I've been a member of the faculty at the The Lab Schools for five years now, and professional development has been traditionally a do-it-yourself thing. Occassionally, we've had some great speakers such as Dr. Mel Levine and Stephen Nowicki from Emory University. We've also had the opportunity to attend the ISACS Conference, too. Genereally, though, this once a year event has not been a particularly unified event. This year, our professional development day was really envigorating.
This year, two teachers who are on special assignment to work on professional development and curriculum, came up with a brilliant idea. Building on the theme of connections to the University of Chicago, they organized a busy, but fantastic, day for us. It started out with a lecture by the highly esteemed Martha Nussbaum, followed by a panel discussion by faculty members currently involved in collaborative projects with the University. After lunch, we all attended seminars on a variety of topics related to the University and its environs. Our choices included tours of Jackson Park, Washington Park, Regenstein Library, the Smart Museum, Comer Children's Hospital, the Oriental Institute, and the Renaissance Society. I chose to participate in a session on improv as I wanted to do something that would help me look at the world in a different light.
I particularly enjoyed the follow up discussion sessions after Nussbaum's lecture. I had heard that her lectures were so heady that a post lecture follow up session was necessary in order to digest her material. I did not find her that difficult to follow and I really admired her flow of thought and speaking style; she was very engaging. She had a lot to say which I will comment on in a later post. Anyway, during our group discussions following her talk, I really gained further appreciation of my colleagues. My group of people consisted of some colleagues I had never really interacted with. I'm glad I got the chance to know them a bit better and I loved their comments and senses of humor. I also always enjoy the comments of one of our college counselors, Will Dix. I just met him last year, and rarely do we have the opportunity to speak. But, every time I do get the opportunity, I find myself in agreement with what he has to say and I admire his candidness.
The improv session was wonderful, although I stepped out for a few minutes for a conference call related to another project. It was a great follow up to the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute improv sessions with Rebecca Stockley. I had vaguely realized that modern improv had started at the University of Chicago, and I was glad to be reminded of this by Kate Collins, Lab parent, actress, and spouse of the Court Theatre's artistic director, Charles Newell. Kate and drama teacher John Biser gave us a really good intro into improv and provided us with many fun exercises to try things out. Both had a lovely way of explaining things, and it was evident that they are gifted teachers. The improv itself was a challenge, but most people were very brave and very funny. All I could in one activity was laugh and I guess I was taken by surprise by feelings of self-consciousness. At any rate, it was a great bonding activity for the wide variety of teachers attending this seminar and as my computer science colleague, Baker Franke, noted, it's always a good thing when teachers can spend time together. It's good for improved relations and morale. I think we all learned some tools to use in the classroom as well.
Which leads me on to my next thought.... I heard a few teachers griping about this professional development day. Many people want to pursue their own professional development needs and did not think any of the schedule seminars would benefit them directly. I was really surprised by this because as an intellectual community, I thought the faculty would jump on the opportunities presented on this day. We're supposed to be modeling life long learning, right? And I felt that even if none of the offerings were directly related to my field, I could learn SOMETHING and have the added benefit of colleagial interactions. At the end of the day reception, I was really pleased to hear that so many people enjoyed themselves. I heard this from people who were initially reticent about the day's events which made me think that the day had been a huge success. I hope we have more events like this to look foward to. I especially would love to see something that focused on technology integration.