NAU partners with Navajo schools to develop innovative new Teachers Institute

DINE Institute

As part of the Yale National Initiative, Northern Arizona University is partnering with the Kayenta Unified School District, the Chinle Unified School District and the Diné Department of Education in the Navajo Nation to offer long-term professional development seminars to K-12 teachers.

The new Diné Institute for Navajo Nation Educators (DINÉ) will launch its first two seminars in April. Teachers must apply for the seminars; participation will increase their knowledge base on the particular topic and provide a high-quality, culturally responsive curricular unit to use in their classrooms. The seminars will feature university faculty and K-12 teachers as equal partners in the learning process, with the goal of strengthening teaching in schools serving Navajo youth.

“We work closely with the Navajo Nation, one of our important educational partners, and are pleased with the opportunity to increase our collaboration and help prepare teachers to better serve Native American students,” NAU President Rita Cheng said. “I am thankful to the Yale National Institute for recognizing the value of this partnership.”

Teachers involved in the program said this training will enhance what educators can provide.

“Our focus is to write curriculum units embedded with Diné culture and language along with the state standards,” said Jolene Smith, a teacher from the Kayenta Unified School District and the Diné Nation teacher representative.

Smith and other Navajo teachers have been working with the Yale National Initiative for almost 10 years, and they reached out to NAU as a potential university partner. NAU’s mission, efforts to improve Native student success, and goal to be the leading university serving Native Americans all support this collaborative effort to launch a Teachers Institute with the Diné Nation.

“As a critical part of our institutional mission, we need to partner with K-12 schools to help prepare students to succeed on day one at NAU,” said Chad Hamill, vice president for Native American Initiatives at NAU. “This institute will provide a powerful vehicle to strengthen education in our Native communities.”

Planning for the DINÉ has moved quickly. In October, four teachers from Kayenta and Chinle attended the Yale Annual Conference along with Hamill, planning director Angelina Castagno and Department of Diné Education Superintendent Tommy Lewis. More than 70 teachers from various public and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools attended an open house at NAU in early November, and the institute is hosting another informational session from 2-3:30 p.m. Jan. 3 at a yet-to-be-determined location in Window Rock. All K-12 teachers in public, BIE and tribally controlled schools in the Navajo Nation are eligible to apply to be in the first cohort of teacher fellows. Email to RSVP and get information about the location.

Other districts and schools can sign on as formal partners in this effort by contacting Castagno at Additional information, as well as the online application for teachers, can be found at the Diné Institute for Navajo Nation Educators’ website.


NAU Communications