It was a Monday—not exactly the day of the week when everyone’s jumping out of bed, raring and ready to go. It was also three weeks into a strange semester—one with a new schedule, masks, distance learners, and the anxiety knowing that school could go entirely virtual at any time.
But as far as Mondays go, this definitely one of the better ones. For students, it was a day of asynchronous learning at home; this day, it was the teachers who would be in class.
A professional development day on September 14 was for more than department meetings or getting grades updated. Under the leadership of Fine Arts teacher Jon Jarc ’93 and College Counselor Jen Holz, this “PD” day was simply about letting teachers hone their craft and take a deep breath.
“Our mindset is to make PD more directly impactful for teachers, and give them time and space to practice their craft,” says Jarc. “More importantly, maybe, is that we see the best PD being led by other teachers. If we can continue to build experiences for teachers where they learn from each other, and can immediately implement the tools or strategies, we're good.”
As all in-service-type days do, this one began with Mass and a light breakfast. Then, faculty could choose from 15 different breakout learning sessions. A series of rapid-fire presentations, known as Ignite Sessions, followed. After lunch, faculty were given free reign to immerse themselves in a “cura experience”—a recreational or relaxing activity of some kind.
Katie Hallal, who joined the Science faculty this fall after seven years at Elyria Catholic High School, led a breakout session on Pear Deck, an application teachers could use to make Google slides presentations interactive.
“My goal was to introduce faculty to a tool that can be used with students in the classroom and students at home—a way to work smarter with the time we have in front of students,” she says. “It's encouraging that the school values my experiences and gives teachers the chance to learn from each other.”
Holz says that the day’s structure mattered as much as the offerings.
“We wanted to slow down the pace of the day, which is why we allotted 90 minutes for the learning sessions and more time in between activities—time to grab a snack, check your email, and more time to connect with colleagues,” she says. “Lunch was grab and go, so they could eat on the back quad, in their department, or with their ‘cura’ activity group. We wanted to give faculty options throughout the day.”
The Ignite talks were inspired by a rapidly moving storytelling format known as PechaKucha. Teachers have 5 minutes to present and a deck of 20 slides, timed at 15 seconds apiece. “It's a fun way to see what people are doing, or a chance for them to share an experience they had that was memorable,” says Jarc.
Topics included bird-watching, photography, finding grace during the pandemic, podcasting and the spring musical. Math teacher Cindy Reagan shared about her strategy for going paperless this year, which was borne out of necessity.
“Being immunocompromised, I had to really put some extra precautions into place, and I really had no idea what to do,” she says. “This summer I found a website that had all these templates for using Google slides but in a way that you could create online binders, online journals. My other focus was how do I preserve a paperless situation but still have a way for students to hand-write their work because I believe that’s really important—and for students to still have the ability to do reflection, metacognition and focusing on that.”
The day concluded with a smorgasbord of relaxing and recreational activities for teachers to enjoy, everything from yoga to hiking to taking swings in the batting cages to monoprinting to coffee and conversation. Faculty enjoyed spending time with others outside their own department in a worry-free setting.
Looking back, what this day of professional development provided to teachers was actually the best of a Saint Ignatius education: prayer, engaging lessons, opportunities outside the curriculum, and good community. As our students will tell you, that’s a pretty great way to spend a day.