This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Today may be the first day of summer, but nearly 1,000 District teachers are still hard at work in the classroom at the annual Early Literacy and Math Counts institutes at Lincoln High School.
The District’s weeklong professional development program teaches strategies for keeping students engaged in reading, language arts, and mathematics classes. The classes cover topics such as working with English language learners, shared reading, family involvement, promoting student discourse, and student engagement. The courses are taught by consulting teachers, who serve as mentors to educators in the District.
This year’s focus is on providing resources and ideas for new teachers, but teachers moving to different grades and teachers who had been previously unable to attend were also invited. This created a diverse group of new and experienced teachers.
Andrea Gray, a consulting teacher who instructed a guided-reading class, encouraged the teachers to interact as much as they could. “Learn from each other,” she said. “Share ideas. That’s what we’re here for.”
Most of the classes were interactive, with the consulting teachers leading lessons and the educators participating in the classes as if they were their students. In one class, teachers were asked to participate in dances that taught graphical quadrants.
Cynthia Hooper, an incoming kindergarten teacher at Lowell Elementary, said she knew most of the basics from working in a preschool before, but that the connections she made at the institute were valuable.
“This was a pretty good experience. I learned a lot, and it was very supportive,” she said. “After sessions were done, people were willing to answer my questions and get my email for follow-ups.”
Allison Wudarski, a kindergarten teacher at Mitchell Elementary going into her 10th year in the District, said she hopes to share ideas she has gathered with newer educators.
“I just met a girl who is starting to teach kindergarten her first year, and it was interesting to meet kind of a former self of mine,” she said. “I gave her my email and I really hope she reaches out so we can share ideas.”
Besides promoting conversation between peers, the institute also taught ways to get families involved in a child’s education, particularly in learning to read.
“The biggest thing I’m taking back to school is engaging families,” Wudarski said. “I want to create a sense of community and parent involvement right from the start, and especially get families involved in literacy.”
Gray said having teachers participate in this institute is a step in the right direction for the District.
“The hard-working teachers we have here are amazing,” she said. “I’m really excited for the teachers who are new and haven’t really started their jobs yet. They’re already here learning, and that bodes really well for the District.”