November 3, 2023

RSU 14 rethinks professional development, inspiring teachers

By Lorraine Glowczak

Professional development (PD), or Teacher In-Service Day, is an opportunity for educators to hone their skills and knowledge while progressing in their areas of expertise.

Alternative Education teachers learn about strategies and
benefits of team building activities with students.
Throughout Maine, it has been customary for school districts to provide teachers with at least four professional development days during a school year. These opportunities are usually held within the school they teach, among fellow educators while an outside expert guest speaker offers a “one size fits all” program. However, that approach is quickly changing for the better.

“RSU 14 and other districts have recently recognized that professional development can be offered with more depth by providing an opportunity for educators from many districts to join together to engage in collaborative new learning and resource sharing,” said RSU 14 Assistant Superintendent Christine Bertinet. “With this new approach, teachers are given a chance to truly learn in their content areas by and with their cohorts who we consider the real experts in their fields of study.”

She explained that in 2018, various school administrators and curriculum directors gathered to discuss a way to make PD more meaningful.

“The conversation led to the creation of the Greater Sebago Education Alliance (GSEA) which comprises of 10 school districts in Cumberland County: Portland, South Portland, Scarborough, Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Westbrook, Brunswick, RSU 6, RSU 14, RSU 15,” Bertinet said. “The GSEA had sponsored a similar day in 2019 on a small scale and it was a success. Plans were immediately made to continue offering a staff in-service day of this nature, but COVID put an immediate stop to that.”

However, GSEA is back in full swing and recently sponsored professional development for over 400 GSEA educators on Friday, Oct. 6 including breakout sessions for Alternative Education, Art, Music, Physical Education, Health, World Languages, and Library Media. There were two host sites: one at Windham High School and the other at Gray-New Gloucester High School with the feedback at both locations unquestionably upbeat.

Craig Haims, Director of the RSU14 Katahdin Program and Adrianne Shetenhelm, WHS APEX Alternative Education Teacher, were among those who attended the Alternative Education session at GNG.

“This was the first time in my nine years of teaching in Alternative Education that we were provided with the opportunity and encouraged to work with other alternative educators,” Shetenhelm said. “Having the opportunity to work with colleagues in similar programs and who work with similar cohorts of students helped refresh our practice and our resolve to meet those challenges.”

She said that alternative education has its unique joys and challenges and at times can feel isolating.

Haims, who facilitated this cohort of professionals at GNG, agreed with Shetenhelm and said that participating in a professional development program the way the GSEA created it offers a high degree of relevance.

“The day provided a great opportunity to share practices, systems, and structures that are unique to alternative education,” Haimes said. “No two programs are alike and learning the various ways other alternative education teachers in other districts meet the needs of their students is a perfect way to learn from one another.”

Professional Development for Art, Music, World Languages, Library Media, Health, and PE were hosted at WHS.

Cory Bucknam, an Art Teacher at Brunswick Junior High School facilitated the art professionals, and she shared the importance this type of PD has in their field.

“It is true that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Bucknam said. “Collaborating and helping each other benefits not just those we help, but ourselves as well. When we see our efforts are valued, it makes us feel seen and appreciated as professionals. And collaborating with others can spark excitement and motivation, giving us a mental boost and a renewed sense of purpose.”

Isolation from other professionals in the same field of study is another reason that Bucknam believes PD approached this way gives teachers a sense of connection.

“Even in my district, where we have seven art teachers, we rarely meet as a K-12 department,” she said. “Typically, district-wide PD is scheduled by building administration, so we all usually have our own building-based meetings to attend. We only have K-12 meetings when the Superintendent (or other district-level admin) specifically states that a given time is for a K-12 vertical meeting, but this is rarely possible due to scheduling difficulties, and usually gets overshadowed and forgotten by other pressing needs.”

Plans are already in the works for next October’s GSEA In-Service Day “to continue to elevate and celebrate the value of these important content areas,” Bertinet said.

Bucknam said she is looking forward to next year's problem-solving and perspective sharing gathering with others again next year on the big day.

“The sense of professional community and collegiality is powerful,” she said. “To know that there are people we can reach out to and connect with is more and more important these days as stress and burnout threaten our morale.” <

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