Practicing What We Teach: The 2015 Continuing Education Conference
Traveling for work is not as glamorous as it sounds. The routine of packing suitcases, hailing cabs, cross-checking train schedules, and navigating airport security can be exhausting. Having to do all that on a weekend—and give up free time and family time at home–can be even worse. Despite all that, a group of Catapult Learning’s outstanding Professional Development consultants and staff gave up a weekend in January and gathered in Dallas, Texas, to engage in two days of professional learning, reflection, and collaboration. It was amazing, energizing, and even worth the travel!
Our group was comprised of consultants, coaches, and staff with a wide variety of credentials including former superintendents, principals, teachers, and Teach for America fellows as well as current PhDs, reading specialists, and math specialists. Catapult Learning honors these professionals by providing opportunities for ongoing development like our Continuing Education Conference (CEC). Overall, it was an impressive group of educators who exemplify Catapult Learning’s commitment to continuous learning and improvement.
At the CEC, we strive to build a solid foundation and ensure that we model the practices we advocate with the educators and students with whom we work. Our theme was QUEST: Question, Understand, Educate and Strive for excellence Together! Participants worked hard in general sessions and breakout sessions to build both culture and knowledge.
Building culture in our schools can be done with many of the same strategies we used at the conference. Sharing mealtimes and downtime together strengthens our bonds as colleagues, which in turns builds stronger collaborative teams. We peppered mini “celebrations” throughout the conference to highlight our consultants’ exemplary work on various programs. The two or three minutes spent acknowledging and applauding a team member’s hard work goes a long way to reinvigorate the group and build a culture of appreciation for a job well done. Once we have a strong foundation of open dialogue and collaboration, we can focus on building knowledge together.
Think of the powerful implications for our schools. We can foster teachers who create a global picture of what learning looks like and sounds like at their schools and who model and share best practice with one another. That is an environment where all stakeholders are striving to deepen their own understanding of both content and pedagogy, and where learning isn’t just for students. We felt the power in that type of collaboration during the CEC weekend as we made ourselves vulnerable by asking questions, reflecting on our own practices, and sharing experiences with colleagues. We were reminded that stretching out of our comfort zones is the hard but necessary work of truly continuing our education.
Throughout the weekend, participants were able to experience the intentional design that modeled best practices and incorporated adult-learning strategies. We plan each experience with our Core Instructional Model in mind so that participants activate prior knowledge, experience gradual release, actively manipulate content, and reflect on and apply new learning. One participant casually mentioned, “I think I see how you are presenting to us in the same model that you are incorporating into the professional development and curriculum materials we are learning about.” Exactly! We strive to support all of our learning partners in becoming consciously competent and intentional in their delivery of professional development and instruction.
We support a learning community formed from common beliefs about exemplary schools and effective instruction. Our participants provided feedback that reflects both the impact of the learning environment, the instructional design and the content on their experience. We want them to enjoy the time and be open to learning, but also to have an impact on the work they do. The comments below speak to the core values of Catapult Learning’s quest to achieve beyond expectations.
What participants said they valued from the planning and environment:
- The incredible opportunities for so much active engagement
- The benefits from the opportunity to relate and converse with professionals who are doing like work.
- The kinesthetic movement throughout the day
- Sharing personal experience as well as learning new information
- Meeting with colleagues who encouraged and invigorated each other
- The opportunity to connect with professionals who do similar work
- Great mix of giving information and then interacting with it
What will change as a result of their participation:
- I will be more effective in my role as a leadership coach
- I picked up math and literacy strategies to promote deep understanding that I can put into practice right away
- I increased my knowledge and presentation skills
- I have greater knowledge and instructional tools added to my toolbox
- I am better able to facilitate discussion with school leadership regarding school improvement
- I will use more reflective questioning when conferencing with teachers
- I have a better understanding of how to help teachers to redesign their instruction by taking a look at their deep understanding
A quest is defined as a long and difficult journey to find something. Those who embark on a quest need qualities of grit and perseverance. Education is a lifelong journey of continuous improvement that absolutely requires those qualities. The group that participated in CEC helped remind me of the passionate and professional colleagues I have with me on this journey. The weekend was quite a trip, but it doesn’t stop there! Our QUEST for Excellence in education and at Catapult Learning will continue as we strive to support each of our partners along their journey towards excellence.