February 1, 2019
Howard County students love having a day off from school every once in a while, but do they actually know why? On the school calendar, the day is marked ‘Countywide Professional Learning Days,’ but students only pay attention to the fact that school is closed.
On February 5th, teachers in Howard County will gather at various schools for the semi-annual Professional Learning Day. While schools are closed and students are at home, teachers still have a full day of learning ahead in teacher-taught seminars.
Tenth-grader, Nikki Tajaddini said, “I think they plan what they’re going to do for the next few weeks, make their powerpoints, and prepare for when students come back.” While this is true for a Professional Work Day, a day for teachers to prepare individual plans for the classroom at home, Professional Learning days are much different.
One of the reasons Howard County is a top-rated county is these organized gatherings, where teachers hear about new changes to the academic curriculum, collaborate with their subject department about goals moving forward, and hear about ideas that may work in one school but not in another. Once the mass gathering is over, teachers go to their two classes they signed up for previously. This is good for them because they don’t have to sit through information that doesn’t pertain to the subject they teach. Afterwards, teachers go back to their schools for information that is particular to their school.
According to Mr. Scott Vennard, for the second half of the day, English teachers will be at Long Reach High School participating in an “Ed Camp” to make the day more interesting and interactive.
“Teachers are going to write on a post-it note something they would like to delve deeper into,” said Mr. Vennard. “If they would like to be a facilitator of one of those things because they feel like they’re an expert [on that skill], they’ll write on a green post-it note.”
With this new system, classes will be compiled on the spot and will give teachers the opportunity to learn things they feel will be helpful, instead of only having session options arranged by the Board of Education.
The Business Computer Management Systems (BCMS) faculty typically meet at the Applied Research Lab and get split up into groups of other teachers in their discipline. “Anytime you can get with other professionals,” said Computer Science teacher, Ms. Johnson Rolle, “you can share ideas, you can share suggestions, and strategies, and sample lessons.”
According to Independent Research teacher, Ms. Lynette Burns, the main goal for her and her colleagues at Ellicott Mills Middle School is to “reach students who have talent in a multitude of areas.” Ms. Burns explained that although the research courses are individualized depending on the students’ focus, there is still a “foundation we have to give of the research methodology”.
Some teachers are debating on whether or not they’re going to ask to stay home and grade papers, others are eager to bounce new ideas off teachers from different departments. Yellow and green sticky notes being scribbled on and ripped from the pad will sound through the hallways as teachers suggest new session ideas to engage in for the day. The coffee Keurigs will be working restlessly to pour cups of hot energy for the tired, early-rising teachers who didn’t get a chance to sleep in that day like their students.
Howard County has always conducted countywide professional learning days for its staff to gain more techniques. The bad news for students who love their day off is there is no telling whether or not the February session will be happening again after the 2018-2019 school year. The county has had discussions about eliminating it and only using one day per year for professional learning seminars.
Not every teacher seemed overly excited about the upcoming day of sitting through 90-minute sessions. “You feel like you’re beating a dead horse,” said Ms. Burns. “At times, the lessons can become very repetitive.”
But according to Mr. Vennard, “It seems like, at least for English, there will be more interesting options then what might have been available in the past.”