Learning Is Leading
At EPIC, we consider our staff to be our community’s lead learners, showing our students that acquiring new knowledge, perspectives, and experiences is a lifelong process that doesn’t end with formal education. This summer, in addition to lots of independent and shared reading, our staff attended a diverse array of virtual professional development conferences on topics ranging from play-based learning to cursive writing to culturally responsive teaching. Below, three of our staff members share some conference highlights.
Joshua Askildsen, Head of Operations
Be About It Conference
As a program, EPIC has long felt the strong need for professional developments focused on racially inclusive teaching, and our Head of School, Katerina Watson, had searched for these events with little success for many years. It was wonderful to see the sudden rise in these events to meet demand of institutions who saw George Floyd’s murder as a wakeup call. As an individual in a leadership position who has been afforded a vast amount of social privileges based on gender, race, and orientation, I’ve always been nervous about everything I don’t know because of those privileges. One of my greatest fears is inadvertently perpetuating systems that subjugate, oppress, or otherwise take power from those of differing experiences because of biases I don’t even know I have. Attending the Be About It: Unpacking White Privilege conference hosted by Get Your Teach On was an incredibly empowering experience.
I feel more equipped to engage with issues I wouldn’t have known how to begin to approach before, and I greatly appreciated the chance to better understand the challenges that students and educators of color face by listening to their experiences. My greatest takeaway from the event was provided by Shaun Woodly, Ph.D. as he relayed his experiences as a first-year teacher. It is my hope that listening to what his administration demanded (that he “take control” over his students rather than prioritizing their education) and reinforced through positive praise will help me avoid participating in such systems that take good faith actors and morph them into disciplinarians who rob students of color of their agency.
The unfortunate stereotype of Black men being viewed by parents, students, and administrators as disciplinarians first and educators second is also something I feel ready to actively combat when leading hiring efforts. Another key framing that will stick with me well after this event: Ignorance is the essence of privilege. To not take the time to understand the challenges that plague those around you because they don’t affect you personally is to use your social privilege to perpetuate the systems that provide those privileges.
Emily Thulier, Office Manager and Related Services Coordinator
Simply Coaching Summit
This summer, I attended the Simply Coaching Summit, which focused on empowering coaches and school leaders with action steps for moving their school community forward. One of my favorite sessions was called Coaching for Blended Learning. This topic is, of course, relevant given the education model EPIC will implement in just a few weeks, but aside from its practical application, I liked this session because it offered a reminder to consider how our personal needs factor into our ability to stay motivated to do the hard work required to educate children, particularly during difficult circumstances. This session recommended making sure that your physiological, psychological, and socioemotional needs are met prior to trying to work on cognitive needs. This session was a great reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is a form of crisis, and teaching in a time of crisis requires that persistent attention be paid to promoting health and wellbeing in the classroom and in our daily lives.
Katie Cronin, Special Education Teacher
Super Teachers Summit
I think it is vitally important to instill a love of writing in our students. Giving them the chance to explore their strengths as writers can give them increased confidence and independence across all academic subjects. Creating a successful piece of writing is something that should be celebrated! But the big question is… how do you know when a writing assignment is the best it can be? This is something I have struggled with as an educator: motivating my students to pick apart their work and find ways to improve their writing. That is why I am incredibly grateful I was able to attend the Super Teachers Summit this summer! Lanesha Tabb led a session on the writing process that has given me the tools I’ve been missing! She broke down the writing process into six cyclical steps:
- Pick an idea
- Plan it out
- Write, Write, Write
- You’ve got to revise (make it better!)
- You’ve got to edit (fix all the things!)
- The Golden Step (send your book into the world)
The wording that Lanesha uses here is so important. She breaks down the difference between revising and editing so they don’t get lumped into one rushed step. She also makes it undeniably clear that step six cannot happen until steps one through five are complete. (No more claiming there’s nothing to revise! Writers can always find a way to make their work better!) I also love that she arranged these steps on her classroom wall in a circle, stating that once step six is done, writers should hop right on back to step one and begin again! A writer’s work is never done!
I am so grateful for these opportunities to improve my teaching skills. Now that I have these tools and know this effective teaching strategy, I cannot wait to see the incredible work my students will produce this year!