What They Did on their Summer “Vacation”

It’s a tired cliché: that teachers are so lucky because they have the summers “off.” The notion conjures images of educators lazing away the days and weeks in chaise lounges and hammocks while the rest of us slog through the summer in our cubicles and storefronts.

In Pittsfield, nothing could be further from the truth. Although our educators, like everyone else, take some much needed and much deserved vacation, they spend most of their summers fully engaged in a demanding menu of teaching and learning activities.

We asked several teachers to share with us how they’ve been keeping busy since the end of June.

Derek Hamilton, PMHS 9/10 social studies teacher and Site Council member attended a 3-day workshop facilitated by nationally known teacher educator Arnie Clayton. Titled “Community of Learners;” the workshop reviewed educational protocols and how to utilize these participatory tools in the classroom and with their colleagues. Derek also went with a team of PMHS teachers and administrators to the New Hampshire Summer Statewide Educator Conference, where he learned about Common Core, Web 2.0, and Learning Studios, a concept he is launching at PMHS that you’ll soon hear more about.

At PMHS’s Advisory Planning Workshops, Derek represented the 9/10 Team. The focus of the workshop was the revision of Advisory rubrics (performance criteria) and the development of common assessments—all part of what the traditional workplace would call quality control. The 9/10 Team also spent two days planning an interdisciplinary project for ninth graders. They worked on new rubrics and planned a sequence of instruction and assessment for argumentative writing in ninth and tenth grade. So if you have a child in one of these grades, be prepared for a good argument this year!

Recently, Derek helped lead the Jump START Program for incoming ninth graders, a week-long program that helps students get ready for the big transition to high school. He also helped lead the Student Leadership Summit at which 40 students from various student organizations came together for a three-day workshop on leadership skills. The Summit included a day off-site in a challenging ropes course.

Finally, in addition to working with 22 students who worked on plans during the summer as part of competency recovery, Derek ran six-week summer programs for the PMHS soccer and Belmont basketball teams. It’s hard to imagine Derek having time for anything else this summer!

Christie Dunlavey, PMHS 9/10 science teacher, participated in several of the activities mentioned above, including competency recovery, interdisciplinary lesson planning and the Student Leadership Summit. She also took the time to rewrite her course competencies, indicators, and rubrics, and to develop the “essential questions” that will guide her lessons in the coming school year. She, like many of her colleagues this summer, uploaded all of this information to Atlas, so that parents and other stakeholders can see what students are expected to know and be able to do.

As a member of the i3 team, Christie and several colleagues participated in the Network’s annual summer institute at Nashua North High School, along with hundreds of other educators from around New England who are part of the network of thirteen schools associated with the Center for Secondary School Redesign. The team set three overarching goals for the coming school year and began to outline the professional development needs for the faculty. They also used the time to make some revisions to Exhibition Night.

Joshua Shawver, PMHS 7/8 science teacher, attended a two-day seminar conducted by Peg Dawson, a staff psychologist at the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders at Seacoast Mental Health Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The topic was executive functioning skills, that is, the cognitive processes that enable a student to be successful in the classroom and in life. Teachers and staff learned how these cognitive processes develop, what gets in the way of their optimal development, and why they play such a key role in students’ behavior and performance. Dr. Dawson provided teachers with tools to enhance students’ executive functioning skills so that they can become independent and intellectual thinkers.

Joshua also attended Arnold Clayton’s Community of Learners training that prepared the faculty to use a variety of protocols in their common planning time teams, department meetings, advisories and classrooms. For him, the development of group collaboration skills among professionals and students is critical to the educational system’s redesign.

Rick Anthony, physical education teacher and unified arts team leader, also participated in competency recovery and in the 3-day Community of Learners training. He attended three Site Council meetings and attended a two-day Department of Education conference at Keene State College, working on school improvement efforts. And lest you think a physical education teacher becomes a couch potato during the summer, Rick worked hard to update his curriculum, utilizing a method known as Understanding by Design, which involves charting the expected outcomes of students and working backward toward the goals, strategies and activities that will lead to those outcomes. He also helped train new teachers.

Some of Rick’s work involved sheer elbow grease. He and a team of helpers painted the stage floor; cleaned the gym, weight room, and storage areas; revamped the weight room; and organized equipment for the coming school year. This is but a small sampling of our faculty’s productivity during the summer. No doubt about it: reinventing our educational system is a year-round enterprise!