More than 400 teachers, who teach Pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, attended the Shawnee Mission School District’s Impact Institute this month.
The 3-day institute, hosted at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, provided a variety of professional development opportunities for educators in the subject areas of mathematics, literacy, relationships, and responsive culture.
“The Impact Institute provides opportunities for teachers to engage in meaningful, hands-on learning that they can easily be replicated in their own classrooms,” Darcy Swan Coordinator of Curriculum and Instruction and Coordinator for the Impact Institute said. “The focus of the Institute is to provide teachers with high-impact, research-based instructional strategies that will fill their toolbox so that they are best prepared to teach all students, at all levels, in a variety of capacities.”
Several guest speakers, including two prominent leaders in teaching elementary mathematics, traveled to the event to present interactive sessions. Multiple Shawnee Mission educators also served as presenters during the institute, sharing their expertise.
Greg Tang, one of the guest mathematics instructors, shared his methods for teaching both computational and problem-solving skills. He believes all students are capable of mathematic success. He said he has a mission to make math a natural part of every child's life.
Tang’s emphasized that “language is huge part of the math process.” By introducing a different language, he promised teachers would completely change the way they teach.
“I know as math teachers, you generally don’t like words,” Tang said. “But if you know the content, you can ask good questions using the right vocabulary.”
Melissa Molteni, second-grade teacher at Corinth Elementary said she found the presentation “inspirational.”
“He gave practical tips for teaching the 15 different types of word problems, which were more than I realized there were,” she noted.
Focusing on relationships with students, Brit Visser, LCSW, Trauma Smart manager with Crittenton Children’s Center at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City, shared a presentation about trauma-informed care.
Trauma Smart helps young children, and teachers, navigate life challenges by combining practical, hands-on tools and effective coping strategies.
“All behavior is communication,” Visser said. “While we can’t protect our students from going through a traumatic experience, we can help them cope and recover.”
Dr. John McKinney, director of student and family services and Pamela Palermo, Elementary English Language Learner instructional coach, presented a session “Creating a Diverse, Inclusive, and Culturally Responsive Classroom.”
The session started with an exercise designed help participants understand a variety of life experiences each person endures as they participated in, “A Privilege Walk.”
“Everyone has unseen ideals, values and beliefs,” Dr. McKinney said. “This impacts how we and how our students see and shape the world.”
The group stood in a straight line and based on a variety of statements could take a step forward if the statement reflected a life experience or a step backwards if not. At the conclusion of the exercise, all participants find themselves at various locations around the room reflecting their life experiences. Dr. McKinney encouraged the participants to think about where their students might end up as a result of the exercise.
Natalie Johnson-Berry, English Language Arts teacher at Shawnee Mission North and session participant, shared that she conducted this exercise with her students.
“We participate as a class later in the year, when trust and relationships have formed,” Johnson-Berry said.
The sessions with her students led to valuable discussions, some of which helped her students view their challenging experience in a new light. Some students expressed they had a greater sense of their own resiliency and strength as a result. It was an example of how students and teachers are always learning together.
“I have learned while I may not be relevant to all my students, I can be responsive to each one,” Johnson-Berry said.
The institute provided a variety of professional development opportunities for teachers during the summer that can be used for Teacher-Directed Professional Development Hours.
“Instruction is at the heart of what we do as educators,” Swan said. “It’s how we make learning relevant and come to life for our students.”