Professional development key for Pope John faculty


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  • Pope John XXIII Regional High School social studies teacher Chris Hoffmann has students in his U.S. History II class do an activity called "The Explanation Game," which students have to observe a picture, use their critical thinking skills and write down their thoughts on it. Mr. Hoffmann and four other Pope John faculty members learned this activity through their professional development experience with the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Project Zero. Photo by Anthony Spaulding




  • Pope John XXIII Regional High School English teacher Ashley Rhodes has students in her English III class do an activity in which students have to observe a picture, use their critical thinking skills and write down a creative headline that tells the story. Ms. Rhodes and four other Pope John faculty members learned this activity through their professional development experience with the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Project Zero. Photo by Anthony Spaulding




  • Pope John’s Media Specialist for the Biondo Research Center Judith Beebe Zoeller works in the field during her professional development experience at Mount Vernon, Va. Moeller attended the George Washington Teachers Institute's "First in Business: George Washington, Mount Vernon and the New Nation" program. Photo submitted by Judith Beebe Zoeller



SPARTA — Brian Vohden knows the value of hard work and getting better at one’s craft.

So, when Pope John XXIII Regional High School’s Supervisor for Academic Instruction received an influx of all the professional development (PD) courses, seminars and conferences that some of the Pope John faculty and staff members attended since June, he was mightily impressed.

“This gives us value as professionals,” Vohden said. “What students don’t realize is that in order for teachers and staff members to be good at their crafts, they have to continue to learn themselves. These professional development activities help us get better as educators, help our students get better in the classroom and help raise our profile as a school.”

Since June, members of the Pope John faculty and staff have been involved in 15 separate professional development activities. Here is a list of the staff members and events they attended.

• Mr. Brad Cameron, College Board (Advanced Placement Summer Institutes)

• Mr. Brendan Berls, 16th Annual Poetry Institute for K-12 Educators at Boston University School of Education

• Mrs. Catherine Porter, English teacher, Smithsonian Institute for Teachers - "Teaching the Humanities Through Art."

• Mr. Brian Vohden, Mr. Brian St. John, Mr. Christopher Hoffmann, Mrs. Catherine Porter, and Ms. Ashley Rhodes, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Project Zero

• Mr. Brian Vohden, EdCamps

• Mrs. Catherine Porter, Mr. Brendan Berls, Mr. Brian Vohden, Dr. Jeffrey Bond, Mrs. Jo-Ann Higgs, Mrs. Susan Occhicone, Ms. Ashley Rhodes, Mrs. Katherine Stehr, Mrs. Dorothy Thayer, Mrs. Catherine Valente, Ms. Joan Walter, NoRedInk Virtual PD

• Mrs. Judith Beebe Zoeller, George Washington Teachers Institute: First in Business: George Washington, Mount Vernon and the New Nation

• Mrs. Joseph Giovannone, NCEA: The Final Cry for Help: Bullying Related Suicides and Other Acts of Desperation

• Dr. Noah Stanzione, American Classical League Institute

• Mr. Craig Austin, Mrs. MaryAlice Campbell, and Mrs. Anne Gregory, Wheaton College – Homestay and Boarding Programs for International Students

• Mr. Joseph Lopez, National Strength and Conditioning Conference

• Mr. Tom Morro, Ashland University Online: Teaching American History, Seminar Landmark Supreme Court Cases, NJ v. T.L.O.

• Mrs. Jacquelyn Burt, New Orleans City Museum and Preservation Hall: The Development of Jazz and its Role in American Culture

• Mrs. Christine Dunbar, Stockton University – Pineland Ecology

• Mr. Zac Fowler, National Athletic Trainers Association’s 68th Clinical Symposia & AT Expo

One of these PD activities is actually still taking place, as Vohden, St. John, Hoffmann, Porter and Rhodes are attending a semester-long online course through the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Project Zero. In the course, they are learning how to help their students become deeper and more critical thinkers.

“We know we want our kids to become better critical thinkers, but we usually don’t think about the process and what it entails,” Vohden said. “This is putting us through experiences that we eventually want our students to go through.”

These five teachers have seen some great results from the program in their classrooms.

“One of the lessons we did was develop a thinking routine and report back to the program about it,” Porter said. “I did one with my seniors about a painting we discussed and I asked, ‘What is the value doing this type of routine?’ They said it was great because it gave them time to ask questions, spend time and dig deep into the details (of the painting) and build more conversations together that we could refer back to later in the year.”

While these teachers are experiencing a top-notch PD course, some staff members actually ventured outside of New Jersey.

Zoeller traveled to George Washington’s Mount Vernon in July to participate in a four-day, residential program run by the George Washington Teacher Institute. Zoeller attended, “First In Business: George Washington, Mount Vernon and the New Nation,” a program in which participants collaborated with Mount Vernon’s knowledgeable historians, curators, and educators while on site.

Zoeller was thrilled about the experience because she saw a different side of George Washington.

“When you think of George Washington, you think of ‘first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen,’ but you never think of him as the businessman,” Zoeller said. “We talked about his life in Mount Vernon and all the businesses he had, then we experienced what it was like to live and work there.”

As part of the program, Zoeller put together a professional development workshop in her education community on the topic. She did a presentation for Delta Kappa Gamma, a professional honor society of key women educators in the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America and Japan.

Zoeller is sharing what she learned during the program in her first year as Pope John’s Media Specialist for the Biondo Research Center.

“It has helped me find new primary resources for our students and teachers to use when researching,” Zoeller said. “When you look in our center, there are no textbooks on George Washington, and when we work in the classrooms, you don’t go solely by what one paragraph says about his presidency or what he did during the Revolutionary War. You are looking for alternate resources and have students make informed decisions on whom he was.

“And because it is all digital now, it’s easy for me to send links on this information to all of our teachers so they can pass on to their students. The information has a place to go.”

In addition, she has told students and teachers about how George Washington carried himself similarly to how a member of the Pope John community should.

“He was very concerned with casting an appropriate impression when he met people and to always be the best you can be,” Zoeller said. “To kids this age, he is a great role model.”

As for Fowler, he traveled to Houston in June to attend the National Athletic Trainers Association’s 68th Clinical Symposia & AT Expo. Fowler said attending this national conference was beneficial because it allows him to stay current in sports medicine.

“The information in sports medicine is always changing,” Fowler said. “There is always new evidence with certain injuries or new ways to strengthen certain parts of the body so we can help the athletes perform better.”

As the school year moves forward, the Pope John faculty and staff will continue to find new PD activities to get better in their profession. After all, they pride themselves on being professionals and role models for the students.

“It’s critically important,” Vohden said of doing PD. “If you are not learning or changing yourself, how are your students going to learn from you?”


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