By Benjamin Wideman
Director of Communications
PULASKI – Abbey Behnke enrolled in Silver Lake College’s Learning Community with the goal of earning her master’s degree in Teacher Leadership.
But she ended up coming away with more than just a degree.
“This program made me not only a better teacher, but a better wife, a better mother and a better person,” said Behnke, who earned her Teacher Leadership degree in June 2014 and immediately re-enrolled in this year’s program to receive her master’s degree in Administrative Leadership.
“I just know I’m going to be sad when it’s over, because the program is so beneficial. I’ve learned so much. You just can’t go through this program and not change for the better.”
Behnke, a Chilton resident and teacher at Hilbert Elementary School, is one of nine teachers and administrators currently enrolled in a unique Learning Community that meets at Pulaski High School one weekend per month throughout the academic year. The group also meets for two weeks before and two weeks after the school year.
Teachers and administrators are drawn to the program for several reasons. Most notably, they can earn a master’s degree in one year; it benefits not only them but their colleagues and students, as well; and the program is flexible enough to accommodate busy schedules.
The Learning Communities’ three facilitators – Tom Krause, Sarah Bovee and Jon Wood – said the program is so flexible that participants have moved residences, had babies, continued teaching and still had time to graduate from the program – all in the same year.
“The flexibility this program offers is truly amazing,” said Bovee, a teacher at Fairview Elementary School in Pulaski. “Overall, this isn’t what you’d find compared to the traditional two-year master’s thesis. What we do is very real, and it’s something that they can take and do right away in their classrooms. It means something.”
Krause is an associate principal at Pulaski Community Middle School, and Wood is a teacher at Fairview Elementary School in Pulaski. All three facilitators are Learning Community graduates.
Silver Lake College’s program is approved by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Accreditation Agency.
Participants can earn master’s degrees in Teacher Leadership or Administrative Leadership, as well as various Licensures (Reading 316, Principalship, Director of Instruction, Director of Special Education and Pupil Services, and School Business Administrator).
Sister Michaela Melko, the Director of Graduate Education at Silver Lake College, said the college’s philosophy for the program is that busy teachers won’t have to spend time learning what they already know. Rather, their time is spent learning things that their self-assessments indicate need enhancing.
The Pulaski Learning Community formed in 2009. Participants in the 2014-15 program come from a wide geographic range – spanning Green Bay to Luxemburg to Oconomowoc.
One weekend per month throughout the academic year, the participants gather at Pulaski High School and begin their session by sitting in a circle and sharing things they experienced over the previous month. The purpose is to not only pick up ideas, but to build relationships among the teachers, administrators and facilitators.
“Where the sitting in a circle came from, it’s an old Native American tradition where if there were any celebrations or disputes, different tribes would get together in a circle,” Krause said. “There are a lot of symbolic pieces to it where there’s nothing in between. There are no barriers. Also, the circle, there’s no start and no end. The way the process works, one person begins and then passes either right or left so it goes all the way around the circle. So everybody has a voice.
“As that happens, it’s also a listening exercise, because people don’t talk while someone else is talking. After everyone had a chance to talk, then it’s open up to everybody. So everybody has a voice at first and then it can be opened up.”
Green Bay resident Traci Mittag, a teacher at Pulaski Community Middle School, earned her master’s degree in Teacher Leadership and re-enrolled in the program for the 2014-15 school year, this time in pursuit of a degree in Administrative Leadership.
She appreciates the program’s structure and is glad that “it isn’t a 100-page thesis I’ll never use again. I’m using the things I learned from this program in my classes all the time. In fact, everything I learned I could use the next day I went to my classroom.
“The program was just so professionally altering for me. I learned a lot, and it really helped me in my classroom. And the program has given me confidence and the ability to do things outside my classroom too.”
Silver Lake College also offers a Learning Community in Chippewa Falls and is exploring opportunities for other locations throughout Wisconsin.
For more information about the Pulaski Learning Community, please contact Tom Krause at (920) 213-3301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Jon Sarah and Tom” – The facilitators for Silver Lake College’s Learning Community in Pulaski are, from left, Jon Wood, a teacher at Fairview Elementary School in Pulaski; Sarah Bovee, a teacher at Fairview Elementary School in Pulaski; and Tom Krause, an associate principal at Pulaski Community Middle School.
“Traci and Abbey” – Green Bay’s Traci Mittag, left, and Chilton’s Abbey Behnke are among the participants enrolled in Silver Lake College’s Learning Community, which meets at Pulaski High School. Mittag teaches at Pulaski Community Middle School, and Behnke teaches at Hilbert Elementary School.