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School District Takes Professional Development to New ‘Heights’

Columbia Heights Public Schools is taking its professional development (PD) opportunities for staff members to a new level this year. The District is offering a more personalized approach, allowing staff to really hone in on the areas they want to expand.

This school year, each District In-Service Day will begin with Equity Book Clubs to provide an opportunity for small groups of colleagues to delve into conversations around equity, the necessary and urgent progress we must make, and how we can use our learning to better serve our students and families.

The second half of In-Service days will be dedicated to Professional Development Pathways – of which there are 17 for staff to choose from including topics like Arts; Practice & Grow: College and Career Readiness for All; Supporting Striving Readers During Elementary Core Instruction; We Are Resilient: Building Trauma-Responsive Classrooms and more.

Director of Teaching & Learning Tara Thukral noted Pathways topics were inspired by feedback the Teaching & Learning Department collected from staff last spring.

“We are really targeting what we've seen and heard from teachers about what they need,” she said.

“Teaching & Learning is doing an amazing job of providing focused professional learning opportunities for us as we all adjust to a world of rapid change,” said Columbia Academy Principal Duane Berkas. “During our first week back, our teachers learned how to use new technology safely and effectively with our students, how to work together as teams to improve instruction, and how we can positively influence the intersection of race and justice in our classrooms. We were all especially tuned into the sessions they organized given the unprecedented challenges we face this school year.”

According to Staff Development Coordinator Emily Gartner, the benefit of a more personalized approach to PD is the ability to create communities of practice, continuity of professional learning throughout the year, and the opportunity to focus on a single topic.

“PD can often be surface-level, this approach allows us to go deeper. In between workshops, teachers will be able to put what they’re learning to practice which will support positive change in instruction,” she said.

Highland Elementary Grade 3-5 LEAP Teacher and ENCORE Site Lead Angela Noll says the District has really stepped it up.

“Everyone having a chance to spend more directed time in smaller groups on a topic will allow all of us to become stronger,” she said. “Teachers talk and share what they are excited about, this sharing will allow all of us to learn beyond our own PD choices.”

Highland Elementary Teacher Isabel Rowles said it’s clear the Teaching & Learning team put a lot of thought and effort into PD offerings this year.

“I'm excited to have more PD opportunities to choose from this year,” she said. “I'm more motivated to dive into learning about things I am passionate about, especially when I have the chance to make it my own. This approach honors each staff member's expertise and passions.”

“Teachers are just like our students, all very different! The personalized PD approach is awesome because as teachers we all have different needs,” Noll commented. “Some of us have been away from the college classroom for years and others have just left. We all have different levels of experience and so we have different needs with PD, allowing us to pick what works for ourselves feels so much better than one plan for all of us.”

“It feels like everyone has the chance to become an expert in an area of their choice, which will make the District stronger,” Rowles noted.

For more information, contact the Teaching & Learning Department at 763-528-4435.