Professional Development Conferences: When Teachers Become Students

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A teacher’s professional schooling does not end with a master’s degree, rather, it is a lifelong experience.  Throughout the course of their careers, teachers and principals participate in professional development conferences to advance their skills and acquire more knowledge in their fields.  These conferences are held throughout the country to enable faculty to improve the quality of their classroom instruction and job performance.

Assistant Principal of Humanities, Rafal Olechowski believes that “part of being a professional is seeking out new ideas…connecting knowledge and making it relevant to students.” He attended a workshop sponsored by Bedford/St. Martin’s publishing house.  The panel discussion included an author of an Advanced Placement English textbook and lessons about how to successfully teach that course.

“There has been a lot of change in the last ten to fifteen years and these workshops give new approaches to old ideas,” said Mr. Olechowski.  “There is never enough of this kind of exposure.”

Social Studies teacher John O’Malley participated in role-play during a professional development seminar sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute.  The conference on November 13 was designed to give teachers the tools and documents to engage students in the understanding of major issues and controversies in American history and American government.  Mr. O’Malley credits the teachers of Townsend Harris with being “very involved in their professional communities and in looking for new ways to heighten student interest and involvement.”

In addition to learning from other attendees, some faculty members have shared their own knowledge through presentations, sometimes traveling long distances to teach at these conferences.

Social Studies teacher Franco Scardino spoke on a panel sponsored by the New York Historical Society on October 25.  He presented his teaching methods on women’s rights to an audience of teachers and was asked to give another presentation in April at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in St. Louis.

“It is important to see what other teachers are doing and to share experiences with your colleagues in the profession…like Harrisites, we are life-long learners too,” said Mr. Scardino

Over the summer, Marianthe Colakis, Classical Languages teacher, gave a presentation at the American Classical League Institute at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The three-day convention served as a forum where teachers exchanged ideas and materials related to teaching Latin and Greek.  Her presentation, titled “Gauls and Other Others,” explored Latin texts that were written about other cultures.  Dr. Colakis presents at professional development conventions because “there’s always more to learn about what to teach and how to teach it.”

Linda Steinmann, Social Studies teacher,  participated in the New York State Bar Association’s Law Youth and Citizen Conference on October 10 at Stony Brook University.  It featured three presenters that had been a part of major Supreme Court cases who shared their personal memories of those events.

“[In the past] I have presented on teaching civic education and on using technology to teach Social Studies and AP Government. Before I came to THHS in 2004 I was a Staff Developer and had to attend conferences as part of my job,” said Dr. Steinmann regarding her experience as a presenter of professional development.

More notably, she gave a presentation about politics and civic education at a conference in Sochi, Russia ten years ago.

Though teachers are experts in their respective fields, there is always room for improvement when it comes to innovative methods of actually teaching these subjects. Just like students, for teachers, the learning process never ends.