training day

Trips, a TED talk, and Renewal decisions await teachers on training day

Thursday is a day off for students, but it will be a busy one for schools, where staffs are getting their first opportunity since Election Day for a full day of training.

Since 2006, the first Thursday of June has been a mandatory training day for teachers, principals and staff members. This time, “Renewal” schools are meeting to decide what performance benchmarks they want to hit in the coming years, others are planning field trips across the city, and — at Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s urging — many others will check out a TED Talk about the importance of connections between teachers and students.

“It’s an incredibly moving talk that may just change the way you approach education,” Fariña wrote of the video to principals last month.

It’s also the first full professional development day since Fariña’s newly-empowered district superintendents have been firmly in place, and a few are exerting their new authority. At least two superintendents instructed their principals to send them an agenda for their training days, raising eyebrows among school leaders who said it was a small but significant example of lost autonomy.

“In my five years we have never been asked to have our PD plans vetted in advance,” a principal said. “It’s a brave new world.”

An elementary school principal who also had to submit an agenda said she was surprised, but then realized it’s to be expected now.

“The stated rationale for returning to a stronger district structure is so that there is both more oversight of and support for schools,” the principal wrote in an email. “This request seemed in keeping with that intention.”

Other principals said their superintendents are taking a hands-off approach as they tailor their trainings to their schools’ needs. Judy Touzin, principal of East New York Elementary School of Excellence, said she is sending her teachers of gifted and talented students to visit the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in an effort to “use different spaces across the city to support the learning in the classroom.” Other teachers are going to Teachers College for a training session on restorative discipline practices, while paraprofessionals will stay at the school for training on how to better serve students with disabilities.

The idea is “to focus on professional learning that’s most important and targeted” for all teachers, said Touzin, who took several of her teachers to a training session hosted by the Uncommon Schools charter-school network Wednesday.

The professional development day, called “Chancellor’s Conference Day,” grew out of the (now mostly apocryphal) city holiday of Brooklyn-Queens Day. Between 1829 and 2006, schools in the boroughs were closed to honor Sunday school teachers. The tradition faded over time and was changed altogether with the 2005 teachers contract, which extended the day off to students across the city but turned it into a professional development day for teachers.

The day can serve as a reflection of changes happening in the city’s schools, and gives teachers a chance to prepare for what’s ahead. In 2012, teachers were prepping for the rollout of the Common Core standards, and hiring committees at some “turnaround” schools that were headed for closure were meeting to discuss staffing. (A judge eventually blocked the closures.) But school workshops can also be more offbeat, in the past incorporating circus skills, hip-hop dance, or rugby.

This year, much of the day for teachers and principals of the city’s struggling Renewal schools will be spent working on an improvement plan that is due to the state later this month. Among the tasks will be for school leadership teams to come to a consensus about which performance benchmarks will be used to measure their progress over the next two years.

Fariña, who has made professional development a department priority, will be visiting a Queens middle school, although a spokeswoman did not provide the name. In the afternoon, she’ll go to the School for Global Leaders, a school in her collaboration program known as Learning Partners, for the program’s end-of-year celebration.

The chancellor said in her letter to principals last month that she wants schools to watch the TED Talk by the late Rita Pierson, and recommended at least 30 minutes of “deep conversation” about the passing school year. To end the year on a high note, principals she read from a book or praiseworthy letters, she offered.

“It’s important to end the day on an uplifting note,” she wrote. “Remind your staff that you are a community and that you are joined together by a shared mission to provide for your students’ success.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.