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Teachers Teach Each Other, Share Expertise

East Kentwood Spanish teacher Rachael Ubaldo read the words “la tortilla Espanola” during a game of vocabulary bingo. “Oooh!” teachers said in unison as they matched their chips with a picture of the Spanish food on their playing cards.

“Is anyone getting close to having a lotteria?” Ubaldo asked. “Si, si!” they answered.

After the game wrapped up, chemistry teacher Shannon Goodwin said she could play vocabulary bingo with her students. “I teach chemistry. It’s like a foreign language,” Goodwin said. “I can totally make vocab words and do this.”

Another teacher mentioned using it in music class.

“Good,” Ubaldo said. “You’re finding ways to use it. That’s our goal.”

Teachers teaching Teachers

Ubaldo and fellow Spanish teacher Kristen Outwater were leading “Teaching Vocabulary the Fun Way,” during the high school’s EK Un.Conference. It was one of dozens of sessions presented by 37 East Kentwood teachers for the staff of more than 100.

Co-created by teachers Luke Wilcox and Tracey Kooy, the purpose of the conference was for staff members to tap into each other’s expertise. Wilcox and Kooy also work with other teachers as academic coaches. They hope to make it an annual event.

“Our biggest goal was for teachers to be learning from teachers and that students have choice in what they want to learn about,” said Wilcox, who also teaches Advanced Placement math. “It kind of creates some natural leaders in the building.”

Kooy, an English teacher, has been involved in a research project with the University of Toronto for three years based on professional development needs.

“My research has been about teachers learning from each other in the same building rather than professionals coming in for a one-shot workshop,” Kooy said. She has realized the value of the concept through academic coaching.

“I have time to talk to people. A full-time teacher doesn’t have that luxury. It’s part of our mission to help connect teachers together when someone has the talent and the gift.Un.Conference co-creator Luke Wilcox leads a session on “Using Mindset to Improve Student Learning”

I couldn’t not have them share with each other.”

Sharing the Knowledge

Sessions spanned topics and subjects such as engaging students and utilizing technology.  Having their own staff teach sessions they can choose from in small groups is refreshing, teachers said.

“It allows us as teachers to learn different strategies and methods of how to educate our students,” Ubaldo said. “Sometimes you just get in your groove and continue to do the same things over and over, and it’s nice to get exposure to different things that can help your own students.”

“It’s from your own people so then if you have any questions they are right here,” added German teacher Lisa Erhart-McManus.

Principal John Keenoy said he’s excited about the concept.

“We have so many powerful and great teachers at our school and they can learn from each other,” Keenoy said. “When you go to conferences you get a lot of information but then there’s no follow-up. Here, we are tapping into some amazing resources and then we are going to be able to follow up with each other and ask those clarifying questions when we are trying new things in our classroom.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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