Guest Blog Posting by Julie Gordon Buccitti
Like many educators, I’ve been spending time this summer on my own professional development through reading, participating in book studies, and preparing a PD presentation for when we return to school.
One of the book studies I participated in was through #BookCampPD on Twitter, where the book, “Professionally Driven” by Jarod Bormann was featured. This book reframed how I look at professional development, and even evaluations (both my own and those I conduct with students). In the book, Jarod Bormann describes the four steps to his ProDriven PD model, which include: Research, Integrate, Reflect, and Share. This model has made me reflect on several of my personal PD endeavors.
A few years ago, I noticed a significant increase in our Spanish-speaking population within our district. Approximately 25% of our families speak Spanish in their homes. Each year, we receive new students who have not yet been exposed to the English language. This touched my heart as I saw kindergarten students beginning their first ever school experiences, surrounded by people who they weren’t yet able to communicate with. I thought back to my own experience in kindergarten. It was scary at first, even without a language barrier. I tried to imagine how I might have felt, had I entered my first classroom surrounded by people speaking a language that was new to me.
I began using my limited high school Spanish skills, but it was still so hard for me to communicate effectively. Inspired by our wonderful ELL aide, affectionately known as “Miss Claudia,” I decided to start taking Spanish classes. This was two years ago. Miss Claudia encouraged me to put my learning to use, assuring me that it was ok to make mistakes. Spanish is Miss Claudia’s first language. She told me that it is good for our students to see their teachers trying to use their language. It shows them that we care to learn their language, that it’s ok to make mistakes, and that that we’re all lifelong learners.
I consider my Spanish classes part of a long term personal professional development journey. It is an essential skill that I need in order to be better at what I do and to be able to make connections with more students and families.
Finding the right class and teacher for me, along with my coursework, has been an ongoing research phase of my PD journey.
This year, with the support of our wonderful kindergarten team, I was able to begin to integrate my new skills in the classroom setting. It was later in the school year, and we had a brand new student come to our school. She was not speaking English (yet!). As the school psychologist, I come to our K-1 classrooms weekly during centers for SEL instruction. I asked one of our amazing kindergarten teachers if she would be willing to change her center groups, so all of her bilingual students were grouped together. This way, I could conduct the SEL lesson in Spanish with this group, and do the same lesson in English with the other groups. The teacher excitedly replied, “Yes! Let’s do it this coming week!”
The connections and reciprocal learning that took place during that lesson were beyond what I ever could have imagined. Our new student hugged me after the lesson, and again when I returned to the classroom the following week. The other children asked me if I could do their lesson in Spanish again. They loved helping me when I stumbled or forgot a word, I loved learning new words from them, they loved when I told them they were being teachers too. They beamed when I thanked them for their help, and told them that I hoped I could someday speak two languages as well as they do. They told me they liked speaking Spanish with me.
Shortly after my first Spanish lesson, another kindergarten teacher invited me to do the same with her students too! Then I used Spanish in my lessons with the first grade students. I made new types of connections with all of the students, and the children who did not speak Spanish started asking their peers and myself how to say things in Spanish. As more lessons followed, our new student started using more English during our time together. It truly was a win all around.
Upon further reflection, this has been such an important lesson and learning experience for me. I now have better understanding of what a student might be feeling as they acquire a new language. I think differently when I’m in a meeting with a parent who speaks English as a second or even third language. I can understand how difficult it can be to learn a new language as an adult, and how long it takes. I am more thoughtful about the words I’m using in meetings, as I try to explain things in a clear and user-friendly way.
I’ve discovered that with long term types of PD projects the four steps may not always proceed in an orderly way. Rather, they may revert back and forth and may even overlap slightly at times. I am by no means finished with this journey. I want and need to continue to build my skills. I need to go back and do more research, and integrate what I learn to fulfill needs that arise. I will take more time to reflect and determine additional needs and areas of further research. I will take time to share progress at various stages in this journey, and then do more reflecting, researching, and integration.
I am so thankful that I have such a supportive staff to allow me to take the risk of putting my new language skills to use in their classrooms. I treasure my time with our amazing students and am so grateful that they have enjoyed learning and helping their new friend learn English while helping me learn more Spanish. I am also extremely fortunate to have an amazing PLN to share this new learning with. Thank you for taking time to read about this professional development journey that is so dear to my heart.
I hope you find joy in your professional learning journeys!