Welcome to another profile in SimpleK12's Teachers Teaching Teachers — Views from the Field series, where we talk with educators about what they're doing to train other teachers and administrators.
Today we want to introduce you to Mary Stephens, who heads up the PrepForward company which focuses on teacher certification and professional development.
How and where have you been involved in PD (including your specialties)?
I develop self-paced, online courses for teacher professional development. These courses are delivered through the company I founded, PrepForward, which is an approved provider of continuing education credits at states across the US. My courses ensure mastery in math, reading, writing, language arts, and teaching all students in an inclusive setting.
What roles have you played in K-12 education?
My current focus is on helping K-12 teachers at all stages of their career. I do this as an adjunct professor at teacher education programs and as the founder of PrepForward, a leading provider of teacher certification preparation and professional development courses for K-12 teachers. In addition, I have designed curriculum and taught math, computers, humanities, and science to all levels in K-12. Furthermore, I served as a board member of Alpha Public Schools, a network of charter schools in California. Finally, I spent a part of my career developing ed-tech products to be used in K-12 schools at companies including Edusoft and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Please tell us about your website(s), books, or links to your other work.
I am the founder of PrepForward. We provide expert, online preparation to ensure K-12 teachers are successful in the classroom. PrepForward offers effective, flexible, self-paced courses to help teachers develop a deep understanding of fundamentals and teach with confidence. Our programs are used by prospective teachers preparing for certification and existing teachers seeking professional development.
What led you to pursue teacher PD?
As a teacher myself, I believe in the value of education for everyone. When I use my energy to help teachers stay inspired, knowledgeable, and focused, I’ve benefited teachers, students, administrators, and communities.
What advice do you have for other teachers who would like to create and deliver teacher PD?
Be timely—in every sense of the word. Teachers are busy; they’re looking for efficiency. Additionally, teachers need current research and practices without hyped-up trends that drain energy and revenue only to be discarded by the end of next week.
If you could go back and give your 20-year old self some advice, what would it be?
A sign of intelligence is admitting what you don’t know and asking for help.
If your FUTURE self in 20 years could look back at where you are today, what advice might the Future You offer the Current You?
Laugh as often and as much as possible.
What are the biggest mistakes you see teachers making in the classroom?
Teachers feel pressured to entertain students. Some teachers spend hours scanning for a single article or activity that will capture the attention of a few students for part of a class period. A teacher who instructs from bell to bell out of their personal love for their subject will accomplish more than a teacher who keeps students entertained.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of the various forms of PD delivery?
Online courses are efficient, flexible, and cost-effective. Teachers can squeeze a course into their schedules, get their credit, and focus on their own needs. However, they may fail to internalize the course without proper support. On the other hand, workshops can give teachers access to their peers who can help break teachers out of a rut and give them the courage to take on a classroom makeover. Yet, they may not get the personalized learning they desire.
As Master of the Education Universe, what 1-2 things would you change about K-12 education and schools?
As Master of the Education Universe, I would ensure equity across schools in terms of teacher quality, curriculum, and classroom supplies. Students would all be learning in a top-notch environment with exceptionally talented teachers, regardless of what state, city, or neighborhood they live in.
What would you change about university teacher education programs?
University teacher education programs must make sure to include methods for delivering the content. For example, teachers may understand math content and general instructional methods, but some may need specific strategies for teaching each of the math concepts.
What would you change about traditional PD as used in schools today?
Too much professional development is a checkmark in the box at the end of PD day that fails to impact student learning or teacher satisfaction the next day. I’d make sure PD is not another non-instructional obligation heaped on teachers.
Do you have a favorite quote or expression you live by?
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do, be, or try?
I would do the same thing. I have a wonderful family with two little ones and a third on the way. In addition, I love working with teachers at all stages of their careers. I truly believe that the quality of education is determined by the leader at the front of the classroom and I want to continue to do everything I can to help teachers succeed.
What's your next goal?
My plan is to continue to work with teachers on identifying their biggest struggles in the classroom and see if I can use my expertise to help them learn how to overcome their challenges.
Anything else you'd like to share with other teachers who want to follow in your footsteps?
Identify your strengths and build your product within your area of expertise.
This teacher profile is part of SimpleK12's Teachers Teaching Teachers — Views from the Field series, where we interview educators about what they're doing to train other teachers and administrators.
If you have any questions for Mary or anything else related to this topic (and there will be more Teachers Teaching Teachers profiles and stories coming soon), please leave them below in the Comments.