School may be out, but these teachers are still learning

First grade teachers from Northwest Elementary (from left) Ronda Hawkins, Stacie Hines and Nancy Peace listen as first grade teacher from Andrews Elementary, Jo Keller (right), talks in a small group activity during Model Teaching Week at Horace Mann Elem
Photo by Jessica Williams.

Originally published June 11, 2009.

This week is Model Teaching Week for Huntington County Schools.

Elementary, middle and Huntington North teachers have volunteered a week of their summer vacations to attend the series of trainings, held at Horace Mann Elementary for elementary school teachers and Riverview Middle School for middle school and high school teachers.

The purpose of the session, called Highly Effective Teaching, is to learn better methods of effective teaching.

The model emphasizes different parts of teaching, which what makes it "multi-faceted," says Chuck Grable, assistant superintendent of instruction, for the Huntington County Community School Corporation.
Teachers learn the strategies in a real-classroom workshop set up by associates who are experts in the model. These associates are from all over the United States.

This is the eighth year of the training in Huntington, the last one before Huntington schools host the national conference in April 2010.

The trainings were created by Susan Kovalik, who is nationally known for her sessions. Her associates are experienced in both classroom teaching and national training.

Monday kicked off the training, which will wrap up on Friday.

The middle school and high school instructor is TJ Mears. He has ten years in classroom instruction experience. He has also been a national constructor for eight years, three of which in this district.

Monday began with a lecture and group discussion, both led by Mears, on how to improve the learning environment. The teachers were broken up into groups and discussed ways to create a positive environment. They rotated tables and exchanged ideas with fellow participants. Then they went to two model classrooms, set up by Kovalik associates, to discuss the classroom themes and how the environment was positive.

Mears said the program is "great (and) it gives teachers an observation" of how to improve the way they teach. He also said it was a chance for teachers from different schools to work together, which other students agreed was a positive.

"(The program) gives first year teachers an idea on how to make their room come alive, and their curriculum come alive," says Crestview Middle School Principal Chad Daugherty. He is a former teacher who has attended the training now four times.

Daugherty says he has seen the training become more purposeful and personal for the teachers. He says now the training has more meaning and the teachers are able to see the things they are being taught unfold in front of them.

"I think before it was hard for (the teachers) to wrap their hands around (the Highly Effective Teacher methods) and now they broke it down," Daugherty says.

Local volunteer students were brought in Tuesday to serve as students in the model classroom, an experience that is an opportunity for students to "question teacher instruction," says Mears. At the end of the week, the teachers will work on curriculum writing.

First year high school teacher Cole Christman says he thought the first day of the training Monday was beneficial.

"(I have learned) how to make the classroom cohesive to where students can come in and not be threatened by anything ... I will be able to take everything from here back to the classroom," Christman says.

At Horace Mann, the students were brought in on Monday to create model classrooms for the local elementary teachers to observe. The teachers who have attended the conference several times before were divided into self-instructed small groups. Two associates, Alisa Braddy and Jill Hay, led lectures for the other participants.

Braddy has been involved with teaching for 22 years and has experience in classroom management and gender differences in the classroom. Hay has connected the training with the community. Both women have specialties in curriculum.

The main focus of the elementary teachers' training was the brain and how to create life long learning. The students were broken up into three classrooms by grade.

"This year is the first year they have broken up the model classrooms even more," says Jill Johnston, a teacher from Andrews Elementary. She says dividing the rooms the way they are now will allow teachers to see what the classrooms at the grade level they are teaching at will look like.

The kindergarten and first grade classroom's focus is on identity. They will be attending Heritage Pointe and will do brain-stimulating activities with the residents there, such as Wii and other games.

The second and third grade classroom's focus was on wellness. They will be attending Parkview Huntington Hospital and will learn about how to keep their brains healthy and the effects of head trauma injuries.

The fourth and fifth grade classroom's focus is brain development. They will make a trip to Huntington University and learn about exercise and nutrition.

Both Christman and Patty Jacobs, from Andrews Elementary, agree that the biggest challenge in keeping students involved in the classroom is to have a hook or a way to draw them in at the beginning of the day to catch, and keep, their attention. Christman says he thinks the older students are distracted by cell phones while Jacobs believes it's video games.

Janette Moore, a Kovalik facilitator, says she believes the training to be a "powerful" tool teachers can learn and implement in their classrooms.

Jacobs also says the sessions are always changing and in progress. "You're always work-ing on it," she says.
"My favorite thing Susan Kovalik says is, ‘It's a journey, not a destination.' You will never arrive," Johnston says.