Featured #MSUrbanSTEM Sustainability Fellow: Lidia Ortiz

Sustainability Fellow: Lidia Ortiz

Bio: Lidia Ortiz is currently the science department chair and teaches AP Biology, Biology, and Chemistry at Northside College Preparatory High School in Chicago. Lidia earned her B.S in Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her M.Ed in Secondary Education from DePaul University.  She is also a National Board Certified teacher in Adolescent/Young Adult Science.

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks

Contrary to what many believe, it has been my experience that the vast majority of teachers, including veteran teachers (like myself) are in fact interested in growing and improving their practice.  Far too often, I have heard school leaders and PD providers, cite the lack of enrollment of veteran teachers in professional development opportunities as an indicator of their disinterest in improving their practice.  In my experience, these ideas are especially prevalent in educational technology conferences.  However, I would argue that it is not lack of interest nor desire on behalf of the veteran teachers but rather obstacles, absence of time, or the lack of appropriate opportunities that prevent teachers, specifically veteran teachers, from participating in these types of learning opportunities.

The reality of teaching today is that teachers are asked to accomplish more with less and less resources.  As a result, in order to meet the ever increasing needs of their students, teachers are typically required to donate more of their time outside of the regular school day in order to address these needs. While this is the reality for all teachers, for veteran teachers this is often compounded on top of other leadership roles within their school buildings or their own family obligations. Taken together with the fact that our school district has severely reduced the professional development time built into the school calendar, the reduction in veteran teacher participation in professional development activities, especially those tied to technology, does not seem all that surprising.

The question becomes how do we change it?

I would argue that the onus, at least partially, falls on us the PD providers.  Realistically, most of us are not in positions where we can alter the district calendar or the funding formulas that would allow for financial compensation.  But there are things that we can do.  Things like offering small localized PD opportunities.  By offering localized opportunities we can move PD sessions right into school buildings.  Offering localized PD will reduce time spent in travel and the sessions can be scheduled during times that are most convenient for teachers in that particular building (i.e. before or after school, lunch periods, etc..).  By removing obstacles, albeit small but inconvenient and annoying ones, we are bound to improve teacher participation.

An added advantage to offering localized PD is that it allows providers to cater to the very specific needs of teachers. One of the downfalls of large scale PD workshops is that there is typically a lack of differentiation to address the varying needs of the participants.  For example, at many educational technology conferences there is a often a wealth of opportunities for the novice but a lack of opportunities for the more advanced participant or vice-versa.  Offering localized PD that caters to the needs of a small specific set of participants will help to alleviate this issue and increase participant engagement.

The passion project that my colleague Binh Nguyen and I are working on collaboratively this year was born out of this idea.  We both wanted to share with our colleagues, most of whom are veteran teachers with 10+ years of experience, the many engaging and exciting ways in which both of our practices had been transformed through our experience with the MSUrban STEM fellowship program.  We were confident that the vast majority of our colleagues were interested in growing and evolving their practice.  We felt strongly that it was lack of opportunity or time that prevented them from seeking out similar opportunities for themselves.  So we decided to address the issue by bring localized PD to our school via our “teacher share”.  “Teacher shares” are optional after school school PD opportunities facilitated by us.  Via these “teacher shares” we hope to engage our colleagues in increasing their proficiency around student engagement, scientific inquiry, technology incorporation, and pedagogical instructional strategies.

We held the first of our “teacher shares” on “student generated videos” back in October.  I am happy to report that it was an overwhelming success.  Not only was the session well attended, but the majority of the participants were veteran teachers (12+ years of experience) and all participants reported the desire for similar opportunities to continue throughout the year.

Since the session, several of our colleagues have excitedly reached out to both Binh and I to share with us examples of how they have incorporated the strategies they learned via the ‘teacher share” into their teaching practice.

I guess you can teach old dogs new tricks……..so long as you’re willingly to adapt how it is that you teach those new tricks.