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(November 2017 Newsletter) Teachers Use Summer Vacation To Learn

By Nhan Pham

EJHS – In August, during summer vacation, Eastmont Junior High School hosted a multi-day teacher conference in partnership with the Washington Education Association (WEA). 

Hundreds of teachers from across the state signed up for specialized courses in various subjects. These teachers learned new strategies and methods to enhance the classroom experience for students by implementing innovative lesson plans. 

Each year, the location for these seminars rotates to a different part of the state. This year, it was Eastmont Junior High School’s turn, so our local teachers did not have to travel far. K-12 Education Coordinator Scott Poirier said guest instructors and other specialists develop seminars to help teachers expand their approach to classroom teaching. 

Teachers choose from numerous subjects for their conference experience. There are classes like Math Common Core, STEM, English courses and more. “A teacher, at heart, wants to learn what they can do to be a better practitioner,” he said. Pourier said the teachers often enjoy the experience. 

The teachers learn a wide array of new teaching techniques to bring back to the classroom for the school year. For example, presenting a particular topic in a different (but more engaging manner) could be a lesson for instructors to consider.

“The Human Resources department gets feedback with teachers saying this is the best training they ever had,” Poirier said. But at its core, the main focus of the event is to improve the learning environment for students. Jeff Halstead, a WEA Innovations Instructor, said the specialists design their courses to encourage more dynamic classrooms to engage students. 

This can entail more projects, more hands-on activities and other methods to promote discussion as opposed to traditional lecture formats. “We believe classrooms ought to be energetic learning environments,” he said. 

Halstead said classroom lectures have their place as well, but they can be limited when it comes to student engagement. Instead, students often understand concepts better when they come to conclusions on their own rather than being told directly. 

“We need more students who can think and create solutions,” Halstead said. “We need to send more students out into the world to be problem solvers.” 

Of course, not every classroom experience can be exciting all of the time - at least not without effort from a teacher. After all, it is difficult to prepare elaborate (but engaging) lesson plans constantly without structure. “Time is so short for teachers,” said Tammie Schrader, Regional Science Coordinator for the Northeast Washington ESD 101. 

Part of the workshop’s program demonstrates how to create a model for such ambitious lesson plans and integrating them into the classroom. Especially with the abundance of technology in classes these days, there is no excuse for students to rely solely on textbooks and old-fashioned teaching methods anymore, she said.

Schrader said she believes everyone is a hands-on learner. Regardless of the subject matter, there is always a way to highlight a topic with interesting elements. For instance, gamification is often a great way to spark student participation. Students often enjoy applying the knowledge they are learning when teachers present a lesson in a game format. “We want to bring passion and fun to teaching rather than teaching to standard,” she said. 

Teachers would constantly give feedback about their experience during the conference. One form of feedback was to leave comments on notes for instructors to read. “The spice for me is the innovation - getting permission to add to lessons and improve! Igniting passion in my lessons and not being afraid to spice things up,” a note read.
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