Faculty member’s Blazer Bridge Fund project aims to support classroom teachers

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rep edmonds 413x550pxLori Edmonds, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Education, is developing an app called TeaCha "that will support teachers in their teaching practice as well as provide tools to help prevent burnout," she said.These are not the easiest days to be a teacher.

“People go into this field because they have a passion for helping others, but they have so many restraints on what they can do — and so many things they have to focus on that aren’t where their passion lies,” said Lori Edmonds, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB School of Education.  “These facts, along with several other factors, often lead to the real problem of burnout.

"In 2016, nearly half of new teachers would leave the field within five years,” Edmonds said. “Now that happens in just three years. We can’t produce teachers as fast as we are losing them.”

TeaCha: An app to support teachers

Earlier this fall, Edmonds’ idea to tackle the problem was one of six UAB faculty projects to earn funding in the inaugural Blazer Bridge Fund competition. Blazer Bridge Fund is an innovation development program from the UAB Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Edmonds received a $50,000 grant to explore an innovative approach to improve teacher retention called TeaCha. “The idea is an app that will support teachers in their teaching practice as well as provide tools to help prevent burnout,” Edmonds said.

“You will be able to go on TeaCha and not have to worry about explaining yourself,” Edmonds said. “You can say, ‘ACCESS is killing me,’ and everyone will know what you are talking about. Then someone can say, ‘Me too, but this is what I’ve learned to do about it.’ It is an informal way for teachers to learn from other teachers. It is also a way for them to support each other and feel a sense of community.”

The app also will connect teachers with in-person and virtual professional learning opportunities from academic experts such as Edmonds, and with well-being mental health resources that research has shown can help with burnout. “The health and well-being of teachers is what is driving this project,” Edmonds said. “The main thing we want it to do is let teachers know, ‘We have your back.’ And that ‘we’ is the community as a whole — local businesses, the community of teachers, the School of Education and UAB — we are coming together to support teachers so that they feel empowered as professional educators.”

All-female team

When Edmonds saw the call for Blazer Bridge Fund applications in the eReporter, she initially hesitated. “I said, ‘This went out to everybody on campus, there will probably be a ton of proposal submissions,’” she recalled. “But then I told myself, ‘It is certain that I won’t get it if I don’t apply, so I might as well do it.’”

In addition to her $50,000 funding through the Blazer Bridge Fund, Edmonds and her all-female team from the School of Education are participating in training through the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps initiative. I-Corps leads researchers through entrepreneurial methods and processes and helps them evaluate the market potential for their ideas.

Edmonds already sees possibilities to expand the TeaCha concept. The name, she explains, comes from “tea,” as in the drink, sparked by a professor who used to gather her students and former students to talk over tea. “‘Cha’ comes from the Chinese word for tea, and together it sounds a lot like ‘teacher,’ but cooler,” Edmonds said. “Plus, there is the supportive notion of ‘I gotcha.’”