While North Shore families were gearing up for the start of school, teachers were also busy getting ready. In Winnetka, 69 teachers from Kindergarten through eighth grade attended a four-day Reading Institute facilitated by Teachers College, Columbia University, at Greeley Elementary School August 17-20.
The teachers were divided into three groups by grade level and spent the day as students, following lessons taught by Columbia’s staff developers. In the Kindergarten through second grade classroom, teachers sat in round tables on child-size chairs and listened as Angela Baez, a staff developer for Columbia, explained how to create a teaching point. The teachers asked questions and worked together to come up with ideas. Baez circulated throughout the room, stopping to offer assistance.
This program isn’t the first homegrown workshop that the Winnetka School District has hosted in partnership with Columbia. Four years ago the school district also hosted a Writing Institute facilitated by Columbia. Alison Hawley, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the district, pioneered this connection with Columbia when she moved from New York City to become assistant principal of Skokie School. When Hawley was a teacher in New York, she attended numerous professional development courses at Columbia and was impressed by the quality.
Jen Fiegen was one of the administrators instrumental in organizing this year’s program. Fiegen was a third grade teacher in Winnetka for many years and is currently the literacy facilitator for Crow Island School. She explained that each year about five to eight teachers opt to attend a professional development program that Columbia hosts at its campus in New York City in June. But since the district is redesigning its curriculum to align with the Common Core, Fiegen noted that this year was an optimal time to host a homegrown program in the district.
The program focused on balanced literacy and reading workshops as a teaching method. In reading workshop, teachers provide a mini lesson with a chosen teaching point, then the students read independently books that they have chosen themselves. At the end of the workshop, students have the opportunity to share with the whole class or with a partner.
Fiegen said the Reading Institute helps teachers with strategies to work with students on reading skills, from practicing reading to helping students pick a “good fit” book. And while each teacher may implement what they’ve learned from the program differently in their own classrooms, they will walk away from the Reading Institute with a common language.
Fiegen hopes that the program will result in more conversations about charting students’ development throughout the year and more discussion about teachers’ own development.
“[The program] is not only about student growth and learning but it is also about teachers’ growth and learning,” she explained. Fiegen has plenty of experience attending staff development workshops over the years and finds them well worth her time.
“Every single time there is something more I can take away and put into may practice,” she said.