Teachers chose from 28 sessions, which focused on creative and innovative classroom instruction while addressing new Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, during the two-day professional learning event. Additionally, two breakout, anchor sessions focused on broad concepts that would be applicable regardless of grade level.
Stephanie Sanders, ELA program specialist for the GDOE, said, “Attending trainings similar to this will be highly beneficial for teachers who are preparing to teach the new curriculum. You actually see teachers presenting ideas and strategies aligned with Common Core standards that they have used in their classroom and found success. Being able to see the presentation, ask questions and talk to the presenters is highly valuable for teachers.
“The plan is that there be some sustainability with this work; teachers take these ideas back and shape them to make them their own.”
One session gave education information on the new teacher evaluation system. The presenter expounded on the new student growth model and how student growth will be measured.
“As a part of the new evaluations, it will be examined how much teachers grow students,” Sanders said. “Students who score in the same range on the Georgia Milestones will be grouped into a cohort. The following year, those students will be measured against each other instead of the old model where all students were compared. Now you will no longer have average students compared to gifted students. This knowledge hopefully alleviated some of the anxiety over the new system.”
Another helpful tip shared were the digital resources on the GDOE website. The Student Longitudinal Data System allows teachers to utilize resources aligned to the standards. By following a link, videos, lesson plans and other resources are available to provide additional support to students who may need extra help grasping the concepts related to a particular standard.
Nora Moulton, site director for the ELA Literacy Summer Academy and a Cobb County teacher, maintains a positive outlook on teaching despite the changes and challenges the profession faces.
“My advice to new teachers is to forgive themselves and move on,” she said. “They need to know this is a good time to be in education. In an age where everything is accessible by a click, it takes more learning to be a learner and a leader. We are going to have a clear distinction between followers and leaders in this generation because it is so easy for them to separate themselves and get lost in electronic devices. To be someone who inspires others to learn about each other and to learn about our literature is empowering.”
One hundred sixty-eight teachers applied to present. Each was vetted by his or her local Regional Educational Service Agency — or RESA — to ensure the presentations were Teacher Keys and Leader Keys Effectiveness Systems, Common Core, researched and performance based.
Caroline Waters, ELA program manager for the GDOE, coordinated the summer academies, which took place at Kennesaw State University, Savannah, Macon, Albany, Athens and Cartersville.
“Our teachers have been through a five-year hail storm. [An analogy would be] we’ve been going down this road and now we are stopping suddenly and going down another road. You don’t get on the interstate and drive 75 mph and decide to throw your car in reverse, do you? That is what we sometimes do to teachers. They are going in one direction and then all the sudden someone from an ivory tower says, ‘No, no, no we are going to do this.’”
Waters designed the academies to offer clarity, vision and inspiration to teachers. She hoped they would be reminded why they became teachers.
“If you get to know teachers very well, they are not plastic people,” she said. “They are very real and we have entrusted them with our most precious natural resource, our kids. We [as teachers] need to be courageous enough to put on the face to the public that we are professionals and we are educating your children so cut us some slack.
“Teachers are really the new missionary work in our society. We deal with kids every day where your smile might be the only one they see that day. Your classroom might be the only safe place they go every day. So we don’t want to beat up them up, we need to lift them up. We don’t need to be asking them to do things for which they are not trained and we have a responsibility to help train and to help project an image of a positive, vigorous, absolutely essential profession.”