The Arizona K12 Center’s Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Wiebke, offers her education insights in this monthly column.
When I was a teacher, the end of every school year was bittersweet. It was always hectic with celebrations, school concerts, report cards, and other rituals that bring the year to a close. On the last hour of the last day, my students and I would sit in a circle, sharing moments that made an impact on us (with inevitable surprises), and look ahead to the summer break. There were typically a few tears shed, and I would leave exhausted.
Yet the act of closing out the year — taking the good with the bad — was satisfying in its own way. Teaching is one of those careers in which you experience a definite sense of closure, punctuated by shelving textbooks, packing up boxes, and taking down bulletin boards. No matter how you felt about the year, it would always come to an end.
Within a week of school ending, I felt a sense of renewal as I would begin to prepare for the coming year. The majority of my summers were spent alongside colleagues, learning new strategies to engage learners. Even when I was on vacation, I would find a national park or a museum to visit, always keeping the upcoming year front and center. One summer, I successfully convinced my district to send a colleague and me to teacher trainings at Colonial Williamsburg; as a fifth-grade teacher, social studies was the foundation of my curriculum. To this day, that experience continues to have an impact on how I practice leadership.
But it was my time at the Kagan Cooperative Learning Summer Institutes that had the greatest impact on my day-to-day teaching practice. In addition to receiving high-quality training, I also had the chance to attend several summers in a row, returning each time with new questions and coming home with new ideas. Equally important was the team aspect — my principal always sent a team of teachers to attend together. When my colleagues and I returned to school in the fall, we were able to collaborate in the execution of our learnings, observe one another’s application of the new strategies, and hold one another accountable.
What made these learning opportunities so powerful was three-fold: the ability to immerse myself in the content; that the learnings spanned over time, allowing me the time to integrate new strategies into my practice; and the chance to work alongside colleagues, giving me the opportunity to expand my own thinking through collaboration. Each learning opportunity was grounded in exactly what teachers need to strengthen and improve their teaching.
This is what quality professional learning looks like, and it inspires everything we do at the Arizona K12 Center. We work to create meaningful learning opportunities for Arizona teachers, and I invite you to try them out for yourself. Consider attending our Teacher Leadership Institute or Camp Plug and Play; subscribing to our podcast, 3Ps in a Pod; or joining me next fall for the Executive Director’s Book Club. Our professional learning calendar for the 2019-2020 school year will be coming out later this month. Request a copy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (602) 443-6444 and make your professional learning plan for this summer and beyond.