You Said It: Empowering Teachers to Enhance Their Classroom Experience and Ultimately Their Students’ Lives

You Said It: Empowering Teachers to Enhance Their Classroom Experience and Ultimately Their Students’ Lives

Approximately 29 years ago, while touring the city’s public schools, I met Joyce Rumsfeld. We were taking part in the Know Your Chicago lecture and tour series designed to promote civic awareness and participation. Joyce and I began talking about the importance of supporting Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teachers, and she informed me of a nonprofit organization that she founded five years earlier, the Chicago Foundation for Education (CFE).

At the time, CFE focused on developing character education programs within CPS schools. Today, the organization provides support, resources, and professional learning opportunities to CPS teachers, empowering them to enhance their classroom experience and ultimately their students’ lives. As a proponent of public education, I was intrigued by CFE’s mission and volunteered to help.

Today, CFE is as critical to CPS educators as it was in its infancy. Through five core programs — Small Grants, Study Groups, Action Research Fellowships, Fund for Teachers Fellowships, and an educator Workshop — CFE proudly impacts hundreds of teachers and thousands of students each year.

A recent report by the National Center for Education Statistics showed that in the 2014-15 school year, public school teachers spent on average $480 annually of their own money on supplies. Through CFE’s Small Grants program, we fund the implementation of classroom or school-wide curricular projects, thus helping to reduce the financial responsibility placed on teachers.

For example, one elementary school science teacher designed a lesson plan centered around fairy tales that encouraged students to use STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills as well as critical thinking, cooperative learning, and language skills. After reading popular fairy tales, the young students worked collaboratively to identify and resolve problems presented in the stories. For instance, students discussed the plot of “Three Billy Goats Gruff” and then built bridges to keep the goats safe from the troll. The teacher used CFE Small Grant funds to purchase the fairy tale problem solving kits, engineering kits, and other necessary materials.

Another CFE program that I am particularly proud of is the Action Research Leadership Institute (ARLI). In 2018-2019, CFE awarded 16 ARLI Fellowships to the district’s most outstanding Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers. ARLI Fellows are awarded $1,250, and over the course of the academic year receive intensive training as they determine a research focus, collect data, examine the efficacy of specific strategies, document student achievement, and reflect upon their practice. The research findings and resulting education policy recommendations aim to enhance classroom, school, and district experiences.

CFE’s other signature programs engage teachers, foster exploration and learning, and help educators develop their own professional leadership skills. We believe all students deserve rich educational experiences provided by top-quality, engaged teachers.

The Chicago Foundation for Education relies on volunteers and donors to ensure teachers and students access the resources they need. Get involved today by calling 312-670-2323 or visiting


Tricia Hagenah is a former teacher and is a legacy member of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Foundation for Education. She has served on the Board Program Committee as the Small Grant Chair for many years, and is an integral part of the Small Grant review, award, and observation processes. Tricia is a longtime resident of Kenilworth, who, along with her husband, Will, raised four daughters in the area. Their children lived in other parts of the country, but chose to return to this area, along with their 13 grandchildren.