Weekly professional development inspires at Duchesne

In the education world, professional development day typically occurs about once a month, with teachers gathering to learn about best practices in their profession.

Staying current certainly is worthwhile for the teachers of our children. But society moves at such a brisk pace these days, that once a month doesn't cut it any more. It's hard to keep up, let alone keep pace.

So, teachers need more than the usual once-a-month sessions, and Duchesne High School has stepped up to go beyond the norm to help them. The St. Charles high school has professional development on a weekly basis, every Wednesday morning, with students being the big winners.

"Teaching is not static; it can't be," said chemistry teacher Kris Witzel, Duchesne's resident expert on professional development. "When you make it static, it becomes a drudgery and a job vs. a vocation."

And students pick up on the difference. Inspired students equal inspired teachers.

"Absolutely," Witzel said.

Students actually inspired Duchesne's emphasis on teacher development. "We decided students learn better going over and over something vs. doing it once every month, so it puts it into better practice if we do (professional development) more often," said Long, in the seventh academic year as Duchesne principal.

Duchesne delays the start of school until 9.am. each Wednesday, basically a snow schedule for students, but teachers report at the regular time and spend an hour or so in professional development. The faculty of 35 is divided into "Professional Learning Teams" — PLTs, for short — depending on the focus for that week. One week, they might focus on a particular grade level — freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. The next, they might be divided by subject matter — math, English, science and so on.

As such, they talk about "what they're going through or what they're seeing in a particular class and how they can work things through," Long said. "It really helps the continuity (in a grade level) between subject areas. ... The teachers get a lot out of it, because they're talking to people who are going through the same kinds of things. They may have different disciplines, but they're talking about the same students."

For Witzel, the PLTs formalize what teachers already do an on informal basis.

"We all do it; we bop across the hall, 'Hey, Mr. Jones, do you have an idea how you would teach this idea?'" said Witzel, who sees benefits not only in informality but also formality. "Sometimes, the more formal working together and talking with your colleagues is very useful, working with your colleagues to bounce ideas off them and to get guidance."

This is the fourth year for PLTs, which gives the faculty a comfort level in sharing.

"So, they don't feel like 'It's just me. I'm not the only one who is having this problem,'" Long said. "It helps."

Duchesne also helps with the faculty's' spiritual professional development, along with standard professional development. These are called FISH days, which stand for Faith In-Service Hour. FISH hearkens to the so-called "Jesus fish," the symbol seen on car bumpers, and to fishers of men.

On FISH days, teachers have a session of prayer and reflection, with speakers focusing on the theme for the school year. Last year, the theme was on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, "what mercy meant to us," Witzel said. The result of the mercy theme was imagines of the Sacred Heart going into each classroom.

"So, we do professional development, like how to work with iPads or how to give a good test, but also spiritual development that the faculty can push into the classroom as well," Long said. 

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