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HomeEducationA Day of Workshops and Networking for Teachers

A Day of Workshops and Networking for Teachers

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As with any profession, educators attend in-service training on a regular basis to learn up-to-date information and new methods in their field. This hones their skills and gives them an opportunity to meet other teachers and experts in every phase of education.

On Friday, Feb. 2, all Hernando County public school teachers, support staff and administrators spent a day learning all types of skills, from “Wonder Based Phonics” for first-grade teachers and stress reduction techniques to “Elevating Instruction with Nearpod” (an interactive learning system) for high school instructors and “The Power of Word Problems.”

In all, there were more than 400 workshops, each lasting 1 hour and 15 minutes. There were four of these sessions starting at 8:30 a.m. and going until 3:45 p.m. The workshops were jam-packed with information and practical techniques that the teachers could take back to their classrooms. Most of the workshops were conducted by experts outside the area, but some were led by educators from Hernando County.

The Teachers in Action event took place at Weeki Wachee High School and Winding Waters K-8 School. In addition to the learning sessions, there were also roundtable discussions led by local teachers. A number of non-profit organizations and businesses were there also to provide information about their services.

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I attended a workshop led by Sarah Adams, Region 13 Project Manager for SEDNET (www.sednetfl.info). This agency is part of a multiagency network focusing on children with emotional/behavioral needs.

Sarah Adams, Region 13 Project Manager for SEDNET, spoke about creating “calming areas” in the classroom. [Credit: Sarah Nachin]
Sarah Adams, Region 13 Project Manager for SEDNET, spoke about creating “calming areas” in the classroom. [Credit: Sarah Nachin]

The topic of Ms. Adams’ workshop was setting up “calming” areas in the classroom. This is a special area set aside for children where they can volunteer to go when they are stressed or having an emotional issue. It is not punishment or a place where they can go to avoid classroom work. It is a “safe space” in which the student can calm down.

This area is equipped with items to help the child regulate her behavior. Depending on the grade level, these items could include books, pillows to sit on, quiet games, stress balls that the student can squeeze to relieve tension, a journal in which the student can write down his thoughts, a timer that the student or teacher sets to limit the amount of time the child spends in the calming area, etc. Ms. Adams advises that the students in the class help decide what will be included.

She stated that children can’t learn when they’re under stress. Children may be stressed due to a situation at home, relations with other children and many other causes.

In addition to discussing children’s stress, Ms. Adams talked about the stress that teachers have. She mentioned ways that teachers can relieve stress and also the importance of being calm and non-judgmental when they approach a child about their behavior and to show the child that you see and hear their feelings.

Dr. Tim Baghurst taught the second workshop I attended. His topic was building a team culture. Dr. Baghurst is a professor of athletic coaching and director of FSU COACH: Interdisciplinary Center for Athletic Coaching. Although his field is sports coaching, he related his presentation to any type of team, whether it’s a team of teachers, a school as a whole or a classroom.

Dr. Baghurst explained that a culture is important because it drives behavior and produces results. He said we build culture through purpose, people, place and planning. It involves understanding your mission− your “Why.” It means putting that mission into daily practice, as well. He also emphasized that trust transforms a group of people into a team.

He stated, “Having a purpose and core values gives you direction.”

Along with the workshops and roundtable discussions, a number of non-profit organizations and businesses were there to provide information about their services.

One of these was Howard (www.howard.com), a company that works as a liaison between end users, such as school districts and distributors of technical products, like Dell and Samsung. According to its promotional material, “Howard supplies the latest technology, enabling teachers to approach traditional teaching models in an imaginative, non-traditional manner.”

Another company was Jar Systems (www.jar-systems.com). Alan Sherbourne, Director of Educational Programs, was there to promote his company’s services. He educates school districts on best practices and best innovation in the field of technology, especially in the areas of STEM classes (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

Amber Price and Ivana Grimsley represented Parent Square (www.parentsquare.com), a company that facilitates communication between parents and schools and between administration and teachers. This can be on a district-wide, school-wide and individual-teacher basis.

It can involve mass communication from the district to parents, informing them of a school-related emergency or school cancellations due to weather. A school could use the service to let parents know of an event and a teacher could utilize the service to contact a parent about an issue with their child or a permission slip that needs to be signed.

The local teachers’ union, Hernando Classroom Teachers Association (HCTA), also attended the event. Its purpose is to advocate for teachers in such areas as salaries, benefits, and in disputes that might come up between a teacher and the district. Three volunteers, Donna Depinet-Dasher, Bea Shafer, and Susan Pribil, were there to raise awareness among teachers on the benefits of the union.

The event was not just enjoyable and helpful to teachers. It also gave some of them an opportunity to be a presenter. For example, Ms. Crissy Brandhuber, a Certified Media Specialist (librarian) at Eastside Elementary, presented a workshop entitled “How to have a Successful Poetry Café.” This is an activity in which students choose a poem and then recite it in front of just other students or students and parents.

In some instances, the teachers and class even decorate the place where it’s held like a French café. However, one of Ms. Brandhuber’s main points was that a poetry café doesn’t have to be elaborate or take a lot of time to prepare for.

“You don’t have to have a media specialist on campus to do it [a poetry café] and it doesn’t have to take months of planning. A poetry café is a place where children can feel safe enough to get up and recite a poem,” Ms. Brandhuber stated.

“When you see some of the children present a poem, it’s so heart-warming to see someone you’d never expect to get up and recite a poem in front of their peers,” she continued.

Since there’s no better way to learn than to put a concept into practice, towards the end of the workshop, Ms. Brandhuber had the participants choose a poem from the ones she provided. Each person chose a poem that was relevant to them. One teacher read a poem about sports because he’s a sports fan. Another chose a poem she grew up with and loved because it had her name in it.

Ms. Brandhuber commented that her room was packed, the participants had fun and she received a lot of positive feedback from the teachers. As a Certified Media Specialist, she serves as a resource for the teachers but mostly interacts with the students.

“For children who don’t like to read or have difficulty with reading, I show them that a library isn’t just about books,” Ms. Brandhuber concluded.

Christine Ferro and Alana Kozak conducted a workshop together. Ms. Ferro has been an instructor in Hernando County for seventeen years. She teaches students with varying exceptionalities who require specially designed instruction to acquire cognitive, communication, physical, behavioral, and social skills.

Ms. Kozak has been a Speech Language Pathologist for twenty-five years and has her own practice. However, she also has a contract position with the district, working with students at Powell Middle School and Weeki Wachee High School.

The title of their workshop was “Mindfulness for Teachers.” Since both Ms. Ferro and Ms. Kozak teach yoga when they’re not in school, this is a subject on which they are experts. They led participants through breath work, a gentle yoga practice, and sound meditation, followed by a presentation on the book, “Happy Teachers Change the World.” The book is a guide to cultivating mindfulness in education.

Ms. Ferro remarked, “We had four sessions, and each was over capacity (30), so some participants practiced chair yoga or without a mat.”

The training was designed for all school staff, so there was a diverse group. Teachers of all subjects from Pre-K to high school, speech-language therapists, and school counselors were among the groups that attended the sessions. The participants were enthusiastic, asking for more resources or opportunities to practice with them.

“We would like to travel to school sites offering yoga, sound meditation and mindfulness,” Ms. Kozak commented.

They hope to create an awareness of this important concept in order to “cultivate a sense of community and support for educators to facilitate their wellness,” explained Ms. Ferro.

The teachers found the days’ workshops informative. One particular teacher was Michael Lawless, who teaches 6th grade English Language Arts and 7th /8th grade Entrepreneurship at Powell Middle School.

He stated that the workshop given by Gerry Brooks, an elementary principal from Kentucky, was beneficial because he was able to connect with educators from around the country.

“It helps you realize that the challenges we as educators face on a daily basis are not unique. Learning about the ways Mr. Brooks infuses laughter, campus culture and a community of caring in his community was tremendous,” he remarked.

Parent Square Representatives from left to right, Amber Price and Ivana Grimsley. [Credit: Sarah Nachin]
Parent Square Representatives from left to right, Amber Price and Ivana Grimsley. [Credit: Sarah Nachin]

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