In-house Professional Development, which began in earnest during the 2016-17 school year, helps our teachers sharpen their skill sets.
By Mark Vruno
Starting in the fall of 2016, Fenwick’s administration implemented its own Professional Development (PD) program for faculty and staff. The ongoing teacher education program is spearheaded by Assistant Principal Laura Pendleton and Digital Learning Specialist Bryan Boehm.
“At Fenwick, through the Dominican pillar of study, we do an excellent job of instilling the value of life-long learning in our students,” says Ms. Pendleton, who also is the Orchestra Director at school. “The in-house professional development program was created out of the need to provide opportunities for our faculty to spend time in community learning new skills and sharing expertise with each other. It has grown a great deal in its first three years and, in the future, will serve to be a space for our faculty to continue to work together to model life-long learning and exhibit their own love of learning to our students.”
Mr. Boehm adds, “Fenwick students are always being challenged to learn new ways of gathering information and data. Our faculty need to have the same experiences to be our leading force in their fields and subjects. Peer-led courses have been great for teachers to learn from one another and collaborate,” he continues. “Offering new perspectives, new experiences and alternative ways to teach the material that they have so much success with over their career will only benefit the students.”
Math Teacher and sophomore football assistant coach Matt Barabasz is one of four PD faculty leaders. Last year he conducted a session about how teachers can “flip” their classrooms. This technique “allows the students to watch and learn at home, while we then use instructional time to engage in meaningful conversations and applications. This session went into detail on how I use this process within my mathematics course, when applicable,” explains Mr. Barabasz, who came to Fenwick two years ago from St. Patrick High School in Chicago.
This school year one of his sessions is how to use Google Forms to facilitate parent communication. “Families are incredibly important within a student’s learning process,” Barabasz acknowledges. “Without the support of families, we as educators cannot fully unlock a student’s potential. This series went into how I communicate regularly with parents using Google Forms and how I keep the parents in the loop, on a weekly basis, on their students’ progress.”
Kudos from faculty participants
Now in its third year of customized PD, the faculty/staff sessions at Fenwick are wide ranging and run all year long on most Tuesdays and Thursdays, either at 7:30 a.m. or during lunch periods. Required to attend at least three sessions per academic year, most teachers seem to be buying into the idea. “I feel that the PD sessions are a great opportunity for a teacher to learn new ideas and strategies on how to become more effective,” says Spanish Instructor and alumnus Jim Reardon ’86. “Fenwick teachers are willing to share their time, knowledge and expertise with other faculty members. The sessions are not very long [about 25 minutes each] but allow you the opportunity to learn and develop new ideas.”
Mr. Reardon add that he has taken PD sessions on Schoology, the learning-management system employed by Fenwick, as well as on EdPuzzle, which is a way to employ video technology in the classroom. “The PD sessions allow a teacher to better understand a topic, and then it is up to him or her to further develop their understanding and usage of the particular topic,” he notes.
English Department co-worker and alumna Theresa Steinmeyer ’12 attended Pendleton’s series on William Bender’s Strategies for Increasing Student Engagement as well as some sessions on ways to further incorporate technology into instruction. “As a new faculty member at Fenwick , I have enjoyed these opportunities to continue growing as an educator while getting to know colleagues from other departments,” Ms. Steinmeyer says.
More than 20 PD sessions have been conducted this school year on topics such as:
- Schoology Refreshers – Bryan Boehm
- Schoology Gradebook Refreshers – Mickey Collins ’03
- Magnus Health System – Donna Pape (School Nurse)
- Apple Classroom – Tim Menich
- Classroom Management with Technology #1 – Alex Holmberg ’05
- Fall Book Club – Laura Pendleton
- Individual Educations Plans (IEPs) Level 1 – Grace Lilek David ’08
- CleverTouch Interactive Displays – Fr. Mike Winkels
- Tips & Tricks in Schoology #1 – Holmberg
- Dealing with Difficult Conversations – Pendleton
- Google Forms for Parent Communication – Matt Barabasz
- Learning Differences – Kyle Kmiecik ’00
- iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting – Boehm
- Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #1 – Holmberg
- IEP Level 2 – David
- Writing Across the Curriculum – John Schoeph ’95
- Pythonista for iPad & iPhone – Dave Kleinhans
- Tips & Tricks in Schoology #2 – Holmberg
- Science PD Series
- EdPuzzle – Brian Jerger
- Classroom Management with Technology #2 – Holmberg
- Assessment Strategies Through Schoology #2 – Holmberg
- iPad Basic Maintenance / Troubleshooting Level 2 – Boehm
In early April, Barabasz led a session on using “Google Forms for Class Data Collection” while Math Dept. colleague Kevin Roche ’05 is coordinating the Spring Book Club. Pendleton and Boehm then wrap up this school year with “Differentiated Instruction” and “Apple Classroom Level 2,” respectively.
“I try to run sessions with practical take-aways for teachers to immediately use in their classrooms, regardless of subject area or grade level,” explains fellow PD leader and Social Studies Dept. Chair Alex Holmberg ’05, who also is Fenwick’s Director of Clubs and Activities. “I’ve also tried to tailor specific PD sessions to address needs brought up from our end-of-year iPad Survey last school year. One of the positive aspects of the model of PD that we use is that it allows teachers to present on topics that they see as learning opportunities in their classrooms throughout the school year.”
“It has changed the way I manage my classroom.” – Brian Jerger
Participant and fellow Social Studies Teacher Brian Jerger adds: “The Apple Classroom presentation by Tim Menich has afforded me an easy, hands-off deterrent that has helped curb iPad abuse/distractions in class. It has changed the way I manage my classroom.”
Mr. Jerger, who joined Fenwick in 2017, also enjoyed Laura Pendleton’s Book Club presentation. “It provided a setting for teachers to come together and discuss the interesting methods, techniques and philosophies we all utilize in our classrooms,” he says. “In that same vein, I think the greatest benefit of the Professional Development series is it exposes the faculty to all the interesting work we are doing in the classroom that we do not normally get to see from each other. Due to all the ways in which teachers are pulled and stressed for time (and our humble natures), it is incredibly easy for us to get trapped in our own individual silos leaving us unaware of the great work our colleagues are doing. The Professional Development series pulls back that curtain, to some degree, and allows us to share some of this great work with one another.”
Director of Scheduling & Student Data Mickey Collins ’03 runs “Schoology Refreshers” and “Gradebook Management.” “These are the most basic of the PD sessions we have for our teachers,” explains Mr. Collins, who also teaches Anatomy & Physiology and is an assistant coach for the girls’ cross-country team. “It is crucial to have our teachers manage their gradebooks correctly.”
On Friday, March 8th Fenwick hosted its first-ever PD mini-conference consisting of a keynote presentation followed by five breakout session options. iPads were required for teachers. “Preparing our students for a global community and global workforce starts with our faculty, says Boehm. “Bringing in leaders from other schools is a start in the right direction,” he adds, alluding to the guest workshop leaders for the day:
- Culturally Responsive Teaching: Jacqueline Kelly-McHale, PhD., from DePaul University, focused on the diverse cultures of Fenwick. “A pedagogy that acknowledges, responds to and celebrates fundamental cultures offers full, equitable access to education for students from all cultures,” Ms. Kelly-McHale points out. Attendees investigated culturally sustainable teaching approaches that acknowledge varied identities and expressions of diversity. What does it mean to teach – and learn – within a culturally responsive classroom?
- The Power of Unlearning: Michael Lubelfield, Ed. D., Superintendent of the North Shore School District 112 (Highland Park, IL), and Nick Polyak, Ed. D., Superintendent of Leyden High School District 212, facilitated an active session regarding the need to “Lead for Tomorrow’s Schools Today.” To compete as a nation and succeed as a society, educational leaders need to unlearn many of the foundational structures of the 19th century and re-imagine schooling. We all need to unlearn, relearn and grow in support of tomorrow’s students and their needs.
- Breakout EDU: Lubelfield and Polyak also led a session on using BreakoutEDU to reinforce team-building and technology in the classroom. Breakout EDU is a physical game-kit platform where students work together to solve various puzzles to open a locked box, similar to an escape room. Classroom-management tools, such as hint cards and timers, can keep students focused on building the critical-thinking and social/emotional skills necessary to solve these complex problems.
- Differentiated Instruction and Assessment: Kathleen McDonnell Lee, Ed.D., Consultant & Professor at Loyola University Chicago, explored what differentiation might look like within a class and between tracked classes of the same subject. McDonnell Lee reviewed key elements of differentiated instruction, practiced tiering assignments to target various learning needs, and discussed how to fairly grade in a differentiated classroom that holds high expectations for all learners.
- Technology Implementation: Steve Wilder, Superintendent of Schools in Knoxville, IL (CUSD #202), discussed the implementation of technology at Fenwick, including planning, professional development and challenges. What has been successful to date? And what needs improvement?
Tech as a tool
Prior to these workshops, keynoter Dominic Manola, Assistant Principal for Instructional Innovation at Lake Park High School in Roselle, IL, took a big-picture look at education today. His motivational presentation, entitled “Teach for Tomorrow: Preparing Students for an Ever Changing World,” was alive with energy.
“At the core of what we do is great teaching and learning; it always has been and always will be,” Mr. Manola, a former social studies teacher and alumnus of St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, IL, told Fenwick’s faculty assembled in the Auditorium. “Technology is an incredible tool to help us better our practice. But it is just that: a tool,” he stresses. “What we do is still all about relationships and connections. Technology doesn’t change that. Teaching students how to be resilient still is what leads to their future success.”
“Technology is … an incredible tool.” -Lake Park Assistant Principal Dominic Manola.
Later in the morning, as part of a smaller break-out session, Manola went on to discuss the power of using online tools to create quick and informal assessments that are used for learning. Several techniques allow teachers the opportunity to easily assess if their students are truly “getting it” and then use this information to guide their instruction.
Now that all Fenwick students have Apple iPads at their fingertips, Manola also discussed pushing the limits of “one-to-one” electronic devices in the classroom. Teaching students about “digital citizenship” and academic usage of technology were among the topics covered. Also: How social media and technology can be used to elevate student voices.
Back in-house, for the 2019-20 school year Barabasz is planning a PD session on using student data to adapt instructional planning. “It will revolve around how I track student data and then adapt my instructional planning accordingly,” he notes. “Each year brings about a unique group of students and we, as teachers, need to adapt to them. Just because a lesson or assignment worked well one year, or for one class, does not mean it will work just as well a following year or for a subsequent class.”
By tracking student data, teachers can see the strengths of each student and each class — and also where each student and each class needs support. “I can then use this data to adapt the year and class period to support those within,” Barabasz concludes.
More PD Photos: