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April 20, 2007

CW's Teacher Institute makes history education relevant for 5,000 teachers across the U.S.

Each summer, Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute provides teachers from across the United States with an intensive seven-day immersion into early American history. Teachers return to their schools with a new understanding of how we became Americans, new historical content and methods of engaging students in learning, and a renewed enthusiasm for teaching.

Susan Carvey, a fifth-grade teacher from Southlake, Texas, has attended Teacher Institute five times and was so moved by the program she returned to be a peer facilitator. “It completely changed the way I teach,” she said. “Every time I come back, it adds another layer of teaching I can use in my classroom.” Carvey says she always is impressed by the “historical accuracy”
Colonial Williamsburg offers.

Teacher Institute is not for the faint of heart. The teachers are up early and follow a full schedule well into the evening, sharing new ideas, brainstorming and forming lifelong friendships.

Sessions are available for elementary and secondary school teachers. Historical content and teaching strategies for the two different sessions are geared to the appropriate grade levels and curriculum. Teachers begin their week at Jamestown, where the docents, park rangers and interpreters at Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement provide insight into what life might have been like for the English who arrived on the shores of Virginia in 1607. Last summer’s archaeological discovery of 17th-century artifacts from a well demonstrated how teachers can use primary sources in the classroom and the powerful impact they have on learning.

One classroom exercise that uses primary sources divides teachers into groups to learn more about an individual who lived in the past. One group is given a man’s will, one is given a household inventory of the man’s belongings and the third is given another document, not revealed until the groups examining the will and the inventory have presented their thoughts on who this man might have been. Each group gives suggestions about the man’s marital status, occupation, race, political leanings, social standing and religious beliefs by examining the will and inventory list. The teachers learn the man was neither a member of the gentry nor a white tradesman as they had thought, but a mulatto who purchased freedom for his wife and children. The teachers learn a valuable lesson about jumping to conclusions too quickly.

"Teacher Institute doesn’t just give the teachers historical content,” said Tab Broyles, director of teacher professional development. “We provide them with new methods for teaching history and ways in which to make the stories of our past relevant to students. Teachers receive a CD with lesson plans, primary sources, and other materials they can use in their classrooms.”

The teachers also visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Great Hopes Plantation, an interactive living history site that represents how the rural middle class lived. They meet interpreters, explore the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, study maps in the Colonial Williamsburg collections building and visit the trade shops. The teachers remove worms from tobacco plants, participate in debates and courtroom trials and end their week on the battlefields of Yorktown.

Tuition for this summer’s program is $1,900. While some teachers pay their own way, others receive grants (such as the Department of Education’s Teaching American History grants) and support from donors. Tuition includes the week of programs, meals and lodging in the Historic Area.

“I’ve been with the program since its inception in 1990, and I never tire of seeing the enthusiasm generated by Teacher Institute,” said Broyles. “The all-out effort by our staff provides the inspiration for teachers to return to the classroom and inspire students who will be our future citizens and leaders.”

Beth Breuer, a teacher from Port Washington, Wis., says Teacher Institute “provided tremendous inspiration for me but also provided me with the means to inspire my students.”

For more information about attending the 2007 Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, visit

Media Contact:
Barbara Brown
(757) 220-7121