Getting Ready to Welcome Students: Staff Engage in Professional Learning

Getting Ready to Welcome Students: Staff Engage in Professional Learning
Shawnee Mission School District

There is one moment Coral Willis cannot wait to experience: The moment of seeing student faces on the first day.

“Getting to see them and hear what they have been up to and share in the excitement of the new year is what I most look forward to,” Willis, a paraprofessional at Brookwood said. “This year has not turned out as anyone expected and just getting to reconnect may help us all have that semblance of normalcy back.”

Over the past two weeks, Shawnee Mission staff members have been attending Professional Learning and setting up classroom spaces to get ready to welcome students back to remote learning this new school year. They’ve attended Canvas training, collaborated with colleagues, spent time setting up classrooms, and attended a districtwide virtual Instructional Fair.

Instructional Fair

This week teachers across the district took part in an instructional fair, an opportunity to strengthen skills and build new strategies.

Kevin Stalsberg and Zulma Perez-Estrella, Signature Program instructors at the Center for Academic Achievement, led a session on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) and Project-Based Learning (PBL). One of their goals was to help teachers increase real-world relevance to their materials and standards. In Project-Based Learning students engage in solving real-world problems by taking on projects that are personally meaningful to them. In the Medical Health Science classroom, students engaged in PBL while taking part in simulated medical emergencies. In the Biotechnology classroom, Perez-Estrella engaged students in using their knowledge of genetics, bioinformatics, and DNA sourcing to solve a research question related to how properties from an extinct spider might lead to a cure for lymphoma.

The session also addressed statistics regarding STEAM Employment and disparities for women and people of color.

“By linking learning to opportunities in Project Based Learning, our hope is we can change those numbers one student at a time,” Stalsberg added.  “Our goal is to get teachers willing to use PBL in a way that will be inspiring and purposeful for students and educators alike.”

Anthony Galindo, associate principal at Hocker Grove, shared a session on a teaching interaction strategy. It’s an aspect of teaching he says has been helpful over the course of his career, especially with students who have emotional and behavioral needs. 

“The teaching interaction provides teachers with the words to say when situations are escalated or stressful,” Galindo noted.

Instructional Fair opportunities also included, but were not limited to, topics related to:

Priority standards

Diversity Equity and Inclusion

College and Career Readiness

Personalized Learning

Development of Interpersonal Skills

Teaching in Remote Learning Environments

Teaching Digitally

Helping students cope with COVID-19 anxiety

Willis, as a paraprofessional, attended sessions for classified staff. Additionally, she has been working with colleagues to set up a learning space at Brookwood. Staff across the district have been implementing plans to implement COVID-19 safety throughout the day. They’ve been organizing materials so when students return, they have resources in specific locations to eliminate materials being shared whether they are utensils, books, or manipulatives.

“The time and training is helpful in the sense of getting to feel more prepared for the start of the year which will be unlike any other,” Willis said. “We look forward to being able to support students and their return to school in a positive way even though it is different.”   

Canvas a Central Topic

Throughout professional learning, teachers attended numerous hours of training on Canvas, Shawnee Mission’s new Learning Management system.

Kathy Mason, instructional coach at Comanche, served as a facilitator for teachers collaborating within feeder area Professional Learning Communities. Some joined the session digitally while others worked  together.

A group of first-grade teachers developed a science unit while using the Canvas software. As they worked, they developed plans for introducing plant concepts to students including reading books, drawing pictures, and taking photos of their environment to show teachers what they had learned. Mason shared that a family member used Canvas both as a student while in college and as a college employee and shared some of their tips for overcoming challenges.

 “My team online and in-person were rock stars,” Mason said. “We are going to get this.”