Providing teachers ongoing professional development through the Arizona K-12 Center

Phoenix, AZ | Submitted by Kathy Wiebke, PhD

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When teachers learn, kids learn. That’s the mantra behind the 1999 creation of the Arizona K12 Center at Northern Arizona University, an organization dedicated to supporting teacher professional development. In its early years, the Arizona K12 Center expanded by collaborating and partnering with Arizona’s universities, other state and national learning institutions, educational organizations, and community and business leaders.

Currently, the Arizona K12 Center continues to bring innovative ideas and professional development support to Arizona educators. Under the leadership of its Board of Directors, the Regents’ Universities and other stakeholders, the Center is shaping a more pro-active role in developing teacher leadership and providing quality professional development opportunities to educators to improve teaching practice and student achievement.

To be a resource for all teachers, no matter how long they’ve been in the profession, the Center provides professional learning opportunities in the following key areas:

  • Leadership: Leadership matters. Developing teacher leaders is a critical goal of the Arizona K12 Center. No one person influences student performance more than teachers. It’s vital that teachers take a leadership role, both in their own professional learning and in the school community at large.
  • Learning: Teaching and learning are innately interwoven. Reflecting on one’s practice, acquiring new skills and knowledge, and applying it all – this is a process that never ends. We know that passion for learning is contagious. When you have it, your students can feel it and be inspired along with you.
  • Technology: In the 21st century classroom, technology is a way of life. Integrating the tools and harnessing the power of technology to engage students is a tremendous task as technology has advanced to a central role in our culture. No longer just relevant to a few people with a special aptitude, technology is now integrated into our everyday life.

To effectively work with educators from around the state, the Arizona K12 Center has a wide variety of programs and learning opportunities. The annual teacher leadership institute is one of the most popular. Many schools or districts attend as teams to ensure that everyone is working from the same playbook. For newer educators, the Center created an induction and mentoring program. What started as a retention effort in Native American communities has grown into a supportive platform for teachers in high needs communities and those pursuing National Board Certification.

Every summer, the Center offers Camp Plug and Play to aid teachers in integrating the latest technology to help children learn. With five specific strands to choose from, it’s a great growth experience for teachers. The Center even recently introduced a new podcast aimed at educators at all levels.

Most quality school reform efforts focus primarily on the end result of improving K-12 student performance. At the core of these efforts is a call to rethink the practice of teaching in ways that raise standards, increase student achievement, reshape curricula, and restructure the way schools operate. The Arizona K12 Center was created to bring these topics into focus in order to increase Arizona teachers’ abilities to improve student performance. And the efforts are having an impact. Through the Arizona Master Teacher program, one district improved retention to 85 percent from 50 percent in only one year. The districts participating in the Master Teacher program report beginning teacher retention rates that are above the national average of 50-60 percent. Even more impressive, the retention rates of mentored teachers are above 70 percent in six of the seven districts receiving Arizona K12 Center funding that reported retention numbers.

The Center is reaching thousands of teachers every year and reminding them that they’re valued and supported. Here is what some participants had to say:

  • “The Arizona K12 Center has changed the trajectory of my career as a teacher.  They have shown me how accomplished teaching can change the lives of students and have helped me achieve more in my profession than I ever thought possible.” — Teacher
  • “The Arizona K12 Center supports school districts in the most critical component in education today, educator retention. It provides research-based strategies to promote effective instruction in the classroom. As a superintendent for Tolleson Elementary, I am so grateful and indebted to the AZ K12 Center for the measurable impact their support has on our educators and ultimately our students.” — Superintendent
  • “The Arizona K12 Center is a unique teacher leadership and development organization that has created the narrative of what accomplish teaching is and looks like in Arizona. Their work has been instrumental in my pursuit toward becoming a National Board Certified Teacher and has provided me with opportunities to strengthen my teaching skills as well as grow my teacher network. Their work has elevated the teaching profession and has been a vital tool in moving the needle toward a more equitable education experience for students, families, and teachers across the state Arizona.” — Teacher
  • “The Arizona K12 Center has provided the training, resources, and professional development necessary to accelerate our practices in mentoring. Differentiated levels of support, based on each district’s needs, is provided through workshops, forums, and 1-1 consultation. The Arizona K12 Center facilitated the development and monitoring of specific mentor program goals, based on program standards, that have helped us maintain a razor-sharp focus on our work. District program evaluation has shown improvement in teacher practices that I believe are impacted by our partnership with the Arizona K12 Center.” — Assistant Director of Human Services


The Arizona K12 Center understands that good teachers never stop learning. There are always new areas to explore in the practice of teaching. One fresh innovation can make all the difference. Teachers are the priority because when they succeed, their students succeed.

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