Magazine Feature / People

College of Ed’s Michalec reinvigorating DPS teachers

Nervous high school, middle school and elementary students entering the classroom on the first day of school might not believe it, but the teachers often are as uncomfortable as they are. 

It is DU College of Education Professor Paul Michalec’s goal to instill Denver Public School teachers with confidence and remind them of what brought them to the profession to begin with. 

For the last three years, Michalec has been working with the nonprofit Center for Courage and Renewal in its Courage to Teach program. During retreats at the Balarat Outdoor Education Center over 15 months, public school educators receive mentoring from Courage and Renewal facilitators and create networks of support with other teachers. Michalec runs the Colorado branch, along with Dan Liston of the University of Colorado. 

“Teachers are losing track of their own identity and integrity,” Michalec says. “It’s easy for them to lose heart.” 

He describes the retreats as being “all about renewal and formation.” 

Unlike other teacher retreats, the Courage to Teach program does not focus on training teachers to become better educators. Rather, the focus is on renewing teachers’ passion for their work and allowing them a safe place to rejuvenate their “inner lives.” 

Facilitators are trained to follow a list of “touchstones” when leading a retreat. These touchstones include “openness to learning from each other” and “no fixing,” referring to the idea that participants do not attend to be fixed, saved or advised. 

Michalec says he tries to apply the values learned at these retreats to his work at DU, both as a professor and administrator. Last summer, he held a Courage to Teach retreat for the faculty of the College of Education and says that he would like to extend the program to other departments as well. 

The Courage to Teach program was started in Michigan in 1994 and has spread to 25 states and Canada. The Colorado branch of CTT is sponsored by DU, the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education, and the CU Outreach Program. 

Locally, the program is available only to Denver Public Schools teachers, but Michalec hopes to expand its coverage in the future. Michalec and Liston recently received a grant to run retreats for school administrators. 

This article originally appeared in The Source, September 2006.

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