District 200 explores new ways to educate teachers
Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 is looking for ways to offer professional development opportunities for teachers without the cost of sending them to conferences or bringing in outside speakers.
Assistant Superintendent Faith Dahlquist said officials want to offer professional development "at a faster rate and more in depth" while still keeping costs in check.
New teachers usually are well-educated on "best practices," she said, but "all of them need an induction into the District 200 way of doing things." In addition, every teacher needs regular training to be updated on new instruction methods.
Dahlquist said she hopes to train principals to become "instructional leaders," but still wants to get more "coaching and support" for teachers.
One way to do that, she said, is to give teachers with master's degrees a chance to share their expertise in certain topics with other staff members.
"We rely on a lot of teachers for professional development," she said, noting that on institute days, the instruction is often run almost completely by staff with advanced degrees.
While the goal is to have more people "in-house" teaching each other, Dahlquist said it would be helpful if the teachers doing the "coaching" could be taken off their full-time teaching job to focus solely on educating their peers.
Any costs associated with such changes, she said, would likely be funded through the No Child Left Behind Act and with Title I and Title II dollars.
The district made significant budget cuts a few years ago related to professional development, including the elimination of "curriculum leaders" at each school.
Superintendent Jeff Schuler said that was a concern brought up in Engage200 discussions and he believes the district needs to address it by starting to plan for the introduction of new professional development approaches.
"While we're not bringing a proposal to you for coaching next year, you've got some natural turnover in staff the next few years and I think with that comes some budget flexibility that perhaps you didn't have before," he told the school board. "You've got to have some of the legwork done in terms of creating the model ... you don't put coaches in place and then decide how you're going to ultimately use them. You build the model first."
Board member Rosemary Swanson said she thinks the district should consider allowing more teachers to attend conferences because it helps them feel "more like a professional."
Schuler said there is money set aside for conferences, but the decision to send teachers must be based on a specific need.
"It's not just everybody gets a conference every year or every two years," he said.
All advanced placement teachers, for example, are required to get outside training each year, so the district budgets for that expense, Dahlquist said.
But ultimately, she said, professional development should not be "an event or a time, that, 'We did this on Institute Day, check. Every Monday at 3:30 to 5 we did it, check.'"
Instead, she's trying to implement tools that teachers can use on the weekends or at night, such as short videos explaining how to use Google applications.
She wants the learning environment and tools for teachers -- and students -- to be "so exciting and so engaging that you're really passionate about it."
Dahlquist said the district is focused on making students "self-directed learners," but the same should hold true for staff members.