Introducing the Future Ready Leadership Series: Innovative Educational Excellence, where we embark on an inspiring journey across the educational landscape. In this ongoing series, we spotlight visionary school districts from around the country that are pioneering the way forward in shaping the future of education. These districts are embracing change and leading it, harnessing the power of the Future Ready Framework to provide innovative leadership and ensure student success.
In our blog, we have the privilege of delving into the remarkable achievements of the Northampton Area School District (PA). Join us as we explore their incredible success story in creating personalized professional learning experiences for teachers. By doing so, they are not just preparing their students for the future; they are molding it.
Get ready to be inspired, informed, and energized as we uncover the strategies, insights, and transformative practices shaping the education landscape. The Future Ready Leadership Series is your window into the world of educational innovation, where the future is not a distant horizon but a tangible reality, guided by visionary leadership.
The last few years in the classroom have been exhausting, in great part due to the challenges associated with the pandemic. With challenging times comes great opportunity. The Northampton Area School District took this opportunity to reignite our teachers’ passions for the profession by redesigning a typical in-service day into our first IgNite Conference (Inspiring Growth in Northampton for Innovative Teaching & Educating). IgNite was the result of the Curriculum Department’s vision and intentional planning to create a day of inspiring and personalized professional learning.
Starting with the name of the conference (IgNite), we aimed to be deliberate in every aspect of our planning, focusing on three themes:
- Create a positive, collaborative learning environment
- Promote Teacher Agency
- Build Community
Create a positive, collaborative learning environment:
Recognizing the importance of establishing a positive tone for the day, we secured our high school Big “N” Band to be the welcoming committee. On a brisk October morning, our marching band filled the campus with energetic music as teachers entered the building. Inside, teachers from across the district gathered for pastries, coffees, and the district-famous scones.
The kick-off to our IgNite Conference was keynote speaker Mr. Thomas Murray. We intentionally sought a keynote speaker who could relate to teachers and provide an outside perspective. Tom proved to be the ideal match, delivering an impeccable keynote address.
Tom’s inspirational speech emphasized the importance of building relationships with others while being personal and authentic in your approach. As our staff engaged with him, their focus shifted from what they taught to who they taught. His inspiring message illustrated how to make clear connections between relationships, classroom culture, and student learning outcomes. Tom helped IgNite our staff in so many ways and was the perfect way to kick off our conference!
Promote Teacher Agency:
Focusing on our goal of promoting teacher agency, the structure of the conference needed to accomplish two things: 1) ensure teachers could contribute to the growth of their colleagues, and 2) provide an opportunity for teachers to direct their own learning.
Months before the conference, our building principals were asked to find staff members within their schools to facilitate presentations or create a visual display for a poster session. This task not only engaged the building administrators in the planning process but it contributed to creating a collaborative environment of empowered teachers excited to share their knowledge and expertise. In addition to presentations by our own teachers, we secured various outside presenters, such as our district solicitors and edtech specialists, to further diversify the offerings. We even had our athletic trainers run teacher wellness sessions. The result was a schedule that was diverse, relevant, and engaging. There is no better way to engage teachers in professional learning than to allow them to learn from each other and let them direct their own learning!
In any school district, fostering a strong sense of community and belonging is absolutely vital.
When coordinating the logistics of the IgNIte Conference, every decision was approached with a focus on how we could enhance the development of a strong community. The conference was held in-person with strategically placed refreshment stations to facilitate social gathering. Food trucks, raffle prizes, and games in the gym added extra excitement and promoted togetherness at lunchtime.
Involving our local community organizations and student clubs to participate in our event gave teachers the opportunity to make new connections inside and outside of the school district. Some groups provided interesting content to share during our breakout or poster sessions, while others donated gift cards, prizes, and lunch specials. It was amazing to watch our entire community come together at our IgNIte Conference to ultimately benefit our teachers and students.
Our Final Takeaway:
When you are intentional, purposeful, and responsive, truly amazing things can happen! We received tremendous feedback from our entire staff as they were thankful for such an incredible day filled with inspiration, opportunities to connect, and meaningful learning experiences. Our teachers’ passions had been re-IgNited and our conference was a success!
About the Authors
Michelle Schoeneberger leads a talented team as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at Northampton Area School District. Connect with Michelle on X
Scott Oste is the Secondary Curriculum Supervisor at Northampton Area School District. Connect with Scott on X
Katie Trach is the Elementary Curriculum Supervisor at Northampton Area School District. Connect with her on X
Nicolette Teles is the Curriculum Supervisor of Grants and Special Programs at Northampton Area School District. Connect with her on X