MORRISTOWN, NJ - Individualized learning is at the forefront of educational practices. So why can’t it apply to teachers’ learning as well? Unity Charter School piloted this model on October 15th.  Their teachers were provided a full day to gain skills to enhance student learning through a multitude of professional development opportunities. 

While the school was closed to students, the building was buzzing with learning. Educators from 5 other districts joined the mathematics staff from the school to spend the day immersed in “Guided Math” with Dr. Nicki Newton.  This hands-on and collaborative workshop provided guidance for educators in grades K-8. Unity’s first-grade math instructor, Kimberly McCurnin stated, “Dr. Nicki Newton’s Guided Math workshop will help me differentiate my math instruction in a way that every student will make strides and grow in their individual mathematics journey.  For one student, that might mean closing a gap in order to meet grade-level standards. For another, it means investigating a problem-based project that allows them to pursue their interests in order to reach their deepest level of understanding. As, Dr. Nicki emphasized today, “We want our kids to ‘do’ and ‘speak’ math. The goal is not the answer. If they can speak it, explain it, or teach it, then we know they know the concept!”     Participants from outside the district explained that Dr. Nicki was a wealth of knowledge and resources and that they could not wait to bring back the activities to their districts.

Individualizing learning has always been a focus at Unity Charter School and that is no exception with professional development for staff. Non-mathematics teachers were encouraged to enhance their teaching practice by taking courses, webinars, workshops or visiting exhibits to enhance their curricular expertise or integrate the education for sustainability standards into their lessons.  On campus, technology teacher, Amy Mercado, spent time on a webinar focusing on enhancing the students' engagement with our iPads. Amy explained, “Today, the professional development that I engaged in will allow our students to dive into the world of using augmented reality to learn and explore!” Other teachers traveled to New York City for their learning adventures. Middle school social studies teacher, Lindsey Daly explains, “Arcadia Earth NYC was an immersive experience from beginning to end and placed participants in the environments that are suffering as a result of human activity, rather than just telling us about them. Teachers who visited the museum were exposed to information regarding the current state of the environment and more importantly, we were given valuable suggestions as to what we can do as individuals to help solve these issues. I plan to bring the information and solutions I learned at Arcadia Earth to my students. All the data provided at the exhibit was presented via beautiful art creations which inspired a ton of ideas for projects for my students. I will be showing my Personal Learning Plan (PLP) groups the pictures I took of the various art installations to give them examples of how creative they can get with their visual aids.”

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Academic Interventionist, Jen Carcich, Attended the New Jersey Charter Schools Conference. “The NJCS Conference was unlike other professional development opportunities. It provided workshops aimed at closing achievement gaps in academic areas. All while allowing me to work alongside fellow charter school advocates.  This atmosphere provided me a better understanding of the charter renewal process.”

Being able to provide educators from both within Unity Charter School and from outside schools is one way in which Unity is broadening its collaborative approach to education.