroom. Our work to support teachers in improving student outcomes is much stronger due to our firm grounding in the realities of schools and classrooms. 

Based on working alongside so many outstanding teachers—first as colleagues, then as design partners and professional developers—we know that the theme of Teacher Appreciation Week 2017 (May 8-12), “Teachers Deliver,” is right on target. An important question to ask, however, is “What do we deliver back to teachers?” Too often, we take teachers for granted, despite the vital role that they play in shaping the future of students. It’s important to consider what meaningful support we can provide to appreciate, strengthen, and sustain their important work—not just on one day, or during one week, but on an ongoing basis.   

As part of our work supporting the Amgen Foundation’s innovative Amgen Biotech Experience (ABE) program through the ABE Program Office at EDC, my team has had an exciting opportunity to explore new ways to answer the question, “What do we deliver back to teachers?” Recently, we worked closely with our 11 ABE program sites to design and pilot a new ABE Teacher Recognition Program to honor the great high school teachers who are engaging their students in scientific discovery and real-life biotech experiences through ABE’s hands-on molecular biology curriculum.

ABE students
ABE students conducting an experiment. Photo: Burt Granofsky

The ABE Teacher Recognition Award program is an important new dimension of the Amgen Foundation’s mission to advance excellence in science education to inspire the next generation of innovators. Featured in Change the Equation’s STEMworks database of STEM education programs that “maximize ROI for funders and make a real impact on students,” ABE is an innovative science education program that empowers teachers to bring biotechnology into their high school classrooms. Read what participating teachers have to say about ABE, and watch this brief video to learn more:

Each year, the ABE program gives nearly 80,000 students hands-on experience with biotech, sparking their interest in further study and career opportunities and positively affecting their STEM achievement. A 2016–17 ongoing independent study found that ABE students show significant and substantial gains in biotech learning and confidence in doing science and biotechnology. To date, the program has delivered high-quality biotech education to over half a million students in the U.S., Puerto Rico, U.K. and Ireland.

Across the U.S. and around the world, teachers are pivotal to the ABE program’s success. And ABE is a very challenging program for teachers. It demands a tremendous amount of prep work, some teachers do not have any lab facilities to use, and they learn how to use the borrowed equipment to engage students in challenging experiments.

With this in mind, we decided not to wait for Teacher Appreciation Week to roll around (although it's a great week to celebrate!), but to invest in finding new ways to celebrate teachers. As I note in a separate blog post on the Amgen Inspires website, with the ABE Teacher Recognition Program we all wanted to go deeper than giving a teacher a shiny red apple and a pat on the back. Instead, the Amgen Foundation, our EDC team, and ABE program site staff were committed to identifying, understanding, and supporting what teachers value most in order to keep them as partners and contributors to the ABE program.

To achieve this goal, we took a logical first step. We surveyed ABE teachers and asked them, “What would you like to get out of a Teacher Recognition Program?” Survey data showed that, rather than financial incentives or individual recognition, the vast majority of teachers wanted:

  • A collective recognition event with opportunities to spend time connecting with and learning from their colleagues
  • Equipment and resources to help enrich instruction for their students

These teachers already participate in ABE program professional development including training, coaching and mentoring, and annual get-togethers to reflect on the past year and plan for the next. The feedback from the survey was not surprising to our EDC team. From our decades of supporting teachers’ professional learning, we know that teachers benefit greatly from being able to learn with and from each other on an ongoing basis. It’s a powerful, effective way to incubate and refine innovations in their teaching practice.

So far, seven of the current 11 ABE sites have piloted the Teacher Recognition Program. We designed some basic criteria for programs—including a collective celebration combined with a recognition of someone who went “above and beyond” in the past year. Many sites provided lunch and dinner at an Amgen location, gave out awards, and made possible opportunities for teachers to talk to scientists as well as spend time with each other. For example, in Los Angeles, teachers toured an Amgen laboratory and met with scientists. In Ireland, the teachers’ event featured a university faculty member who discussed her research and career path, and Amgen's site head of Ireland presented an award to two teachers who wrote an article based on their ABE experience. In Massachusetts, the program site hosted a dinner for ABE teachers in the fall, gave out awards, and designed a special t-shirt as a giveaway. They also asked students to nominate teachers to honor, and gave out gift cards to the nominated teachers.

In spite of the differences, there was one constant across all sites. Teachers felt great to be recognized in a way that gives them time to learn from each other in a stimulating, yet informal setting. But I don’t want to put words in their mouths. Instead, I’m going to close by sharing some of their comments. And I’m going to challenge and encourage all of us to find new ways to appreciate and honor teachers’ crucial work. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week 2017!

Amgen Biotech Experience Teachers Weigh In On the New ABE Teacher Recognition Program

  • Initiatives like this make the difference.
  • This was inspiring as a teacher and fuels the desire to continue to inspire my students towards STEM.
  • It was great to have time to just talk to other teachers. All of the training programs are great, but it was nice to be in a relaxing environment and feel like you could talk about ABE and other general biology topics, teaching tips, etc.
  • It was valuable to have contact with Amgen staff and scientists. Discussion about the drugs, ongoing research and work experiences help teachers relate real world situations to students.
  • Thanks for this excellent activity! Thanks for this recognition and for your support during the whole year. I am proud to be a teacher and to be part of the Amgen Biotech Experience family.
  • I got to chat with experienced teachers and got some valuable tips and contacts. It felt really nice to be recognized to the extra effort I put in to do the training...and the extra personal time I have put in that will not be compensated for by my school district.

ABE teachers
ABE teachers, ABE-LA staff, and Amgen Foundation Vice President Scott Heimlich (front row, far left)
at the Teacher Recognition Retreat at Amgen's Thousand Oaks, CA headquarters. 



Monday, May 8, 2017 - 2:00pm