Luxford teachers enjoy staff retreat and Googlepalooza

“I followed the yellow brick road to success!” announced a smiling Luxford Elementary teacher as she entered the school’s library.

The “bricks” guiding teachers to their second annual retreat were actually dozens of small orange cones because, as the welcome sign read, “the road to success is always under construction.”

Principal Danielle Colucci invited staff members to a midsummer retreat last year for her first year at the school. Its success prompted her to host a second retreat this summer.

“Coming together for the retreat offers us the unique chance to bond and unite away from the chaos of workweek when teachers are under pressure to get so much done in a short amount of time,” explained Colucci. “Without the list of to-dos hanging over us like they often do during workweek, we can really focus on the content of the professional learning and goals we set for the year during the retreat.”

“Really, it’s about staying true to our why and clarifying the steps to success to meet student needs,” she added. “We connect to our mission, core values and unveil the theme and focus for our year.”

Hints of their mission, focus and theme could be found on the tabletops. Teachers could opt to sit with Instruction Road, Learning Circle, Dragon Way, Google Drive, Agency Parkway, Personalize Road or Great Way.

Technology Support Technician Michelle Horn distributed new Chromebooks that would be used later during the retreat’s Googlepalooza.

And there were introductions and some hugs as teachers welcomed each other back to school, even if it was just for the afternoon.

“I’m returning to the beach from up North,” said one teacher as she introduced herself to the staff and explained her return to the division.

“I’m from out West,” said a second teacher who also taught previously in Virginia Beach.

“I’m from college,” said Micah Pittman. “I’m a new teacher. I’m teaching third grade so pray for me and help me out when you can.”

Judging by the warm welcome from his new colleagues, Pittman will have no problem finding support.

Neither will Luxford students.

Colucci, immensely proud of her teachers, highlighted their support as critical to students’ academic and social-emotional success last year. She asked teachers to share what they did differently last year that made a difference.

Morning meetings. Kindness lessons. More student choice.

“I did a big focus on kindness last year,” shared one teacher. “I feel like it really changed the way that they treated each other and me and other teachers. My students definitely left with that thought that kindness is important.”

“And that will forever change their life and be an enduring understanding. It might not be in the curriculum, but that’s something that will take them very far,” said Colucci.

Another teacher reflected, “Something I really had to work hard on was I tried to give my students more choice last year. For me, I kind of like control, so that was a big thing for me to give up but I think it really helped them take more ownership in their learning and it helped them have accountability for themselves. I think it really made a big difference throughout the entire year.”

“That was a big risk for you. Why did you do it?” asked Colucci.

“I just decided that my way was maybe not the best way. I had a different group of kids. There were going to be more kids who needed more of my attention than others so I really needed a way to do that so I could benefit everybody.”

Building on those successes to go “From Good to Great,” Luxford’s theme for the year, will be a topic for reflection throughout the year.

Integrating technology will also be on the minds of teachers this year with new Chromebooks for all students and staff. The retreat’s Googlepalooza was designed to provide professional learning as well as reassurance, especially for those who do not consider themselves to be as savvy as the digital natives they teach.

“The Chromebooks are going to empower us to meet our goals in a more efficient and effective way,” said Colucci, “but I don’t want anyone thinking that everyone is expected to use them seven hours a day or that they are replacing good practice, because there always has to be balance. We are going to build our capacity slowly and together this year and make sure that when we do use a device it’s purposeful and does enhance the learning target and is not just a thing to do.”

That message was reinforced by Janet Seward, Luxford instructional technology specialist, who, with the help of several teacher leaders, led Googlepalooza.

“Technology integration is not an event,” Seward read from a presentation slide. “It should be an everyday part of our classroom.” Seeking a bridge between pedagogy and technology is always the goal.

“Our main focus was to get the teacher’s excited about going 1:1 with Chromebooks and to start building their comfort level with these devices,” said Seward after the retreat. “With our theme being ‘From Good to Great,’ we wanted to spark their passion for teaching and inspire them to be innovative while still maintaining focus on pedagogy. Demonstrating the amazing capabilities that Google has with collaboration, teacher and peer feedback, personalized learning and innovation was just touching the tip of the iceberg.”

Similarly, Colucci wanted teachers to leave the retreat with more instructional strategies and inspiration.

“My biggest hope is that they leave feeling empowered, energized and connected to their ‘why.’ Teachers who feel valued and believe in the power they have to positively impact the lives of children do just that. That energy and passion to make a difference for kids must be nurtured, and the retreat is the perfect place to come together as professionals to collectively commit to what must be done to support our students and each other.”

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