Redefining professional development in Tabernacle

Member-led, member-organized professional development

The members of Tabernacle Education Association (TEA) took ownership of their professional development by designing and hosting a districtwide professional development conference titled ECET2.

ECET2, an acronym for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers, was facilitated in Tabernacle by four TEA members: Scott Shinn, a middle school math and science teacher, Brittany Murro, an elementary ISTEM teacher, Stacey Arzt, a school psychologist, and Michael Dunlea, a third-grade teacher.

TEA aimed to redefine the professional development experience for teachers and educational support professionals by providing a teacher-led experience that benefited all who attended.

The theme of the conference was “School is CommUNITY” and it focused on bringing everyone in the school and outside community together under the umbrella of professional growth. The conference was open to all school employees, as well as educators from other school districts. It was free to attend, and all food was provided by local stores and vendors. More than 400 educators, primarily from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, who sought practical strategies to use with their students, attended the conference.

NJEA President Marie Blistan and NJEA Secretary-Treasurer Steve Beatty spent the day in Tabernacle participating in the sessions.

“This is professional development that works,” said Blistan. “It’s student-centered and member-focused. Our members are taking the lead on their growth as educators because they know their professional needs better than anyone. Today’s conference includes relevant content delivered by classroom educators, a captivating keynote speaker, and a true sense of community that you can feel as you walk through the halls.”

The conference offered specific places for networking and sharing ideas. Breaks throughout the day allowed educators to talk with one another.

“It’s not just about presentations,” said Murro. “It’s about the meaningful connections and conversations during the breaks between workshops.”

“Education can be a lonely profession and we wanted to break down some of that isolation,” added Shinn. “We wanted to give people the chance to share what works and what doesn’t work in their classrooms with one another.”

The conference was designed to accommodate educators who work outside of the classroom.

“We wanted a real focus on broad topics that benefit every school employee,” said Arzt. “We offered sessions on social-emotional learning, mindfulness and design thinking theory that apply to all educators. We can take what makes the most sense to us in our roles and bring it back to our work with children and schools.”

Throughout the day, out-of-district educators were guided through the building by student volunteers who were happy to help support the event. Ten students volunteered to come into school on a day off to take photos for social media and help educators navigate hallways. The students who participated got a firsthand experience of what goes on “behind the scenes” in the professional lives of educators. Those students who volunteered to help the participants were excited to be included in the day.

“I designed the shirt and the logo,” said Olympia, a fourth-grade student in the Tabernacle School District. “It feels a little bit crazy, and really fun and really good to help my teachers learn.”

NJEA supported the conference by providing all who attended with badges and bags from NJEA. There was also an on-site NJEA Member Benefits Fair that offered access to deals and discounts to all NJEA members who attended.

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