Teachers head back to school with new tools from ELT

Caption:Building a dynamic classroom makes students feel safe, comfortable, and encourages more participation, said ELT instructor Tricia Calise (right), a member of the Middle Country Teachers Association. Photo provided.

The best educators are also lifelong learners. This summer, many educators hit the books with help from NYSUT.

Members have access to dozens of online courses from NYSUT’s Education & Learning Trustthe union’s professional development arm.

“ELT’s courses combine top-shelf knowledge with maximum flexibility so that all educators can get the training they need to succeed in today’s demanding school environment,” said Jolene T. DiBrango, NYSUT Executive Vice President.

These courses give educators new ideas and tools so they can continue to make a real difference for their students. By incorporating the latest teaching and learning standards, the courses also prepare educators for their annual Professional Performance Reviews.

This summer, the ELT calendar was packed with courses designed to address some of educators’ biggest concerns, like how to effectively manage classrooms and how to integrate technology. The most popular courses also provided answers to some of the teachers’ most pressing questions about equity, parent engagement and discipline. Here are some key takeaways:

How to engage parents: Strong parent-teacher partnerships require open communication and positive interactions, said ELT instructor Kimberley Wagner. In her July course, “Establishing Parental Partnerships as a Framework for Student Success,” Wagner shared tips with educators on how to build strong relationships with parents and guardians. “Start off with lots of positive notes and calls to parents. Find ways to showcase the good things that are going on in the classroom,” she said. “Invite parents to the school and help them feel a sense of belonging.” Once parents see that they can trust you and that you are there to help their child, they will be more open to your input. If a student is struggling, try to be solution-oriented in your conversations with parents, said Wagner, a member of the East Meadow TA. “Frame it as a challenge you’re both working on together.”

How to change outcomes for historically marginalized students: The first step in building an equitable classroom is to examine your own biases, said Franca Fiorentino, an ELT instructor and member of the Bellmore Merrick United Secondary Teachers. In her August course, “Equity in All Classrooms,” educators learned to question their own preconceived notions. Teachers were also encouraged to perform an equity audit of their schools. Then, they learned to use the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines to help make their instruction more accessible. According to Fiorentino, it is critical for teachers to offer students multiple ways to participate. Using numerous modes of engagement, representation and expression will involve more students. Sometimes teachers are focused more on the content they’re teaching than the students that are in front of them, Fiorentino noted. “It’s not just about covering all the material; it’s about giving students what they need.”

How to deal with difficult classroom behavior: Understanding why students act out is crucial to stopping it, said Lorna DeSantis, an ELT instructor and member of the Adirondack Central School TA. In her July course, “Behavior Management and Intervention,” DeSantis encouraged educators to analyze the root causes of misbehavior. “We walked through student observation to find out the answer to that all-important question: why? ‘Why is this student behaving the way they are?’” DeSantis said. Her course teaches behavior assessment and intervention for educators, who may be seeing an uptick in problematic behavior since the advent of COVID-19. After years of remote learning, students are having trouble with self-control and working with peers, she said. Teachers are also witnessing an increase in violent behavior among students. Why? There’s no one answer. It could be their interrupted education, economic uncertainty or even childhood trauma,” she said. The important thing is to observe your students, and make thoughtful, context-based decisions about appropriate interventions, DeSantis said.

How to create a positive learning environment: Building a dynamic classroom makes students feel safe, comfortable, and encourages more participation, said Tricia Calise, an ELT instructor and member of the Middle Country TA. In her July course, “Creating the Dynamic Classroom Environment,” Calise asked educators to look at the way their rooms are arranged. “Their classroom should permit orderly movement, make efficient use of space, keep potential disruptions to a minimum, and provide a well-organized area for learning,” Calise said. Creating discrete spaces for different activities can enhance students’ ability to read, concentrate, or work in groups. Flexible seating allows students to work at different heights or in different places, so they feel secure, contributing to their overall sense of wellbeing. “In a dynamic classroom, students can connect to one another and feel safe in their environment. Learning becomes the priority goal,” Calise said.

ELT coursework is offered year-round and can be used for undergraduate, graduate and in-service credit as well as to fulfill Continuing Teacher and Leader Education requirements.

For more information, go to elt.nysut.org.

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