Art therapy, slam poetry, among topics of innovative professional development day

Sarah Morgan and Elie Salem

Tuesday’s professional development for Wilson staff was unlike any other. Art teacher Avram Walters taught JROTC instructor Walter Davis how to draw like Picasso, social studies teacher Michelle Bollinger got a crash course in slam poetry, and Principal Martin experimented with meditation.

Professional development began with a discussion about why staff members chose to work in education. “This cold stretch of the year tends to be a time when joy really drops in the building. Remembering why we keep waking up in the morning to do this job [is really important],” said social studies teacher Natalie Zuravleff.

After an open discussion with students about what inspires them in the classroom, staff went to two hours of “choice sessions.” Each session was taught by a faculty member and was based around an interesting hobby or practical interest.

ELA Instructional Coach Michael Gueltig led a workshop on improving relations with students, co-workers, and family. World languages teacher Lynn Palmer taught a few fun quirks and “gimmicks” to keep the classroom environment interesting. There were over a dozen unique sessions for teachers to choose from, ranging from a lesson on how to make extra money teaching, to art therapy.

Behind this new method of professional development was a group of eight to 10 Wilson teachers, known as the “unity movement.” The organization was formed following a workshop that focused on eliminating racial bias in the classroom. “One [goal of the movement] was to improve staff morale, with that would be like staff relations [and] people getting along and just feeling supported in this building,” said social studies teacher Aaron Besser. The goal of the unity movement is not only to broaden the horizons culturally and socially for students, but to connect staff of different backgrounds as well.

Teachers interviewed by The Beacon found the creativity of the professional development fun and refreshing. “I’m not a poet, and I think it’s important as a teacher to know your limits and also know when it’s time to bring in someone else,” said social studies teacher Michelle Bollinger on the practical application of the choice session she attended. “If I felt like I had the opportunity, and I had an enthusiastic group of students maybe i would try to find a way to organize a [slam poetry] workshop for them. There’s a number of classes I have where I feel like that would be appropriate.”

“A few years ago we decided that we really wanted to use in school expertise of teachers [because] teachers have passions and interest and talents and skills that we can highlight in the building rather than have an outside presenter come and speak on a topic or pay someone to do some professional development,” said Principal Kimberly Martin.