Northeast teachers hear guest speaker
ORWELL TOWNSHIP - Dozens of teachers sat in a cafeteria, watching a video.
In the short clip, actors portrayed high school students and a teacher. The teacher had asked one of the teens, a boy the others didn't know very well, to read from his journal.
So he did. He read how he and his family were evicted from their home, how painful it was for his mother. And he told how, in the midst of the turmoil in his life, he felt happy in one place - that English class.
When he finished, his classmates gathered around to comfort and support him - but not as strangers. As friends.
The teachers watched. Some wiped their eyes.
This was an in-service day at Northeast Bradford, and the teachers had gathered to hear a guest speaker. He ended his workshop with the video. Although the young people on the screen were actors, the piece showed how important one class, and one teacher, can be in a student's life. It showed what teachers can accomplish, how they and their schools can succeed.
"You know, we have that opportunity every day," the speaker said.
The guest, Ken Williams, is with a publishing company named Solution Tree, in Bloomington, Ind., which also provides professional development services. A former teacher and administrator himself, he specializes in the "professional learning community" approach to teaching, one which Northeast has adopted. Williams lives near Atlanta, Ga., and does school programs around the United States and Canada.
The basic PLC idea, Superintendent Heather McPherson explained, is that teachers are learning along with students. "We're putting our heads and our hearts together," she said.
They're examining their procedures to make sure each student succeeds.
"How do we, as an adult, make sure that every child is getting what they need?" That, she explained, was Williams' main focus.
The day included activities on vision and mission and how to apply them, discussion of the school's culture and idea sharing. Teachers and administrators from Athens, Sullivan County and Wyalusing school districts and North Rome Christian School, as well as some Northeast School Board members, joined the Northeast staff for the program.
Williams later said the day focused on reconnecting. "And that's what today was about ... getting reconnected to our compelling purpose. It's more than a job."
Doing that, he said, will bring fulfillment and achievement. Eventually students will spread the excitement to their homes and community.
During part of the program Williams asked teachers, sitting at separate round tables, to imagine what newspaper headlines about Northeast they'd like to see in five years. "Go big or go home!" he urged them, McPherson said later. They wrote them on large papers and hung them on the wall.
The dream headlines spoke of success in academics and sports, unique student projects, awards and praise being given to the entire community for achievements. Although many were humorous, they often shared common themes like parental and community involvement, showing the teachers have similar goals.
"Well, I thought it was a very worthwhile program," Northeast second-grade teacher Chris Bedford said afterward. "He gave us a lot of strategies to use with our kids."
Second-grade teachers already use a team approach, and she thought Williams showed how other grades could join that team.
Bedford also learned how setting just two goals will lead to more. "And I think we can do that easily."
"I think Ken's passion impressed me," Northeast High School agriculture teacher Brian Pifer remarked. The program got him thinking about what he does and how - "and thinking about 'How can I do it better?'"
For himself, Pifer said, "It's nice to have things validated by somebody else, and today was a lot of validation."
The program, too, was an example of where the district can go and how the students can achieve.
The program also was a chance for him to catch a refreshing breath.
"You don't want to become stale," he said. "You want to stay fresh and you want to stay focused."
He also stated: "There's a lot of really good things happening here in this school district and the students really are going to be the winners."
Dr. Janice Otis, the Northeast Elementary principal, appreciated Williams' advice on how to focus teaching to students' learning.
For her, the program reaffirmed the district is on the right path with its PLC approach, and it also taught guests how to go on from there. PLC, she said, is a way to "continuously grow as educators."
Otis and Northeast High School Principal Gary Martell met Williams, among others, at a Baltimore conference. "He was the one that stood out to us," Martell said. They helped bring him to Northeast.
Money from Northeast's professional development budget covered his visit to Northeast, according to McPherson.
"I had a lot of positive feedback from teachers," McPherson said afterward. "He did everything I wanted him to do." She believes the students will benefit. Public education works, she stated, "and I think the schools in the Northern Tier intend to prove it."