Professional Development Takes on New Depth, Variety
Professional Development Takes On New Depth, Variety
Teacher trainings change to model best practices
Superintendent Mike Kuhrt was first up at New Teacher Orientation on August 7 at McNiel Middle School. He asked teachers to share their ideas with the District to make it the best it could be.
On August 7, 150 teachers who were new to the Wichita Falls Independent School District gathered at the McNiel Middle School cafeteria for the first day of their two-day orientation.
But the air conditioner wouldn’t kick on, and the room grew hot and muggy.
So Ward Roberts, who was directing the training, spontaneously moved the group to the round tables in the adjacent student center, and training continued on. It was a glitch, but a teachable one.
“It was a lesson in flexibility,” said Mr. Roberts. “The best laid plans….”
In the next two days at McNiel, Roberts coordinated a smorgasbord of 69 breakout sessions from which teachers chose six on topics that suited them best.
Session topics ranged from how to structure the first day of school to digital classroom tools to Behavior Management 911. Other sessions educated new teachers on Confidentiality, Special Education 101, Fundamental Classroom Strategies, school safety, must-have Google hacks, and various tips and tricks.
Until recently, a typical New Teacher Orientation was a mass group meeting where everyone was taught the same thing. This new broad selection of training sessions better meets the needs of new employees, said Mr. Roberts.
“Think about it: You have brand new teachers (at these trainings) along with a new teacher to the District who has 15 years experience. You have pre-K Head Start teachers to high school science. They don’t need the same things.”
Trainings have also shifted to include teaching styles and strategies that match what research shows as “best practices” – the kind of delivery that elicits the most learning. Rather than standing in front of the group and explaining every point in a Power Point presentation, leaders break large groups into smaller groups. They create activities for the small groups to work through.
When possible, they interject activities to build higher-order thinking skills – just like they require teachers to offer their students.
“We try as closely as possible to meet their needs,” said Mr. Roberts. “Because that’s what effective instruction is.”
First things first
Mr. Roberts had one simple goal for New Teacher Orientation: To get ready for the start of school.
Jessica Wilkins (standing, left) and Ashley Thomas (standing, right) from the Community Relations office addressed the 150 teachers at New Teacher Orientation.
For teachers new to the District, that means passing on the District’s priorities and how to do things. “Where to get help. Where to go if they have questions,” said Mr. Roberts.
One skill he stresses with new teachers: Keep students busy from bell to bell. One technique is to have an activity ready for students – a “bellringer” – as soon as they walk into the classroom. He provided several examples for teachers to use. “It’s nice to hear them say, ‘I’m going to use this as my bell-ringer,’” said Mr. Roberts.
For a brand new teacher, there are extra things, like explaining the District’s curriculum, where to get resources, how WFISD encourages teachers to discipline and manage classrooms, and how to handle special education issues.
What do teachers say about the training? “Too much information. Information overload,” said Mr. Roberts without hesitation. “They say, ‘It’s great. It’s just a little overwhelming.’ That’s good. That’s what we want. What’s the alternative? We want to hit that sweet spot where the new learning meets the challenge they’re ready to put out.”
36 training sessions
But New Teacher Orientation is just the tip of the training iceberg. District curriculum coordinators presented 36 training sessions for teachers in all phases of their teaching careers.
Trainings covered everything from pre-K to high school, dyslexia to special ed, and middle school science to middle school PE/health. There was a training session for every grade level and subject area or specialty group.
Teachers also received training on how to understand and track students’ scores on assessments. The more savvy they are with tracking students’ scores, the more adept they can be at providing help and growth.
Mae Walker, ELAR curriculum specialist for grades 3 through 5, teaches a professional development seminar at Region 9.
Include a surprise
Mr. Roberts enjoys getting to know the teachers who attend District trainings – and surprising them a little. For one seminar, two curriculum specialists took on the zeal of soccer moms to cheer on the new teachers as they entered the room. “It was hilarious. We were just having fun. It made the teachers feel good,” said Mr. Roberts.
It also sent a message: Yes, in WFISD, you can have fun. At trainings and even in the classroom.
Ashley Lamb, science and math curriculum specialist for grades 3 through 5, grins as she criss-crosses the room at Region 9 to help teachers in her professional development class.