Just when parents settle into a new school year, along comes a teacher institute day and the family schedule needs to shift to make sure children are engaged and safe on their day off from school.
So, why have teacher institute days? Do teachers get the day off, too?
No, in fact, it is quite the opposite. Teachers go to school because, to be an effective teacher, learning never stops.
Teacher institute days are an opportunity for teachers to learn new curriculum, materials, techniques and specific knowledge in their area of teaching. For school officials, the time provides their staff professional development and ways to keep ahead of technical advancements.
According to state regulations, a maximum of four teacher institute days are set aside in the required 180 school day calendar. Each of the state's 867 districts determines its own needs to fill its teacher institute days.
"In almost every corner of DuPage County, you will find workshops that are so valuable to teachers," said Olga Rammer, director of administrative services for the DuPage Regional Superintendent.
"From science to reading, math to music, it is absolutely huge, and the learning those teachers come away with benefits every student in every classroom."
Using a collaboration of DuPage resources, the office of the regional superintendent will lead a county-wide teacher institute day March 2. Although this school year's offerings still are being fine-tuned, workshops last spring included a STEM workshop to study science, technology, engineering and math organized by the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora.
"There was a wonderful writing lab on how to teach students writing," Rammer said. "(Naperville Unit) District 203 put on a huge physical education and health lab that day."
SCARCE, which stands for School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education, organized three teacher workshops for the county-wide institute day.
"Our workshops were funded by the DuPage County environmental and stormwater divisions," said Kay McKeen, who founded the nonprofit group. "SCARCE focused on some very local community issues so teachers could bring back relevant information to their classrooms."
Each SCARCE workshop took between six and seven hours. One concentrated on green chemistry, with four award-winning experts in the field. Another field trip took teachers to study water conservation, pumping technology, water treatment, security and local community issues.
A third group visited six green buildings, with solar panels, green roofs and wind turbines to learn about energy savings, paint without fumes, green cleaning products, sustaining the environment and the green impact on future careers.
"The full institute day planned and hosted by the DuPage Regional Office of Education allows teachers across the county to share ideas with each other and participate in common professional learning," said Wesley Gosselink, principal at Tate Woods Elementary School in Lisle and Lisle Unit District 202's staff development coordinator.
The Lisle district's own teacher institute days also focus on academic improvement and organizational culture, according to Gosselink.
Gosselink explained that other institute subjects may include curriculum alignment to refine and update teacher expectations for students within the same subject or the same grade level.
Some sessions may bring in an outside organization with the most up-to-date instructional strategies. Another session may review data gathered on student performance in specific academic areas to determine any weaknesses and to set improvement goals.
"The work completed on institute days leads to ongoing work by teacher teams throughout the year to make instructional changes in their classrooms that will assist in meeting the larger goal," said Gosselink.
At Benet Academy, an entire department went to the DuPage Valley Social Studies Conference on one of its teacher institute days, according to Bill Myers, assistant principal of curricular and professional affairs.
The school also had sessions that gave teachers direct application to document cameras, interactive white boards, or new grade books and website software programs the school implemented.
The coeducational Catholic high school in Lisle schedules shortened periods once a month to meet as a faculty or as academic departments.
"On Oct. 12, we will have a faculty in-service and one of the topics that the faculty will reflect on is the benefits and possible implications of allowing students to use e-readers during the school day," Myers said.
With specific social and emotional learning goals required by the Illinois State Board of Education, training and implementation of the goals in the classroom is also conducted on institute days, Gosselink said.
"The training required by the ISBE is what supports our teachers in dealing with: A) direct instruction in social/emotional interactions or pro-social behaviors that are most productive for students; and B) addressing bullying or anti-social behaviors in the school setting," Gosselink said.
"Teacher teams may also be found working together to build building-wide systems or expectations that, upon implementation and refinement, support a healthy, safe, nurturing and empowering learning community for our students."
Parents can feel better about teacher institute days when they think of them as "teacher learning days." Each has the potential to be important to every student even though some students may spend a portion of their day sleeping-in.
• Joan Broz writes about Lisle.