WARRENSBURG – Teachers are so busy that they rarely have much time to collaborate, even with fellow teachers in their own buildings, never mind in other districts.
That's why the multi-district training session held at Warrensburg-Latham High School last week was such a boon.
“We are wanting to pilot one of the programs they talked about,” said Jessica Manuel, who teaches seventh and eighth grade social studies at Central A&M. “That was our main reason for coming, to see what the program is all about and give us some insight.”
That program, Achieve 3000, is a reading program focused on nonfiction, mainly science and social studies. Because the program is new, and puts emphasis on writing as well as reading, it's good for students to practice reading for information, which is important in the annual PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing, she said.
“It will also boost their reading level and track it through the whole year,” said Renee Oldham, who teaches seventh and eighth grade reading at Central A&M. “You can see where they are on Day One, and see where they are at the end of the month.”
The school's librarian, Kimberly Hilton, who also handles reading and writing instruction for sixth, seventh and eighth grades, said the collaboration with colleagues and a chance to swap ideas is what she finds most valuable. There are websites and social media venues for teachers to use for that, but in-person meetings are best for her.
Warrensburg-Latham Superintendent Kristen Kendrick-Weikle conducted a training session on the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Student Left Behind and explained to the teachers in her session that some of the changes have already taken effect, and more are coming, which will designate individual buildings, not just districts, as “exemplary,” “commendable,” "under-performing” or “lowest performing.”
The county-wide professional development sessions, she said, began two years ago when area superintendents realized that smaller districts couldn't afford to bring in expert speakers and training that teachers needed, and possibly didn't have to, if they tapped the talent and expertise in each other's districts. Getting together every other year in the last weeks before school begins for the year, seemed a good solution and worked out so well that they decided to continue doing it.
There's more to teaching than just reading, writing and arithmetic now, too.
Illinois Education Association's "role, our main goal in all this is to support teachers in every aspect,” said Jonathan Downing, UniServ Director with the IEA. “And the biggest aspect right now is, what is going on inside our classrooms, and the buzzword right now is that whole trauma-informed (outlook). We are doing this huge study on trauma-informed and how to support our teachers in making sure that our kids are getting what they need, so our teachers can do what they need to do, and also equipping our teachers with the knowledge of balanced brain, mindfulness, all those different things that we need to know as teachers.”
Knowing how to teach academics isn't enough anymore, Downing said, because so many kids come to school carrying the baggage from troubled home lives, and knowing how to manage a classroom with that in mind has become just as important.
Kenrick-Weikle asked Downing to speak at the conference because her district is among the ones participating in a pilot program of trauma-informed teaching, and she wanted area districts' teachers to learn about it, too.
“I got some other people within IEA to come out and help and had some teachers come in and do some of their mindfulness training, like restorative (justice) circles and they can do that within the classroom,” Downing said. “It's really just teaching and reaching the personal level of those kids and making sure those teachers are understanding those kids, so when they do act out, or preventing them from acting out, is really want we want to help them with.”