SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Union Catholic faculty members displayed their unwavering commitment to participating in professional development, learning best practices, and preparing for the upcoming school year by attending a newly developed Bureau of Education & Research (BER) seminar titled “Distance Learning: Strengthening Your Online Instruction and Student Success Using the Best Cutting-Edge Google and Technology Tools for Grades 6-12.”

The live Zoom seminar, instructed by secondary teacher and Google for Education Innovator and Trainer Dr. Desiree Alexander, was attended by Union Catholic Assistant Principal and Professional Development Coordinator Mrs. Noreen Andrews, along with Union Catholic faculty members Mrs. Kamila Ciringione, Mrs. Michele Donegan, Mrs. Marla James, Mr. Rick Labelle, Mrs. Susan McLaughlin, Mrs. Catarina Portillo, Mrs. Mary Jo Raite, Mrs. Kristy Rose, Mrs. Cheryl Rossi, Mrs. Rebecca Schroppe, Mr. Edward Thornton, and Mrs. Melissa Yezo.

During the six hour seminar, Union Catholic faculty explored new ways to create an optimal distance learning environment, use videos to develop engaging distance learning lessons, utilize Google and other technology tools, provide valuable and actionable feedback, and incorporate communication tools that increase parent participation.

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The instructor, Dr. Desiree Alexander, emphasized the "less is more" philosophy while also stressing the importance of finding the best and most efficient tools for the task. She spotlighted the importance of uniformity and routine to help the students become acclimated to the new school year. "Just like any other opening of school, the students need structure and established routines,” said Dr. Alexander. “Students crave organization. They may not like it, but they crave it!"

Mrs. James said the seminar was educational and promoted practices that foster student involvement.

“The BER workshop was outstanding,” said Mrs. James. “The presenter not only demonstrated invaluable tools for teaching in the virtual realm but also emphasized the need to incorporate student voice and choice. The latter are two elements of Universal Design for Learning that are highly effective in fostering student engagement and empowerment.”

Mrs. Portillo said she is eager to create new lessons using many newly acquired tools.

“The Professional Development was fantastic and motivating,” said Mrs. Portillo. “I was eager to start creating new lessons with all the great tools that were shared with us. As soon as the PD ended I started designing my first Choice Board in order to give my students more options for assessments and assignments. This will allow my students to personalize their work and it will give me the opportunity to learn from them. I am very excited to start using OCR (optical character recognition) so my students can see authentic material and documentation. I feel better prepared to successfully connect with my students virtually and keep the UC community alive through online education.”

Mrs. McLaughlin said she walked away from the seminar with many resources that will enhance her online instruction.

“The day was packed with high energy and countless resources,” said Mrs. McLaughlin. “The workshop provided us with an assortment of resources to explore. She guided us through the five conditions for optimal instruction as well as five essentials practices. Generally when you attend a workshop or seminar you hope to walk away with something you can put to practice. Well in this case, there were so many great ideas shared that I need to sift through to see what will work best for my students. I particularly want to focus on organizing assignments online by using some of the templates that were shared and possibly see how I can incorporate Choice Boards as a vehicle for the students to direct their own learning. I think all of us that attended would agree that it was a day well spent!”

Mrs. Andrews was thrilled to participate in such an energizing learning experience. 

“This seminar was attended by 135 participants from around the country,” said Mrs. Andrews. “It was energizing to be in live chats and breakout rooms with other professionals who are facing the same challenges. Great conversations and sharing of ideas and experiences were had during these opportunities. The excitement of new ideas and tools spread amongst the fifteen UC faculty participants. A group text behind the scenes was on fire for the duration of the day as the teachers imagined and chatted out new discoveries, ideas and implementations.”

“The participants of the seminar are ignited to research new tools and methods as they prepare to connect with their students in September,” said Mrs. Andrews. “As an administrator, I have attended and sent so many teachers to Bureau of Education & Research seminars throughout my tenure as a Professional Development Coordinator. Today's seminar delivered that same excellence. Six hours for an online seminar seemed like a long commitment, but with the excitement and passion of the UC faculty, the time went all too quickly.”