ERIE - A couple weeks before school started, Meadowlark School in Erie was bustling with educators. About 160 teachers and administrators returned early from summer break for Innovate@BVSD, a two-day professional learning opportunity aimed at providing them a chance to explore new ways of teaching and new educational tools.
“It is a great way to kick off the year,” said Kiffany Lychock, BVSD’s Director of Educational Innovation. “[The teachers] get some ideas, things they can implement in their classroom, and they network with other educators, so they get solid ideas for next year.”
This is the third year of Innovate@BVSD, but summer professional development is not new in the Boulder Valley School District.
“We’ve hosted a summer learning series like this from 2012 on,” added Kelly Sain, BVSD’s Director of Educational Technology. “Each year we’ve seen tremendous growth.”
This year’s theme was the “4Cs.”
“During the conference, we focused on communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity in education and the learning experiences we can provide at schools so that students have amazing opportunities to work in those skills,” Lychock said.
Like national education conferences, Innovate@BVSD offered inspiring keynote addresses. This year’s presenters included Sue Meyer, Apple Education’s national education development manager and Todd Burleson, the 2016 School Library Journal Librarian of the Year.
By hosting the conference locally, however, BVSD was able to offer the experience to more educators for a lower cost.
“Having a conference here in-house means you don’t travel to the mountains or get on a plane,” Lychock said. “It is a great opportunity for all of us.”
Plus it allows BVSD teachers to share the innovative practices they’ve employed in their classrooms with their peers here, as well as other school districts across the metro area.
“Most of the sessions that are offered here are led by our teacher-leaders that are doing really amazing things in the classroom for kids,” Lychock said. “We really want to provide teachers with an opportunity to showcase their own learning and to provide professional development for other teachers in the district.”
Sain says that the district’s professional development has really matured over the years, moving from staff showing teachers new techniques to providing teachers the opportunity to share first-hand the learning opportunities they’ve created in their classroom.
“They share the things that went pretty well, the things that didn’t go well, and then there are discussions around how can we improve and grow. It is a great opportunity for us to learn from each other,” Sain said. “ It is not a ‘talk-at’, it really is ‘collaboration-with.’”
Teachers say they appreciate this approach.
“When we come together with people from across the district that we don’t always see, it gives us an opportunity to invest in more creative ideas and learn from each other,” said Broomfield Heights Middle School teacher Janelle Stanton. “I love that every time I come to a conference like this and I’m learning like this from coworkers-- I always take away something that I get to try in my classroom.”
“Every person that we’ve talked to so far has said, ‘this is inspirational’ or ‘I’m excited.’ So we need to figure out how to have those conversations throughout the year and keep that energy growing,” Sain added.
“I’m really excited that BVSD offers something like this,” said Jenny Payne-Mead, a second grade teacher at Flatirons Elementary School.
“I love learning new things and collaborating with my peers,”Stanton added.