Summer Break: Time for Professional Development

August 8, 2014 Margo Ensz

2poster from postermywall resized 600We asked one of our favorite guest bloggers, Julia Cremin, to share her reflections as a teacher on summer break. This is the final post in her "Summer Break" series.

The magical months of June, July and August allow me uninterrupted time to focus on my own professional learning. Over the years I’ve focused my professional learning in three areas: formal coursework, grant work and collaboration, and online learning.

Formal Coursework

These are opportunities that I typically learn about through my principal, colleagues or school district. Often these trainings target a curriculum area or a specific domain of teaching, such as classroom management or instructional design.

My district has adopted Connected Mathematics Project (CMP), which is a problem-centered, inquiry-based math curriculum published by Pearson Education. Last summer I was able to attend a training hosted by my school district, in which a professional learning instructor from Pearson led us through an in-depth discussion of the mathematics and pedagogy of the CMP curriculum and how it aligns with the Common Core Standards. The instructor also shared with us best practices that he had developed throughout his years of teaching the curriculum in his middle school math class. We were then given time to work with other 6th grade teachers to explore the curriculum extensively, adjusting lessons based on the methods the instructor shared with us.

Another training I participated in last summer was a week-long workshop, titled "Developmental Designs" by The Origins Program. Although the workshop was a substantial time commitment, it was hands-down the best teacher training I’ve ever taken part in. I left the training with the structure I needed to create a classroom based on positive relationships, improved social skills and engaged learners. This translated into more time teaching (yay!) and less time managing behaviors and putting out fires. For the sake of time in this post, I won’t go into further details about this training, but I urge you to find out more about it here and talk to your learning coordinator to schedule a workshop for the educators at your school. You will not regret it.

Grant Work and Collaboration

For the past two years, I’ve been fortunate to teach under the leadership of a principal who seeks out professional development opportunities that are directly aligned with the individual needs of her staff. This summer most of my professional learning has concentrated on work resulting from a school partnership with the University of Wisconsin – Madison. The partnership was initiated by my principal, who wrote a proposal requesting that the 6th, 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts staff have a significant amount of time to review the district’s newly-developed scope and sequence, and compare it with our current curriculum to ensure there is total alignment to the Common Core Standards for ELA. When a gap in the alignment is identified, grade level teachers collaborate to develop a learning experience that allows students to master the standard. This effort has been completed under the guidance of a UW-Madison consultant.

There are also alternatives for gaining funding for you and your colleagues to embark upon similar work. One option is Fund for Teachers: here you can apply for a grant by designing your own professional development experience and submitting it for approval.

Online Learning

My favorite professional learning is the kind that I seek out for myself, on my own time, typically in my yoga pants with a bowl of popcorn and glass of wine. This “unofficial” professional development typically takes the form of watching videos of exemplary teaching.

The most comprehensive website that I’ve found for this is Teaching Channel. If you don’t already utilize the videos on this site, go there now. Seriously.

The Teaching Channel cultivates videos from educators at all grade levels, teaching all subject areas, and the videos focus on different aspects of teaching, including lesson ideas and general teaching practices. When applicable, they’ve even aligned their videos to correlate with the Common Core Standards. I strongly feel that the best way to learn a new teaching strategy is to observe an expert actually implementing the strategy. Teaching Channel offers just that - a look into the windows of classrooms across the country – all from the comfort of your own backyard.

YouTube is another fantastic resource for discovering new teaching strategies. Recently a colleague attended a reading conference where she saw Jeff Anderson, a reading and writing teacher and author of several books and articles focused on teaching students in grades four through eight, present. She was bubbling over with excitement about his presentation and was eager to share what she learned with the rest of the literacy teachers at our school. One tool that she used to relay the information are the videos that Anderson has available on YouTube. Watching the videos is not as impactful as actually seeing him speak live, but I was still able to gain a deeper understanding of the strategies that we, as a team, will be implementing in our classrooms, by viewing these videos.

Most educational companies also offer training videos online. If your school has invested in a product or program that you would like to familiarize yourself with, explore the company’s website. Chances are they have training videos that will get you up to speed and are available on demand. VariQuest offers both live product training webinars, as well as product training videos, you can find them here.

Of course, I also spend many hours during the summer reading, spending time with my godson, and working on house projects. As a teacher, the trick is to find the right balance of work and play during vacation. This will allow you to return in the fall with the energy you need to tackle the new school year and whatever challenges it may have in store for you.

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Julia Cremin is a 6th grade Reading, Language Arts and Math teacher at O'Keeffe Middle School in Madison, WI. She is certified in Elementary Education (grades 1-9) with a minor in Mathematics. This is her fourth year teaching middle school.

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