Director Wise: Power of summer professional learning
Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise
Anyone who thinks educators take the summer “off” clearly has not met an Iowa teacher or administrator. While the pace and schedule shift, the intensity and focus remain. Iowa’s teachers and school leaders use their summers to network, plan, and improve.
In one week in June I attended the Iowa Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance annual meeting; the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education Summit; the Iowa Catholic School Administrators Conference; and the Iowa Science Standards Summer Institute for high school teachers. While the atmosphere was summer casual, participants at each event focused on learning from national experts in their field as well as from colleagues from across Iowa.
Teachers and administrators at these events were clearly passionate about their field. They used their time not only to collaborate and learn, but also to think big about goals and objectives for their profession. I gained insight about the issues that are important to their organizations.
In addition to role-alike and subject-specific networking, I’ve also observed Iowa educators collaborating across traditional lines of grades and disciplines. Benton Community School District and West Branch Community School District each hosted events focused on TLC implementation. And Des Moines Public Schools hosted a technology conference for teachers across the district.
Benton took an “ed camp” approach in which participants generated ideas for sessions at the beginning of the day and then voted with their feet by moving into rooms with topics that matched their interests. For me, this included sessions on overcoming challenges with instructional coaching at the secondary level, teacher transitions into and out of leadership roles, and integrating non-coaching roles into a local TLC plan. This “voice and choice” approach is becoming a driving force in professional development in Iowa and was on full display at the Benton Ed Camp.
Teacher leaders led the development of the TLC event in West Branch. They experienced substantial learning and growth in their first year of TLC implementation and took the initiative to share their lessons learned with districts about to enter the system.
In Des Moines, TechCon 2016 was a high-energy event (with a middle school DJ playing tunes between sessions!) designed to provide ideas and inspiration to teachers and administrators on a variety of education technology topics. I had the privilege of listening to eight “Trailblazers” describe how they personalized learning through the effective integration of technology in their classrooms.
One of the most interesting professional learning experiences I observed in June crossed not only grades and subjects but also professional sectors. For the past 10 years, Vermeer Corporation (a Pella-based, global agricultural and industrial equipment company) has hosted teachers for three-week internships. The teacher intern program models the experience we want for our students: a tangible integration of education and real-world experience. When teachers have the opportunity to see the knowledge and skills they teach in action, they gain a new level of authenticity and can speak to the application of standards they teach in a work setting. They are also positioned to speak from experience about other critical skills, like problem-solving and interpersonal communication. I visited with seven teachers who shared with me what they learned – which ranged from project planning to learning styles strategies – and how they planned to integrate these ideas into their classrooms.
Finally, for many Iowa teachers, summer doesn’t mean three months without students. In Mason City, I observed dedicated teachers working hard to meet the literacy needs of their students as part of the Iowa Reading Research Center’s Intensive Summer Reading Pilot Program. I was impressed by the level of student engagement. I had great conversations with kids about the stories they were reading, which included James Naismith’s creation of basketball and fun instructions on how to build a bird bath. If Mason City is similar to the other 40-plus districts piloting the summer reading program, I’m confident we will identify key components for the design and delivery of effective summer reading programs.
My great hope after seeing so many powerful learning opportunities in action is that teachers and school leaders will build upon these experiences as they enter the school year. We know from research that the most effective professional development is ongoing and job-embedded. I’m confident that the participants I met will find ways to ensure their summer learning was not a one-time experience, but a jumping off point for a year of learning and growth.