A group of 22 teachers and paraeducators who work together at Boone County's Burlington Elementary School attended professional development session together at the 2016 TALK Conference in Covington.
The 2016 ‘Let’s TALK’ conference attracted 350 educators to the Northern Kentucky Convention Center in Covington this past June. Though many Kentucky public schools sent more than one educator to the conference, the largest group was from Burlington Elementary School in nearby Boone County, which sent 22 teachers and paraeducators, all but two of whom are members of either Boone County EA or Boone County Classified EA.
“The majority of our staff belong to KEA,” Ryan Dittmer, a K-5 Technology Skills teacher and the KEA building representative at BES, said. “We are a close group.”
KEA member and special education teacher Kitty Shelton, who has taught at BES for 28 years, added, “We don’t have a lot of turnover here. Once you get here you stay here. And that means we get to know one another, to know each other’s kids and what is going on in each other’s lives. And that makes a big difference.” That “big difference” includes a school culture of cooperation and collegiality, where all the staff work together for the benefit of their students.
Sara Bijayananda, a member and a special education teacher who has been at BES for ten years, said, “We are a group of people who understand how very important relationships are. Every teacher knows how important relationships are with the students, but I think we understand that our relationships with each other are very important so we foster those. And that leads to things like big turnouts at conferences.”
The big turnout at this summer’s TALK conference helped strengthen the bonds among those who attended. Dittmer said the conference experience may have been most valuable for the effect that it had on the working relationships between teachers and paraeducators.
“Our ESP paraeducators are teaching so much in classrooms. They are such a vital part of classroom instruction,” Dittmer said. “So they need that PD too. They need to hear the same things the teachers are hearing.”
Paraeducator Karen Beckett agreed. She said, “It is always a good thing when teachers and paraeducators can attend professional development together and it does help you work together more effectively. The teacher does not have to come back and teach or train her paraeducator in what she has learned; sometimes two brains remember better than one. We also enjoy spending time together away from school, and an opportunity to learn and grow as educators with your friends is always an easy decision.”
Beckett, who works in Burlington’s RTI lab and has been at Burlington for 15 years, also agreed there is a “special spirit” at BES: “The teachers and paraeducators at Burlington have always worked well together. We are treated as equals and that makes us feel valued. In my position, I am included in advisory team meetings and my opinion is often asked when deciding which computer intervention would best suit a child’s needs.
Arlene Jones, a paraeducator who works in the school’s Visual Perception Program, said, “I think so many of us attended the TALK conference because so many of us care strongly about the students here and the effect that education has on our community.” Jones has been working at BES for nine years, but she has a long history with the school. She attended Burlington as a child, as did her children and grandchildren.
Physical Education teacher Molly Ahlman, who has taught at BES for three years, also was a student there. She said, “This is a special community. We love teaching here, working together, teachers and paraeducators. TALK gave us all the chance to learn together.”
Valorie Cooper said TALK has been on the calendar for BES faculty since “three years ago, when five or six of us went and came back just all excited because there were great sessions and we were able to teach what we learned to our colleagues. Naturally it made them want to go, too.”
The TALK Conference is just one of many high-quality professional learning opportunities that KEA makes possible for members. If you would like to know more about TALK or any of KEA’s professional learning programs, talk to the KEA representative in your building, call the KEA office nearest you, or contact KEA’s Director of Professional Excellence, Michelle New. You can reach Michelle by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (800) 231-4532.