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When the Teacher Becomes the Student: Professional Development in the Public Schools of the Tarrytowns

Many teachers take time in the summer months to engage in professional development. This year, as teachers anticipate continued changes to instruction, the level of interest has increased. Not surprisingly, some of the sessions in highest demand focus on virtual learning, helping teachers to adjust resources and materials and select virtual tools and strategies. 

Assistant Superintendent for Administration & Instruction Gail Duffy says that dynamic teaching in a virtual learning space is critical to keeping students engaged. “In March, our teachers were asked to provide remote learning with very little time to plan - and they did an amazing job,” said Duffy. “As we look ahead and have some time to be more thoughtful about how to amplify learning in a virtual environment, many of our teachers are taking the opportunity to hear about best practices and discover new strategies.”

John Paulding kindergarten teacher Laura Ferrino recently completed a course on taking a hybrid approach to teaching, primarily focused on how to prepare lessons that keep students involved when some are in the classroom and others are online. Ms. Ferrino said that when first considering how to teach in a hybrid model it seemed that it would require her to plan everything twice. The course, she said, helped her to reframe that thinking and see how to make one plan that is available in both formats. 

“The course was very helpful. We heard from and brainstormed with teachers from across the county on how to make one tool that can be accessible in various scenarios,” said Ms. Ferrino. She went on to provide an example of a ‘getting to know you exercise’ that is often used in kindergarten classes during the first couple of days of school. 

She explained: “You may be asking students to say what their favorite color or pet is. Students who are in school can raise their hand while those at home can click on their choice and then we can chart the responses to see the most popular answers. Everyone can still feel involved.”

Professional development is important because education is an ever growing, ever changing field. This means that teachers must be lifelong learners in order to teach each new group of students. Courses in which TUFSD teachersengage go far beyond virtual learning and rangefrom integrating science and math simulations to bringing mindfulness into the classroom to enhancing leadership skills. 

Ms. Ferrino complimented the district for “constantly providing information about different courses that are available and encouraging teachers to participate.” In fact, last winter before coronavirus was a factor, she had signed up for a course on special education this summer.

Said Duffy: “Professional development not only allows teachers to learn new teaching styles, techniques, and tips, but also interact with educators from other areas in order to improve their own teaching.”