In the midst of the pandemic, teachers are stretched incredibly thin. In addition, districts are taxed with extra time spent on contact tracing and social–emotional needs of the students and staff. Needless to say, finding time for professional development that is systematic and job embedded can be a daunting task, especially while navigating needs for concurrent instruction and shortages of substitute teachers.
Here in District 73.5, an approximately 1,100-student district just outside the Chicago city limits, leaders had to find creative ways to provide teachers with professional learning opportunities to support the 250+ students with linguistic needs, covering 60+ languages. Here are some of the ways the district has kept the spotlight on professional development during the pandemic.
During weekly meetings, teachers and staff are able to volunteer to share a “two-minute tip.” This could be a technology tip or a strategy to incorporate into a current lesson. The goal is to offer all teachers the opportunity to share their own practices as well as an opportunity to learn something new from a fellow teacher.
Coming off a year of virtual learning, teachers across the building saw an increased need to support students who are multilingual due to the nature of remote instruction. Our middle school linguistic resource teacher took this opportunity to share strategies specifically geared toward supporting these students across the school day. Topics included content-specific strategies to support students in subjects such as math, science, and social studies and in academic vocabulary development. Each of these strategies supported teachers in working with students by providing applications that could be used the very next day.
The district has a longstanding practice of early release time once a week for professional development. Recently, three or four of those after school times have been designated as mini-conference days in which staff share their expertise with their colleagues. The purpose of this is to build the internal capacity of the organization and provide opportunities for teacher choice. Topics range from equitable instructional practices to cooperative learning structures.
Hybrid Book Clubs
Our hybrid book clubs are a COVID carryover. This year so far, district teachers have engaged in three different book clubs. The use of video conferencing provided teachers opportunities to engage in professional learning at a time that was convenient for them (in person after school or evenings virtually). In addition, District 73.5 has piloted a book club for English language (EL) teachers during the school day that connected EL teachers across the district through video conferencing.
Book clubs provide teachers with opportunities to learn together, problem solve collectively, and build relationships across the district.
Professional learning opportunities are at the heart of the District 73.5 improvement plan. Ensuring our adult learners have opportunities to continue to improve and enhance their craft makes for a more robust learning environment for our students. In addition, providing educators with differentiated professional learning opportunities in which they had voice and choice to participate provided them with agency during uncertain times.
Lyla Nissan is the English language coordinator in Skokie School District 73.5. Lyla has her Assyrian bilingual endorsement, and she also speaks Arabic. As coordinator, Lyla has used her multilingual experience to connect with families in the district.
Dan Swartz is the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in Skokie School District 73.5. In addition to his work with the school district, Dan is an executive board member of the Illinois Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and a graduate of ALAS’s Superintendent Leadership Academy (SLA Cohort X).