Thursday, July 11, 2013

What happens in Las Vegas comes back to school!

Next week five of my Lower School Colleagues will travel to Las Vegas for the National Conference on Singapore Math Strategies. In responding to advice on how to track spending and budget for meals, I jokingly ended my email with a directive to ignore the Las Vegas advertising campaign that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. After all, I want this investment in our teachers to come back to serve our students.

Faculty at Westtown School benefit from several different programs to promote summer professional growth. We are sending three teachers to Ghana to work with and learn from the teachers at our sister school at Heritage Academy. One teacher has a grant to visit Alaska and develop a new relationship with a school there. Another teacher will spend a month in Italy deepening her understanding of the Renaissance. While she is there she will be corresponding with her students from last year, all of whom did reports related to the Italian Renaissance. For these students, their teacher will be bringing their interest in a topic to life in a a personal way. We have sent our Diversity Director and 11th grade English teacher to Eastern Europe to better understand the Cold War and how its vestiges continue to impact this region. Her students this upcoming year will directly benefit when they read How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed and other stories and poems from Eastern Europe.

Along with school funded travel many faculty are attending conferences. Along with the trip to Las Vegas teachers as Westtown will attend the Exeter Math Conference, ISTE, conferences on counseling, Admissions Boot Camps, and others. More targeted than travel, these conferences, scheduled as they are in the summer, allow teachers time to prepare for the experience, focus more completely on the conference while there and most importantly, provide time after the conference for teachers to digest and integrate what they have learned into their own practice. While conferences during the school year are excellent, upon return the immediate demands of our students often prevent time for the reflection necessary to truly draw on the new learning to inform our teaching.

We also provide curriculum development grants. These funds support the creation of new courses or significant redesign of current courses or units within courses. These grants are targeted towards supporting strategic initiatives. Priority is given to grants which are collaborative in nature. Often in writing the reports about their work, teachers reflect on the professional learning they experience as they take the time to think deeply about the work they have undertaken.

In all half of our faculty will be involved in the programs described above. And what of the other half? What is the expectation for teachers in the summer months? Many of them will spend significant time on their own reading, revamping, and planning for their classes next year. But for a few reading for pleasure will be the focus. Can a teacher in this century take the summer off? Disconnect for two entire months? The folks I work with most closely on professional development are discussing what we as professionals should be doing in our two months of time away from our students. What is expected of us as professionals and what is beyond the expectation and deserving of compensation or other recognition. (Certainly, I am a big believer in disconnecting. I try and spend at least two weeks each summer someplace where wifi and my cell phone are at best unreliable). Turning our minds to things other than curriculum, grades, or students, can be incredibly generative and beneficial to us in our professional lives. And yet, we want our students to read over the summer, to do some math to keep their abilities sharp, speak their second or third language to maintain their fluency. What do we need to do to sustain our growth through the summer months?