Act 80. In-service. Professional development.
Those are common names for days approved by the state Department of Education to offer shorter days or no school for when student instructional time is replaced with days that instead include parent-teacher conferences, strategic planning or other programs.
At Bellefonte Area School District, those days are called professional learning days.
An initiative was introduced at the district last school year to change the way in-service days are conducted. This year, the program was rolled out.
When we talk about professional learning we look to a more active approach where the onus is on each individual to engage in the process of learning. Each of us is growing and acquiring knowledge through an active experience
Michelle Saylor, Bellefonte Area superintendent
“When you talk about professional development, you need to look at the word develop — it means to cause, to grow or expand,” Superintendent Michelle Saylor said. “It lends itself to assume, perhaps, that there is an outside force that is acting upon the individual. Rather when we talk about professional learning we look to a more active approach where the onus is on each individual to engage in the process of learning. Each of us is growing and acquiring knowledge through an active experience.”
That’s why sessions are held by district employees who in turn are also required to attend sessions as learners.
Matt Martin is a social studies teacher at Bellefonte Area High School who volunteered to host sessions with his peers.
“What they are is about individualized things people can learn about and sign up for what they’re interested in,” Martin said. “Days are split into multiple sessions in the morning and afternoon.”
As a presenter, Martin said he offers strategies that can help teachers better understand how to ignite passion in student learning.
He hosted a presentation with a colleague to teach strategies with primary-source documents specific to social studies.
“Being an (Advanced Placement) teacher, it’s something we have to do so I actually assess the kids like this, and they like it because it’s a lot more interactive,” he said. “It’s like solving a riddle and seeing through different perspectives.”
It’s a similar experience for Bellefonte Area High School Principal Jennifer Brown, who also holds sessions.
Her focus is to examine transgender laws, culture and support.
“We want to do this right, so we said, ‘Let’s do professional learning with all employees so everyone has background on LGBQT,” Brown said. “This isn’t about us changing your mind; this is just about getting some knowledge.”
Brown said she met with students and counselors from the guidance office to first understand basic vocabulary and then watched “Raising Ryland,” a documentary presented by CNN Films about a young transgender child.
“It helped give us a better understanding of how to approach this,” she said. “We’re just here to keep up with dialogue. This doesn’t have to be taboo.”
The mission in helping faculty and staff become “learners” is focused on a “system of growth,” Saylor said.
“I feel strongly that the words we use influence our culture and behaviors,” she said. “It is about what you are trying to clearly define and envision, and where you want your organization to go. At Bellefonte that leads us to professional learning.”