Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” While most would agree with Einstein, defining what that “supreme art” looks and sounds like in the classroom is easier said than done. How do you differentiate instruction, especially for children who are behind? How do you effectively manage and engage students? How do you help children solve problems?
Yesterday 600 elementary and secondary teachers in the Dallas Independent School District’s (DISD) South Oak Cliff feeder pattern came together to explore these questions and others through various professional development sessions. The University of North Texas at Dallas graciously opened its doors to host these teachers and multiple organizations joined forces to offer workshops, including the DISD, Region 10 Education Service Center, Salesmanship Club and Teach For America.
While many of the workshops focused on reading and writing development, several sessions delved into other topics critical to student success such as “Brain Focused Strategies for Developing Social Emotional Health.” At this session, presenters Heather Bryant and Michelle Kinder from the Salesmanship Club cited their organization’s research finding that “the passing rate [on the reading STAAR exam] of students with higher levels of empathy was almost 30 percentage points higher than of students with lower levels of empathy.” With this link in mind, teachers explored strategies on how to develop children’s non-cognitive or “soft” skills such as optimism, empathy, self-regulation and effective communication.
Denessa Johnson, who teaches Kindergarten at Holland Elementary School, thought the day was productive: “Everybody had really good ideas and fed off each other. Today helped us think about how we can ask more inferential and critical thinking questions to help move our kids further.”
In South Dallas, the first day back to work in 2014 began with our community coming together to collectively support teachers on the front lines guiding our children every day. Usamah Rodgers, DISD Executive Director of the South Oak Cliff High School feeder pattern, reflected, “Today was an example of how effective we can be when we break down our silos and work together to better support our teachers and students.”