State officials praise Alcoa schools’ learning conference
By Matthew Stewart | (email@example.com)
Alcoa City Schools recently held a systemwide professional learning conference that outshined many of its larger peers in terms of scope.
School officials organized 45 breakout sessions for Friday’s conference. Participants could learn about a variety of topics, such as data-based formative instructional practices, differentiated instruction, interactive whiteboards, math strategies for students with disabilities, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) resources and whole brain teaching.
State officials were impressed by the number and variety of sessions.
“It’s very rare for a district this small to do something on this scale,” said Christi Sampson, the state Department of Education’s regional math coordinator. “In my opinion, it’s a sign of forward-thinking leadership.”
“I’m very impressed that they’re offering this type of conference in January,” said Ginger Leach, state Department of Education data analyst. “It sends a message to staff members about the ongoing nature of professional growth in their school district.”
State officials also praised Alcoa’s teachers.
“They’ve been very engaged in my breakout session,” Leach said. “They are making connections between the content and what they’re doing in their own classrooms, which is very important. It’s the first step toward implementation, and we like to see districts where it is already a common practice.”
More than 150 certified employees attended the professional learning conference, said Dr. Deborah Smith, Alcoa’s director of federal programs and special education. Eight vendors also attended the conference.
Many teachers were pleased with the professional learning conference.
Alcoa Elementary School first grade teacher Bridget Young learned about new formative reading assessments and strategies to bolster higher order questioning. She was excited about putting the newfound knowledge to use in her classroom.
“It was one of my favorite PD (professional development) opportunities,” Young said. “I like being able to choose my own sessions, because I can tailor the conference to my own needs. It’s a much different experience than being mandated to do something.”
Alcoa Middle School sixth grade teacher Keith Stephens learned about whole brain teaching from Alcoa High School’s Mike Brown, who was his math teacher in school. “Since I was in Mr. Brown’s class, he’s changed teaching techniques. He’s experienced a lot of success with them. He’s been able to get the kids more interested and involved in their learning. He was able to show us some of the ways that he’s made his classroom more interactive, and I’d really like to see how he actually does it in the classroom.”
During the conference, the teacher also learned how to use a Promethean interactive whiteboard. School officials installed the technology in Stephens’ classroom over winter break.
“I got a crash course in Promethean teaching, and I’m excited about the ways that it will help out with my whole brain instructional practices,” Stephens said. “We’re heading toward a world with rapidly improving technology, and we’re all working to prepare students for the real world.”
System-level administrators were pleased with the conference’s results, as well.
“Alcoa City Schools’ goal in providing professional development opportunities is to offer seasons that integrate relevant topics and activities that empower teachers to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population,” said Director of Schools Brian Bell. “We believe high quality professional development is the bridge between the individual needs of our staff and outstanding classroom performance.”