Professional development sparks creativity and collaboration among teachers

Professional development sparks creativity and collaboration among teachers
K-2 teachers from Our Lady of Hope Regional School in Blackwood celebrate their collaborative experience with the Penn Literacy Network. Pictured from left are Terry McDonald, MaryAnn Kiessling, Dottie Kantner, Paula Iacone and Rose McNally.

K-2 teachers from Our Lady of Hope Regional School in Blackwood celebrate their collaborative experience with the Penn Literacy Network. Pictured from left are Terry McDonald, MaryAnn Kiessling, Dottie Kantner, Paula Iacone and Rose McNally.

Catholic Schools: Programmatic Excellence

South Jersey Catholic schools recognize the unique learner in every child. When it comes to curriculum there’s no room for a one-size-fits-all approach, so diocesan teachers explore and adapt multiple strategies to meet their students’ varied needs.

Since October 2013, the Office of Catholic Schools has facilitated professional development programs for all teachers in the Diocese of Camden. Led by Dr. Bill Watson, Director of Curriculum and Assessment, the programs are based on a common foundation of “best practice,” and teachers are encouraged to make their own creative adjustments. An important part of the process is to share innovative practices and outcomes with other teachers.

The diocese has forged a partnership for professional development with the Penn Literacy Network (PLN) at the University of Pennsylvania, and collaborative efforts among teachers have led to development of a new math, science and language arts curriculum.

“We just completed year two of a three-year literacy initiative with PLN,” said Watson. “By the end, all K-12 teachers will have learned and shared strategies to increase literacy across the curriculum.” Watson is referring not only to reading and writing, but to math literacy and performance as well.

Stacie Colone, a third-grade teacher at Holy Trinity School, said she’s been able to apply what she’s learned in all subjects, not just math and language arts. “Many of the activities can be modified for struggling learners or those who excel,” she added.

Colone and second grade teacher Denise Ballerini (John Paul II) both talked about the benefits of collaboration with fellow educators in the workshops they have attended. “Everyone had different ideas about how to modify an activity so it can be used in a different way and in a different subject,” said Colone. Ballerini said the course has made her a more confident teacher.

School principals are seeing a difference too. Good Shepherd Principal Don Garecht felt a new “buzz” in the faculty room as teachers shared classroom experiences that resulted from workshops in which they learned from PLN faculty and other teachers.

Sister Paula Randow, principal at Our Lady of Hope, believes professional development benefits everyone. “Different approaches to instruction are beneficial because we can get stuck if we continue to do the same thing. It challenges the teachers as well as myself to try something new and different,” she said.

In addition to the three-year literacy initiative with PLN, the diocese has a long-term partnership with the University of Notre Dame for curriculum planning and new assessment techniques to ensure all students keep up with the rigor that characterizes Catholic schools.

“We have terrific partners, teachers who know how to find and adapt the best resources, and a lot of flexibility,” said Watson. “We look at national and state curriculum standards as a baseline, but we’re not bound by them or by ‘teaching to the test.’ We can go further.”

Watson says the South Jersey Catholic Schools curriculum is richer, more complete, and more customized than any set of standards could ever be. He credits that success to passionate teachers who collaborate among each other and make the curriculum real for students every day. “It’s a real gift to have a strong network of schools with so many engaged teachers,” he said. “They are committed to the growth and success of every child.”

Mary Beth Peabody is Communications and Marketing Manager, Office of Catholic Schools.

For more information about Catholic schools in South Jersey visit www.camdendiocese.org/catholic-schools-home (856-583-6103).

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