Area educators attend professional development day

Photo by Jenny Kirk Roughly 600 area teachers recently took part in a full day of professional development — organized by the Minnesota River Valley Education District — at Yellow Medicine East High School in Granite Falls. The itinerary included two keynote speakers, breakout sessions centered on curriculum, teaching and learning in addition to opportunities to meet in smaller groups like the one pictured above.

GRANITE FALLS — The best teachers are lifelong learners and continue to grow in their profession — and the most important beneficiaries of that are the students, like the ones who had the day off so about 600 teachers and administrators could take part in professional development.

The professional development day this past Wednesday at Yellow Medicine East High School was the first of three that members of the Minnesota River Valley Education District (MRVED) have the opportunity to take part in throughout the 2017-18 school year.

“Basically, it’s about professional development,” MRVED Director Karen Jacobson said. “We’re doing a lot with best practices and curriculum. The districts are also working on some of their own topics. It’s not just a day off of school. It’s a professional learning day and they’re working hard. It’s a full day full of fun and learning.”

The MRVED is a consortium of nine school districts: Benson, Dawson-Boyd, Lac qui Parle Valley, Lakeview, Minneota, Montevideo, Ortonville, Renville County West and Yellow Medicine East. Its mission is to effectively and efficiently assist its member districts in meeting the goals they have set for themselves, their students and their staff. Through a special agreement, Ivanhoe educators also took part in the professional development in Granite Falls.

“It’s a smaller group — with nine districts — so it’s a little easier to make things like this happen,” Jacobson said. “We have three common days where everybody gets together. In the fall, it’s curriculum and best practices. On Martin Luther King Day, we’ll do a common in-service where teachers have the opportunity to attend many of the 100 sessions. That will be at Lac qui Parle. We try to spread it around a little bit between our districts.”

MRVED also strives to positively impact student learning and works to be on the cutting edge of school improvement efforts. Near the end of March, teachers and administrators will gather together at Dawson-Boyd High School for the third professional development day.

“We’ll have George Couros,” Jacobson said. “He’s a big-name speaker. He’s written the book, ‘Innovator’s Mindset.’ He’ll be here to talk a little bit about innovation, technology and thinking about teaching a little bit differently. He’ll be speaking in the morning, and then we’ll do something different with them in the afternoon.”

YME special education teacher Zach Koepke said overall, he thought the professional development day went well.

“We talked about classroom setup and how classroom is one of the most important aspects of your room,” Koepke said. “We took a look at integrating technology in the classroom. Then I also did a session on Google classroom — everything is going online — that’s the story of education. You have to adapt and work with what is new and innovative. More and more is going online.”

Koepke said that getting together and sharing best practices and ideas are really what professional development is all about.

“Like right now, we’re collaborating as schools,” he said. “Some schools are meeting together and going over what’s worked and what hasn’t — some schools have been 1:1 devices, where every student has a laptop. Some schools have been 1:1 for a couple of years now and some schools who are meeting are just starting to figure it out.”

YME is one of those schools that are exploring all of its options.

“We are starting the process of 1:1,” Koepke said. “So over the next couple of years, we will start working toward it. We’re in the planning and asking around phase right now. It’s been a good day. There’s been a lot of collaboration and professional development.”

Dawson-Boyd educators were among those who shared their technological experiences with YME.

“We connected with the YME staff about 1:1 Chromebooks — what works, what doesn’t, how to best utilize them — because it’s a big investment and you want to make sure you’re using it to the best of its ability,” said Ryan Stotesbery, Dawson-Boyd High School principal. “Plus, as students get older, they’re more and more advanced technology-wise, so we have to try and keep up with them even in our practices. So there’s a lot of planning and it’s a lot of work for teachers to stay on top of that as well.”

Stotesbery said Dawson-Boyd has been 1:1 using the Chromebooks for grades 9-12 for four years.

“Students really enjoy it,” he said. “They like the ability to bring it home and work on things. But again, a big part of it is: what way can we best use it? We don’t want the Chromebooks sitting idle.”

Stotesbery said the majority of their students have Internet access at home or else they’ll look for hot spots. The district also tries to be sensitive to students who might not have those opportunities at home.

“If we’re aware that a student doesn’t have internet access, we try to be flexible with deadlines and assignment and those type of things,” Stotesbery said. “There are some programs out there with various companies who offer lower Internet costs if they’re a free or reduced lunch student. Internet is getting more and more common where it’s one of the staples, but it isn’t cheap when you bundle those things together. That’s always an issue that we’re trying to make sure there’s no students falling through the cracks.”

Stotesbery added that he thought it had been a productive day and noted that he appreciated all the “behind-the-scenes work” that went into the effort.

“It starts with the superintendents’ meeting, along with principals and the MRVED staff coming up with things that are relevant and that will really help teachers right away,” he said.

Stotesbery spent part of the day over at the Kilowatt Community Center, where Solution Tree’s Jack Baldermann, a principal/superintendent from the Chicago, Illinois, area, presented to educators.

“Each of the schools had their PLC leaders attend that,” he said. “He did a really good job talking about how we can help student learning and set SMART goals. That cohesiveness of a staff toward a common goal is very important.”

Lakeview educators, including Superintendent Chris Fenske, also attended Baldermann’s presentation.

“We had nine professional learning community (PLC) leaders over at the KCC in Granite Falls receiving leadership training from Jack Baldermann,” Fenske said. “Our leaders were hoping to receive a better understanding of what SMART goals are and how they can be used in our PLCs at Lakeview.”

Fenske said the day’s worth of activities and experiences were definitely valuable.

“Our PLC leaders were happy with the learning and learned that SMART goals are a very important part of effective PLCs,” he said. “They also learned that they are an important part of celebrating successes along the way as the goals are reached. They had some time to work together as leaders and were able to take away some ideas to implement back into our PLCs at Lakeview.”

Fenske said he also heard many positive comments from teachers who attended the Kayla Delzer sessions at YME High School. Delzer is an award-winning third-grade teacher from North Dakota.

“She provided many useful tips about teaching digital citizenship within the classroom and using technology to not only showcase learning, but for professional growth as well,” Fenske said. “Kayla talked with teachers about following educational experts and even other teachers on Twitter or other social media to get ideas for their content or classrooms.”

According to Delzer, one’s attitude and environment are also instrumental to success.

“I know some teachers also liked the message of surrounding yourself with positive people in the profession,” Fenske said. “Kayla noted that you are an average of the five people who you surround yourself with the most; therefore it is important to surround yourself with the right people.”