Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Art of teaching enhanced

Leadership Institute empowers educators

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County School District teachers Chet Olson, at left, and Becky Miller engage in an exercise to build teaching skills. Photo by David N. Seelig

Lego by Lego, a collection of teachers built a foundation for classroom leadership.

"No one comes into my classroom that observes. Everybody participates," said Ann-Marie White, a teacher at Deerfield Academy, in Massachusetts.

White challenged the educators Wednesday, June 15, to build a sturdy test tube holder from Lego blocks.

The exercise—part of the Sun Valley Leadership Institute's first annual Sun Valley Summer Institute on Teaching—encouraged the teachers to inspire learning through empowerment, ownership and communication. The Institute partnered with the Blaine County School District to bring the inaugural conference to the Wood River Valley.

Educators from all subject areas and all grade levels gathered June 12 to June 17 in Hailey for a weeklong forum intended to build leadership among educators.

"I could list a hundred tools I took away from (the Institute) ... risk taking, public speaking, communication, being sincere, being a positive role model and empowering students to become leaders themselves," said Stacy Smith, director of career academies for the Blaine County School District.

The conference inspired Smith and her colleagues with the theme "Creating Magic in the Classroom."

The magic came from a set of motivational tools including workshops with White and other world-class educational experts, such as James Banner, a Princeton University history professor and author of "Elements of Teaching," and Dennis Rader, author of "Living Toad Free: Overcoming Obstacles to Motivation."

Modeling the Institute's intentions, White offered essential instructional tools spurred by the Lego activity to encourage teachers to take risks and to create an environment for growth in the classroom.

With a handful of colorful blocks, each individual overcame design frustrations to create their own scientific holder. The activity required communication, sharing and teamwork. The exercise also invited teachers to think as students.

White explained that, like the teachers had experienced, students also experience ownership, communication, experimentation and design skills that translate into lifelong learning.

"I saw very positive things going on, and the teachers felt they were getting a good opportunity to learn and grow," said Jim Lewis, Blaine County School District superintendent.

White encouraged professional growth by instructing teachers to create and implement a concrete activity for students the first week of classes. Teachers gathered in small groups called "learning teams" to brainstorm activities that enable students to become better thinkers and engaged learners.

"All I do is teach people to think; biology is a bonus," White said.

White also suggested novel techniques such as establishing a code of ethics for the classroom, communicating on-line with students and noticing students' positive actions.

The conference compelled teachers to consider their instruction through interactive group activities, individual instruction, inspirational teaching seminars and the development of a yearlong action plan specifically tailored for each participant.

The inaugural teaching institute marked the commitment of Sun Valley Leadership Institute to the Wood River Valley. Bob Mobley and David Holmes founded the Institute last year to help leaders bring strong, ethical cultures to their organizations.

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