When it comes to professional development, research shows that sustained, job-embedded, collaborative professional learning opportunities are most likely to help teachers better support students. The opposite of a morning lecture on a generic subject, this type of learning opportunity requires a substantial time commitment and a focus on the specific skills teachers need for their content area.
It’s just the type of professional development East Hartford kindergarten teachers Laura Griffin, Darcy Malone, Lia Hickey, and Rebecca Tubbs were able to participate in this summer thanks to a grant from the Fund for Teachers.
“I feel like kindergarten is kind of a stand-alone grade,” said Hickey. “It’s very different from pre-K and very different from first grade.”
That’s why the Staff Development for Educators I Teach K! conference that the O’Connell International Baccalaureate World School teachers attended was aimed exclusively at kindergarten teachers. The week-long conference that took place in Las Vegas focused on ready-to-implement, research-based strategies just for kindergarten teachers.
Hickey said it was remarkable to be able to take part in so many kindergarten focused workshops. “We had the opportunity to talk to colleagues from all over country who face the same issues we do when it comes to integrating Common Core and meeting the needs of young students. It was really refreshing to know lots of people across the country are in the exact same boat as we are.”
The conference allowed teachers to choose from 15 different workshop offerings during four different time slots each day. Hickey, who got her master’s in educational technology, went to several technology focused workshops, as well as some that focused on differentiation, integrating song and dance into the curriculum, and much more.
“One workshop was all about using Google Docs in the classroom. I really enjoyed that as a tech person,” Hickey said. “I learned about using Google Docs while I was getting my master’s degree, but that was really focused on the upper grades. It was great at this conference to hear from a woman who teaches kindergarten and had ideas specific for that age group.”
Hickey said there’s a lot she’s brought back to her East Hartford kindergartners.
“I really learned so much it was hard to wrap my head around,” she said. “I’m definitely integrating more movement into the classroom based on what I learned. Kindergarten used to be much more play-based and now there can be a lot more sitting. Integrating movement is the main thing I’m focusing on this year.”
In addition to the kindergarten teachers, the Fund for Teachers also supported East Hartford teachers who traveled to New Orleans, Rwanda, Greece, Rome, and New Mexico this summer. The teachers have brought back new insights, connections, and tools to benefit their students thanks to the new perspectives they’ve gained.
“It was really an amazing opportunity,” Hickey said. “We never would have been able to afford to attend the conference on our own. It made us realize that we should dream big when it comes to finding opportunities that will benefit our students.”