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Professional Development: Food for the Teacher's Soul

By Mary Blow on November 2, 2010
  • Grades: 6–8

Different states have different criteria for keeping and maintaining teaching licenses. In New York State, we are required to complete 75 professional development hours every five years to maintain our NYS professional certification. I know what you are thinking: there just isn't enough time in the day. How do we fit in so many professional development hours? You are not alone. I recently questioned my sanity in trying to fit a conference into my already overcrowded agenda. Last Thursday, I traveled to the 2010 New York State Middle School Association (NYSMSA) Conference in Rochester, New York. It was a transformative journey that I felt was worth sharing. (This post includes Jack Berckemeyer videos.)



Using Humor in the Classroom

BerckemeyerjackThis year's conference was different because a colleague and I were scheduled to present two breakout sessions on thematic units. Rochester is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Lowville. In the two days before the conference, I only had a total of seven hours' sleep, between preparing for the conference and wrapping up classroom activities and other obligations. As I rode in the car, I contemplated the presentation and wondered if I could think or speak coherently while feeling so physically and mentally exhausted. Luckily, I wasn’t driving, but I still couldn’t sleep.

We were about 60 minutes from Rochester when I realized that I never finished adding the images to the presentation. We used the few hours before dinner to insert the images. When it was time to eat, I contemplated skipping the dinner banquet to catch up on my sleep. I knew that we would be out late, as there were awards and a keynote speaker after the dinner. In the end, I went to the dinner, and it is a decision that I will never regret.

As I looked around the banquet room, I saw my own exhaustion reflected in the faces of the many dedicated teachers there. We were all in the same boat. After the dinner, I was about to excuse myself when Jack Berckemeyer, the keynote speaker, stood up and started walking through the crowd while beginning his talk. No microphone. No PowerPoint. No visuals. Still, he was one of the most impressive speaker I had ever heard. If you ever have a chance to see him in person, don’t pass it up. He has a gift for transforming common student and teacher behavior into humor. I was laughing so hard, tears were running down my face.

Laughing is something we forget to do when we become overwhelmed with lesson plans, grading, parent meetings, and state testing. It was then that I realized how important humor is in the classroom. It captivates and energizes, but more importantly, it helps you form relationships with your students. Jack’s advice to middle school teachers is to look as though you are about to crack. Below is a SchoolTube video posted by Dodge City Middle School illustrating the power of humor in the classroom.


Classroom Management

How many of you have struggled with chatty students? The next day, Jack talked about teamwork and classroom management in middle school. Jack has the answer: an imaginary student named Bob. Instead of singling out a specific student to reprimand for talking, Jack creates an imaginary student. Another SchoolTube video posted by Dodge City Middle School demonstrates how Jack manages the chatty students through humor and his imaginary student.


Physical Development of Middle School Students

I had another "aha" moment when Jack explained why so many middle school students slouch in their chairs. During puberty, the lower part of the spine is fusing together. So it is uncomfortable for adolescents to sit up straight for 40 minutes at a time. Instead of facing a sea of slouchers, Jack suggests designing lessons that get students moving or creating a learning environment that allows students to move. He had these suggestions: 

  • Change lessons every 15 minutes.
  • Put four easels in the four corners of the room. Divide up content between four posters and set them on the easels. The students will have to twist and turn to see information on the easels, thereby allowing them to shift their spines.
  • If you use dry erase boards, place them under the students' chairs, so they have to bend down to pick them up, thereby releasing pressure from their spine.
  • Move around the room when you are instructing. The students will twist and turn to see you while you are talking.


Grant_wiggins Online Professional Development

School budget cuts have affected professional development funding in many school districts. However, conferences are not the only forms of professional development. Online workshops are considerably cheaper and sometimes free. Last year, I enrolled in a Model Schools Online Professional Development workshop, “Understanding by Design" (UbD). Model Schools courses are available to the schools in our region. Check with your local BOCES to see what programs are available where you are. Grant Wiggins offers three levels of UbD professional development on his Web site, Authentic Education. They range from $59 to $99, which is considerably cheaper than attending a conference. When I took this course, two of my colleagues took it at the same time, so we could collaborate.


Professional Organizations

IRA I also join professional organizations to foster my growth. In the past, I have taken online professional development workshops with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA). I am a member of the NCTE, so I was able to take a Vocabulary Strategies Webinar workshop for $79, and I was allowed to invite any teacher who wanted to attend the 1.5-hour Webinar. Recently, I signed up for a 1.5-hour "Adolescent Content Area Reading" Webinar with Richard Vacca on October 28 with the IRA, which is free because I am a member. The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) offers online professional development opportunities on many topics, such as:

  • 21st Century Skills
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Response to Intervention
  • English Language Learners
  • Building Academic Vocabulary
  • Understanding by Design
  • Teacher Effectiveness

 In addition, ASCD offers 45-minute webinars.

Self-Motivated Learners

I think teachers are naturally self-motivated learners. If we didn’t love learning, we wouldn’t be in the business. Each year I reflect on my strengths and weaknesses. I seek colleagues and resources that will help me to improve my area of interest. As I mentioned in a past blog post, this year I am focusing on differentiating classroom instruction. I read books and seek out colleagues who are experts. Scholastic offers many two to three minute videos from educational leaders who have written books. In the free online videos, they discuss instructional theories and strategies. The following are a few of the people who speak:   

  • Barry Lane (humor in the classroom; writing)
  • Ruth Culham (Traits of Writing)
  • Carol Fuhler and Maria Walther (using Scholasticpicture books in the classroom)
  • Janet Angelillo (the writing process)
  • Lester Laminack (author’s craft)
  • Pam Allyn (preparing students for state tests)
  • Richard Gentry (beginning reading and writing)
  • Yvonne and David Freeman (English language learners)

Scholastic also offers online professional resource videos in the following areas:

  • Educational Leadership
  • Classroom Management
  • Literacy & Reading 
  • Writing
  • Author Interviews

Scholastic_red Scholastic RED professional development online courses focus on raising student achievement in literacy. The courses are divided into grade ranges: PreK & Primary, Upper Elementary, Secondary, and Scholastic Programs.

Food for the Teacher’s Soul

As for our presentation, I think it was a success. I was standing in the lobby waiting to leave when two teachers stopped to say that they really enjoyed it, that it was a great start to a great day. I'm not sure if I could have pulled it off without my colleague's help and Jack's rejuvenating humor. I am grateful for the opportunity to give, especially after I received so much. The laughter and sharing with colleagues and friends was food for my soul. I look forward to Monday, so I can get back in the classroom and rejuvenate my students.

If you plan to take an online professional development class or Webinar, let me know. If I am available, I’d love to join with you.

Comments (3)

In Texas, you have to have 150 hours every 5 years. Where is the time? ;)


Everyone I know who has seen Jack has enjoyed every minute of laughter.

Thank you for notifying me that the video wasn't working. I think I fixed the video, but in the event it is your browser, the link to the video on School Tube is: http://www.schooltube.com/video/7bd054341339413bbdca/Jack-Berckemeyer .


I loved the first video. I could not view the second video. I wanted to see more.

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