Learning is at the heart of what we do in the Urbandale Community School District. Our vision is “to bring learning to life for everyone.” Bringing learning to life seems obvious with regard to our students. However, learning is also important for every one of our staff members, for it is only through learning that we continually improve.
Among our many learning opportunities in the district (including our late starts at the elementary and middle school levels and the early dismissals at the high school), one that occurs in February has developed a very unique flavor. We call this day, Cabin Fever Day, for it represents a respite in the midst of the winter that provides staff the opportunity to stop, learn, and reflect in order to improve.
For many years, we took a very traditional approach for our professional development day(s). As a district we required staff to participate in learning opportunities the “district” felt were important. Teachers had little to no ownership in the process and they certainly had no choice.
Things changed three years ago when, in the spirit of continual improvement, we took the opportunity to seek input from staff about how we could improve our time for learning. We “heard” two main themes: variety and choice. With that information we set about transforming our day of professional development from the very traditional to an opportunity for staff to participate in and experience varied learning opportunities based on what they believed as professionals would best support them in their efforts to improve learning opportunities for their students. What emerged was “Cabin Fever Day;” a day filled with choices for learning and an opportunity for the teachers themselves to not only experience a great day of learning, but also to participate as facilitators of new learning for others. Cabin Fever Day sessions, rooted in our vision to “bring learning to life for everyone” are facilitated by our own staff as well as experts and professionals from around the state.
This year’s program included nearly 60 workshops facilitated by staff members, business leaders, and education visionaries from across the state. Sessions such as integrating iPads for instruction, ‘Baldrige in Everyday Language’ and ‘Employability Skills’ facilitated by Bridgestone Corporation Continuous Improvement Manager, Scott Burgmeyer, ‘Everyday Math eSuite Technology’ facilitated by McGraw-Hill Consultants, and ‘High Standards and Continuous Improvement’ facilitated by Scott Raecker, former State of Iowa Representative and current Executive Director at Character Counts In Iowa and the Institute for Character Development at Drake University, offered staff a wide variety of differentiated learning opportunities.
What we modeled through Cabin Fever Day is what we hope to see in our classrooms across the district. First, there is a focus on learning. Second, we provide a variety of learning experiences in order to learn content, for we know students do not all learn in the same way. We give students a voice in how they learn and engage them deeply in their own learning experiences. Finally, we seek feedback from students to help us better understand how to improve the learning experiences. We believe that opening up learning in this manner engages students in their own learning at much higher levels, just as it does with adults. Higher engagement equals higher levels of learning and achievement.
Cabin Fever Day is a day we cherish in Urbandale. It is a day where we make the best use of our time and of the talents of those in the district in order to improve learning opportunities for students. It is a day to build and reinforce a culture focused on learning and continual improvement. Finally, it is also a day to celebrate our learning as a district and to pass that celebration of learning on to our students.
Learning is at the heart of continual improvement. As each individual learns, we learn as an entire school community. As we learn and improve as a school community, we are better able to meet the needs of our students. Learning for staff translates into “bringing learning to life for everyone!”