Our Kids Thrive with Teachers with the Sharpest Tools

Co-authored by Shelly Kelly and Susan Quinn

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The last few weeks have been a gamechanger for all of us.

We have come to realize anew how important our classroom teachers are in our children’s lives. Great Falls has great teachers. But great classrooms don’t just happen, even with exceptional teachers.

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Great classrooms are built on the foundation of professional development and teacher training.

We all know that the teacher is the biggest factor in every child’s education.

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Think of a teacher who is skilled in best practices, one who delivers a highly engaging curriculum and is responsive to students’ diverse needs. Those skills come in large part from professional development. Our kids are the greatest beneficiaries of those pieces of training, which unfortunately are now almost nonexistent.

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The last year for elementary content training was 2014. Travel to a national conference for teacher curriculum trainers was cut in 2016. Willing teachers no longer get the training that they brought back to the district. The last year for 2nd and 3rd year teacher training was 2017. Training for 1st-year teachers was cut from 5 days to 1 day.

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New teachers lost the support that the training provided in classroom management, lesson design, and differentiation. Great Falls used to be the instructional innovator and the envy of other districts. Sadly, that no longer is the case.

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The areas of greatest need for professional development are content training and effective delivery of instruction. Teachers need to be continually trained in the most updated best practices our field has to offer. But the needs go far beyond the curriculum.

Teachers now also are in need of training to address the crisis-level challenges their students face that stem from trauma in its many forms. Those challenges range from food insecurity to social-emotional needs

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To provide the best education teachers can for students, they themselves need to continue to learn. Technological advancements require them to hone their craft daily to keep their students abreast of our ever-changing global society.

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Especially in second grade and younger, teachers and students need additional training on developmentally appropriate digital platforms. Teaching has changed tremendously, in large part because teaching can no longer take place in a self-contained classroom.

Updated teaching practices help students become independent creative thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborators.

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The best professional learning is job-embedded. New research continues to help uncover better ways of reaching students. One of the greatest challenges is continually finding relevance for students, using the content to push them to become good thinkers and critical consumers of information.

Teachers used to be givers of information, but now information is free. Students need to learn to manage and critique information so they can form sound conclusions about it.

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We all know our students must be prepared for 21st-century jobs—some of which don’t exist yet. The world changes every day, and students and their teachers must also.

To be effective, teachers must be academically agile, pivoting daily with the barrage of information and challenges confronting them. They do that through the scaffolding that ongoing professional development provides.

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Like the iceberg with only 10% above water and 90% below the surface, effective teaching happens because of the 90% preparation and training that occurs before the teacher walks into the classroom.

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If we are to prepare students to become independent thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborators, we must give them the tools they need to continually learn and collaborate in the future.

Teaching can no longer take place in a self-contained classroom.

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The last few weeks have seen teachers getting incredibly creative in their responses, responding to the coronavirus crisis with a sort of crowd-sourced professional development that would make MacGyver proud.

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We are getting more and more innovative with our resources so that every student has the opportunity to uncover what s/he wants to know and do, including non-college-bound students. But we need help.

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The stakes have never been higher. In an increasingly complex and challenging world, we need to provide our teachers with relevant professional development so that investment can be passed to their students. Our students deserve teachers who possess the sharpest tools.

John Dewey had it right: If we teach students as we did yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow.

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