My summer – like many of yours – has been one of ongoing professional development. When asked by friends and family if I was enjoying my summer, I offer a resounding yes. I am thoroughly enjoying having the time to take part in a variety of learning opportunities. When I list my PD schedule, it is often met with surprise that I am working during the summer, and taking part in so much training during time off from school. What I impress upon them is that I am not alone – that teachers across our district are undergoing training on a wide range of topics provided by the district and outside sources.
A key reason I am pursuing so much training this summer is so I can be ready to teach a new initiative being piloted by the JCPS ESL program at Iroquois called Accelerate to Graduate. Designed for English learners who are 18-years old and older, a personalized learning plan will be created for each student as they dive into project-based learning. This program acknowledges that many immigrants who enroll in JCPS have been denied education for circumstances beyond their control and may be older than traditional high school students. The program is focused on project-based learning and standards-based grading. Lessons will focus both on content and language acquisition. Finally, the students will represent a wide range of academic abilities.
One of the most exciting events of my summer was the JCPS Deeper Learning Symposium. Approximately 1200 JCPS educators committed three full days of intensive professional development during the second week of June. The event was a behemoth undertaking that provided teachers the chance to submerge themselves in deeper learning strategies.
Personally, I presented a session with Shannon Karol from the Speed Museum detailing the partnership between the museum and students at Iroquois that culminated in their work being exhibited at the Speed Museum. An exciting project-based experience for students, each student in my World History and US Civics classes created several projects, including making a work of art they submitted for consideration for the Speed exhibit. The students’ work was also on display at the Deeper Learning Symposium.
Taking part in this intensive training has shifted my thinking about how to create lessons that would engage my students and give them a renewed interest in learning. An ongoing challenge for ESL teachers is differentiating lessons for students who have varying levels of English language capabilities and academic achievement. The Accelerate to Graduate program at Iroquois will strive for personal learning and differentiation for students. This research-based approach to project-based learning is giving me new strategies for meeting students where they are, and enabling our team to plan for managing the multiple levels of learning that will be happening in the classroom.
The next stop on my vacation of learning was a trip to Lexington with our team of ESL teachers for two days of Mastery Learning with Dr. Thomas Guskey and Dr. Carmen Coleman, the recently appointed Interim Chief Academic Officer for JCPS. This intensive look at how to make education work for students by differentiated learning that fully integrates PBL was exciting and scary. We all remarked that this looked messy, but were encouraged to press on. We learned that with this model, the student becomes responsible for his or her learning, and the teacher is actively involved as their resource and support. Teachers encourage students from the sidelines as a coach, and learners are in the center of the activities in the classroom. The resulting self-confidence gives students the agency they will need to develop as independent learners.
I continued the PD excitement when I attended the first sessions of the University of Kentucky’s Next Generation Leadership Academy@JCPS. The two-day event began with one big question: Why should we change how we are doing school now? The answer came quickly from the educators in attendance – it’s not working. Headed up by Dr. Lu Young, Dr. Justin Bathon, and Dr. Coleman, this professional development requires JCPS educators to commit to attending seven sessions during the academic year. Kicked-off at Gheens Academy last month, this is the first time a second cohort is being held outside of the Lexington-area for JCPS teachers and administrators. This timely, year-long initiative provides educators across the district – at every level – intense guidance on how to transition students to PBL.
As summer winds to a close – at least the summer break from school – I will be putting these new learned skills into action as I plan to get back to my classroom and start working with my team and our students. I am excited to know the Next Generation Leadership Academy@JCPS will be there to guide the way this year and help me navigate to learner-centered teaching. When I reflect on my summer vacation, I will be thankful for the network of educators in JCPS who generously shared their knowledge and expertise, and who are continually striving for the best for all kids. And, importantly, as I am in the thick of the year and rounding the winter break, I know I will be thankful for the time my team had this summer to reflect and plan lessons and strategies for our students that will keep us all going and allow us to finish strong.