Shawnee Mission Hosts One-of-a-Kind Conference for Educators

Shawnee Mission Hosts One-of-a-Kind Conference for Educators
Shawnee Mission School District

More than 1,500 educators in our community gathered this week for a one-of-a-kind professional development opportunity centered around helping students achieve their full potential.

The Shawnee Mission School District (SMSD) Professional Learning Community (PLC) Institute, provided by Solution Tree, was held for two and a half days, drawing educators from the Shawnee Mission School District and neighboring districts. This was the first time Solution Tree partnered with an individual district to present the institute for all employees.  

“We are honored to be the first district to host an institute like this. It provides our Shawnee Mission teachers with an amazing opportunity to make a huge difference for students,” Dr. Brittany Gonser, director of professional learning shared.  

Solution Tree describes PLCs as “schools that empower educators to work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve.” 

There are several fundamental steps teachers take to make this work, Brandon Jones, author and Solution Tree consultant noted. These steps include:  

  • Working together to accomplish goals, not in isolation
  • Focusing on student learning, not just the teaching of teachers
  • Focus on results, not just intentions

“Our primary mission as a PLC is to ensure high levels of learning for all kids, not just some kids, not just a few, not a select group, but for every kid in our care,” Jones added. “When we find a better practice, then it's our opportunity to improve and then use that better practice in moving forward.”

Many educators in the Shawnee Mission School District already dedicate time and skills during the week to PLCs already. This fall, the middle school schedule will officially shift to allow middle school teachers time for PLC work. PLCs allow better opportunities for teachers to take a team approach, Dr. Gonser explained.

“This is a time for our teachers to come together, problem-solve, dig into research, and figure out how they can best meet the needs of all students by working as a team,” Gonser explained. “Instead of operating on your own as a teacher, by working together, it will help you work in smarter, not harder ways to meet different needs and benefit kids.”

As a secondary teacher who teaches an elective, Family and Consumer Sciences, Theresa Love’s job is sometimes called a “singleton.” That’s because she is often the only teacher in a building teaching a certain subject. But PLCs provide more ways to collaborate with other electives teachers and staff throughout the building, even in a “singleton” position, she shared.

“It helps us all move away from the idea of me to we,” Love noted. Instead of thinking of our jobs as ‘I’m the teacher,’ this helps us think ‘We are the teachers and these are our students.’”

It didn’t take long during her first year as a teacher to realize how valuable it is to work collaboratively, Amy Sachse, Corinth third grade teacher and Kansas Teacher of the Year semifinalist, expressed.

“If you are trying to teach behind closed doors, it is not sustainable,” she shared. “Two heads are better than one and if you leverage the skills of everyone it will benefit students. I hope our families know that their child doesn’t just have the power of one teacher. They have the power of all teachers in a building, and even across our district working to help them succeed.” 

This unique institute was paid for using Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. It was a top priority for the elementary, middle, and high school ESSER committees when they formed recommendations for how the funds would be spent. The training teachers received at this institute directly addressed areas of the district’s strategic plan and will help educators address learning loss, as required as part of ESSER allotments.

In previous years, when the institute was offered in other locations across the country, the district was only able to send a select few to attend.

It was a thrill to be able to go to the institute and know colleagues were receiving consistent training, Kelly Bornheimer, instructional coach at Rising Star shared.

“Everyone walked in and had smiles on their faces that were so big,” Bornheimer added. “Teachers have been wanting to attend this institute for so long. I’m glad to see so many teachers at this phase in the summer so excited about the next school year and learning. Everyone is so excited about the opportunity and the possibilities for Shawnee Mission students.”

As a Shawnee Mission parent, Bornheimer said she was also thrilled to see her own children’s teachers attending the institute.

“I see their teachers now and the teachers from schools they are going to go to in the future,” she said. “Knowing they are getting this information makes me so excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for them.”

According to Solution Tree’s Brandon Jones, holding this institute and having so many Shawnee Mission educators attend says a lot about the dedication of SMSD educators, especially after the challenges of the last few years.

“They are saying ‘We are committed to the kids in this community and we're committed to the parents in this community to get even better than we were before,” he added. “I think that speaks volumes to your district and the commitment of the teachers.”