Squalicum Special Education teacher Jill Conner leads a session called It Takes a Village: Developing Efficient Communication Systems on Nov. 4 at the school

Every summer and throughout the school year, staff in Bellingham Public Schools take part in professional development that enhances their teaching and learning practices, deepens their knowledge in core subjects, and widens their perspectives on important topics such as inclusion and equity.

Modeling the core belief in The Bellingham Promise that states “learning is lifelong and essential to a high quality of life,” the district sets aside early dismissal days and teacher workdays (often called purple Fridays) throughout the school year. These important days allow for staff collaboration in “job alike” meetings and/or for necessary staff time to learn new technology, to dive into new curriculum, or to share best practices in the classroom.

Impactful staff learning in summer 2022 included groups focused on the Primary Years Programme (PYP) of International Baccalaureate (IB) and on social emotional learning in middle schools. Alongside these group-oriented trainings, individual staff members took on personal challenges and learning experiences that enhanced their teaching practices.

Six of our district schools have attained the International Baccalaureate certification, and three more are beginning their IB journey as candidate schools. Staff representatives from 12 of our 14 elementary schools attended a summer conference on the IB Primary Years Programme (PYB).  At the September 2022 teacher workday, staff at IB candidate school Happy Valley Elementary collaborated on how to integrate IB into their classrooms and met in small groups to discuss implementation and how it relates to other districtwide initiatives like inclusion and equity.

Principal Nick Hayes of Happy Valley Elementary School shares that his staff used the teacher workday productively in small groups. “This year at Happy Valley our central idea for staff learning is that collaboration builds equitable learning communities,” he said. “Our content area for the year is the development of an IB program of inquiry.”

“It is though opportunities like today that we are able to move the needle on improved learning outcomes for all of our students,” he shared.

Six middle school leaders attended a summer conference focusing on RULER, an approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. RULER supports school communities in understanding the value of emotions, building the skills of emotional intelligence, and creating and maintaining a positive school climate. Bellingham Public Schools brought Ruler into middles in 2018 and finds it an important part of school culture now.

Mischelle Darragh, principal at Whatcom Middle School, says “RULER training has provided us a clear social emotional foundation to ensure that we are providing research-based coal and emotion teaching an learning to support the success of all students in middle school.”

This past summer two Bellingham High teachers had once-in-a-lifetime experiences that informed their practice.

Social studies teacher Jen Reidel joined the Stony the Road We Trod summer institute: an in-depth experience into the legacy and history of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. Hosted by the National Endowment of the Humanities and the Alabama Humanities Alliance, Reidel was one of only 25 K-12 educators selected nationwide to attend an intensive three weeks in July. Her monthlong experience informs her social studies and civics teaching. Read her blog post about her experience here.

Sports medicine teacher Katie Owen served as a member of the medical team at the World Athletics Championships (formerly IAAF) in Eugene, Oregon. This summer was the first time the world championship, equivalent caliber to the Olympics, was held on US soil, with more than 200 countries represented. The event presented a unique opportunity for a Bellingham athletic trainer to attend. One benefit of attending an event like the World Athletic Championship is she’s able to talk to her students about the experience and demonstrate what’s possible in the athletic training profession. Read full story here.

In another example of staff learning, during the November teacher workday, Squalicum High School staff organized themselves into a what they called a SQHS Learning Exhibition, sharing their best practices for inclusive instruction. Broken into four sessions, the staff moved from room to room and conferenced with colleagues. Sessions were “grounded in [their] efforts to help students become resilient, engaged and collaborative,” according to the Learning Exhibition catalog.

Sessions included: Making Thinking Visible: Supporting Student Voice through Discussion; Reviving Rigor: Getting Kids to Talk in a Language Classroom; Teacher-Student Connections: Basic, But Profound; Improving Performance through Peer Feedback; Classroom Supports for English Language Learners; Hot Topics in Life Skills; and Building Literacy through Art, to name only a few.

Bruce Mansfield, Squalicum’s instructional coach and one of the coordinators of the exhibition, remarked it was a great day of learning. “As professional educators, every day in the classroom we work on improving our craft,” he said. “But rarely do we get the time to share our experiences and expertise with our colleagues.”

“Today was a collaborative moment to pause, connect, reflect, and share. Like our students, we learn best when we learn together,” he shared.

Alongside lifelong learning, another core belief of The Bellingham Promise states “teaching children to do their best involves self-reflection and reaching higher.” Staff in Bellingham Public Schools consistently demonstrate their commitment to their own learning and to “reaching higher” for the benefit of students. With designated days set aside for teacher collaboration and sharing, the district firmly supports the idea that staff learning has a profound impact on student learning.

Charisse Berner, director in the Department of Teaching and Learning, stated it this way when asked about professional development in Bellingham Public Schools: “Whether it’s learning about universal design for learning (UDL), gaining an understanding of tribal history and sovereignty, deepening subject matter knowledge, learning new assessment tools, or sharing best practices in culturally responsive teaching, Bellingham staff demonstrate their commitment to the lifelong journey of learning.”


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