Nikki Velarde, The Belton Journal
As the summer heat sweltered outside, nearly 263 teachers filled the halls and classrooms of Belton New Tech High School @ Waskow further developing themselves as instructional professionals and preparing for the upcoming school year. From Tuesday to Thursday, teachers had the opportunity to attend their choice of 77 workshops at the BISD Elementary Learning Expo.
Earlier this summer, the secondary conference took place over two days with 171 teachers and 58 workshops. This was the first year for BISD teachers to receive professional development sessions in a conference style setting and many were excited about the new format.
“We did a complete shift in how we were going to do professional development,” said Dr. Deanna Lovesmith, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “In the past we have had the development run all summer long, but this year we compiled all the sessions together in a conference format.”
“We do staff development every summer but this time around we are doing it in a conference format”, said Denise Whitley, Director of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction. “It’s a variety. It’s truly like if we were going to a conference somewhere else, you pick and choose what you want to go to.”
“The sessions are content specific and we have hired some folks to come out from the Region 12 Education Service Center, professionals in the industry, and our own teachers who will present based off of their experiences in the classroom,” said Lovesmith.
“We’ve got a presenter from Montana, San Marcos, quite a few of our own BISD teachers presenting, a lot of our instructional coaches from the campuses, and even some principals presenting,” said Whitley. “Some sessions are all day, some are half day, but many things are just hour and a half sessions. We took proposals for presentations and didn’t turn anybody down and ended up packing three days’ worth of learning for teachers. We have a wealth of knowledge and learning opportunities.”
“I feel like, with 263 attending, we’ve got a lot of our teachers from Belton here,” said Whitley. “A few paraprofessionals have joined us in some of our sessions. We also partner with CTCS and Brian Littlefield (CTCS Head of School) brought a couple of teachers here with him. There have even been a couple of middle school teachers who have come and joined us at the elementary level” which just goes to show the wealth and variety of knowledge and training opportunities offered at the conference.
Besides trailblazing the conference format, a new addition was to go paperless and provide a description of each session and handout through a shared program called Evernote. “If you don’t attend a session but you really want to see what they are talking about, you could get the handout through Evernote,” explained Lovesmith. This addition was something that came in handy since there was such a wide variety and amount of sessions being offered throughout the conference.
Tables were set up in the lounge to learn about apps offered through Eduphoria which houses the curriculum and where teachers do their lesson plans, Skyward where teachers take their grades, as well as Belton ISD’s portal to various websites. This offered a form of tech support available to teachers to become more familiar with these apps or to browse them even further and increase proficiency.
Although teachers weren’t receiving grades from attending the various sessions, they were however able to get credit for the State Board for Educator Certification. “Most teachers have to renew their teaching certificates every five years so they need professional development hours,” said Kim Christy-Anderson, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction.
Teachers who attended the conference were asked to fill out a survey on whether the experience was beneficial and if they would use what they learned in the classroom. Anderson hopes the new summer format will draw even more teachers next summer. “We are excited that we have people that are life-long learners,” said Anderson. “The best way that you model for your students is to be a learner yourself. When you are excited about learning that is something kids will pick up on. I think the best thing it says about our teachers is that they are willing to put themselves in that student role.”