In another installment of a series on Region 8 CC staff, we profile our two Michigan state coordinators, Amy Colton and Stephanie Irvine, this month. Both play key leadership roles in our comprehensive technical assistance and capacity-building efforts. Check our website for previous profiles in this series.
Amy Colton, PhD, has 40 years of experience as an educational consultant with the U.S. Department of Education, state and local education agencies, and nonprofit professional organizations and universities. Based in Ann Arbor, she is a senior consultant for Learning Forward, the only membership organization focused solely on high-quality professional learning. Through that work, she provides customized learning experiences that meet the unique needs of school and systems. She also has created online courses to develop the capacity of staff working with high school students in college access programs. During five years as a consultant with the Michigan Department of Education, she led the development of the Office of Special Education’s District Self-Review Process launched in response to a federal mandate to determine whether significant disproportionality occurred in LEAs.
Stephanie Irvine, a research analyst at AEM Corporation, has 12 years of experience in teaching, education research, and technical assistance with a focus on supporting education leaders at the school, district, state, and federal levels in using data for decision making. She worked with Education Trust-Midwest on policy research on charter school accountability and early literacy. She also provided project management and TA support to the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Programs TA Center to help LEAs and higher education grantees implementing innovations across the educator professional continuum. For that work, she participated in TA projects, including onsite personnel exchanges and webinars, and managed development of more than 30 resources. She also led analyses to identify grantee challenges, emerging promising practices, and TA needs in areas including organizational capacity building and change management.
Question: How did you get interested in education technical assistance and capacity-building?
Amy: Early in my teaching career, I became interested in providing professional learning to teachers. I realized I could be even more impactful and ensure more students received high quality teaching if I designed and provided teachers with structured, intentionally designed professional learning rather than if I only focused on students in my own classroom. Because of this, I began honing my skills in facilitation and professional learning. As I observed educators’ joy in developing their sense of collective efficacy around teaching and learning, I began to wonder how I could broaden my sphere of influence by building the capacity of teachers and administrators to engage in continuous school and classroom improvements. Throughout my journey, I continued to build my own capacity to provide high quality TA. Ultimately, my passion for building the capacity of others drove me to apply my skills at a state level, first as a contractor to the Michigan Department of Education and now in my current role as a co-coordinator for Region 8 CC.
Stephanie: After working in research and advocacy roles for two education non-profits, I wanted a role more squarely focused on implementation and stumbled into the world of technical assistance and capacity-building. Over the past eight years, I’ve been tremendously grateful to play roles in much good work across districts, states, and within the U.S. Department of Education. I believe that an embrace of learning -- from the latest research and from our clients – is at the heart of good technical assistance and capacity-building, and I love that aspect of this work.
Question: What education topics are you most passionate about today?
Amy: I am most passionate about two areas in education. The first is high-quality professional learning. I strongly believe that the only route to improvement in educational outcomes is through learning. I am driven by the words of Shirley Hord and James Roussin: “All change is based on learning, and improvement is based on change.” This brings me to the second area I am passionate about, which is diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. If our nation is to have any hope of ensuring all students have access to equitable learning environments, we need to identify and dismantle the structural inequities that currently exist in our nation’s educational systems. If these results are to be actualized, educators and policy makers need to incorporate an equity and inclusion lens in every facet of their work. Professional learning is the critical lever for achieving such equity.
Stephanie: I have always been passionate about continuous improvement/learning in organizations and developing the systems to support it over time. I’m interested in supporting education organizations to innovate and learn and then scale up what is working well. My content interests have evolved over the years, and I’m currently most passionate about ensuring that even the youngest children and their families have access to really great education and care. I am also passionate about any efforts to prioritize mental health and social-emotional well-being of the entire school community, including educators and families.
Question: What current Region 8 CC activities in Michigan should more people know about?
Amy: The Region 8 Comprehensive Center is assisting the Michigan Department of Education in developing strategies and resources to improve the effectiveness of how schools and families, especially historically marginalized families, partner to promote high early literacy outcomes. Strategies and resources are intentionally developed to reflect the diversity of Michigan’s families, including race, ethnicity, class, and structure. Region 8 is also establishing a statewide strategy to support LEAs with implementation of social and emotional learning competencies to develop and nurture the skills of students and adults. The statewide strategy involves the establishment of an SEL Community of Practice with educators, students, families, and representatives of professional organizations. Community members will spend time learning from and with one another as they identify, develop, and pilot tools, resources, and technical assistance specifically designed to support SEL implementation efforts by LEAs. The resources and tools developed will be available to all Michigan LEAs on a digital platform.
Stephanie: We’re working with some wonderful teams at the Michigan Department of Education on initiatives related to early literacy and family engagement, educator and youth worker development, and social emotional learning. I have been most focused on coordinating Region 8 support for a cross-office partnership to develop a career pathway that encourages high school students to earn credentials for initial employment in an early childhood or out-of-school-time program. Students may also earn college credits that put them on an accelerated path toward an associate or bachelor’s degree in education. We are calling the initiative “Launch,” within the Future Proud Michigan Educator campaign, and it will be implemented in schools across Michigan this fall.
Question: The COVID-19 pandemic has upended a lot of norms in American education. In what ways do you think K-12 education will change in the next five years?
Amy: I predict the following:
- A more creative and effective integration of technology in the teaching and learning process;
- A greater focus on and assurance of supports for students’ social and emotional needs, including building strong relationships with students;
- An increase in culturally responsive teaching;
- Stronger community/family-school partnerships;
- More equitable school funding;
- Higher quality professional learning to develop educators’ adaptive expertise for innovation.
Stephanie: I’m always hesitant to make predictions. That said, it has been interesting to see educators, parents, and students embrace technology in new ways. I expect this trend will continue and hope that we keep the best of it to better personalize education for each student and family. Similarly, I hope that the increased attention to social emotional learning is not just a trend, but something that’s here to stay.
Question: What else would you like educators in Region 8 to know about you?
Amy: As a senior consultant for Learning Forward, I help educators leverage professional learning to achieve equitable student-centered learning environments. I also serve as the executive director of the state affiliate, Learning Forward Michigan, whose mission is the same as the mother organization.
Stephanie: I live in Durham, North Carolina, but am married to a native Michigander and both of my children were born there. As the mother of two young children in preschool and Kindergarten, I’m experiencing the education system for the first time from the perspective of a parent. It has brought new insights and a greater sense of urgency to the work for me. Navigating our children’s education is often daunting, even as someone who has been an educator and worked within the system.