Winter Residency: Deeper In and Further Out

Each February, the HDCH staff take two days back-to-back to dig deeply into professional development activities. This set of PD days has come to be known as the “Winter Residency”.

The Winter Residency tradition started in 2014 as a response to a staff desire to have PD and project creation opportunities early in second semester. In August we have two PD days to help us dig deep, plan projects, and prepare for first semester. The Winter Residency provides these opportunities heading into second semester. These days also help the staff to feel unified, inspired, and prepared for each coming semester.

Over the past year and a half we have been focusing our learning mission on going “Deeper-In and Further-Out.” We desire our students to experience deep learning where meaning is made, connections are created, and purpose for learning is understood. We believe that Project Based Learning is an excellent pedagogy for our staff to use in challenging our students to go deeper. Through in-depth inquiry; critique and revision opportunities; involving community experts; presenting to authentic audiences; having the opportunity for voice and choice; and students becoming their own project managers, we believe that comprehension and skill development go deep. Our Mission Statement is Cultivating Character through Learning for Lives of Service to God. We think that cultivating character and serving God compels us to bring our learning Further Out into the community, engaging experts and audiences, and finding ways to bless those in our city and world through our learning. Deeper In and Further Out are strongly linked. As students take their learning Further Out, they end up getting Deeper In. And as students go Deeper In they often find they are pulled Further Out, coming to understand how their learning is meaningful in the world.

The focus of Deeper In and Further Out has guided our professional development over the past year and a half. This year, at our Winter Residency we created opportunities to go Deeper In and Further Out as a staff. We started the residency with a time of reflection on where we felt things were going well, and where we think we can be better as a school. We went Deeper In through professional development workshops. One was led by our Educational Assistant team where we had a chance to learn about the special skills and strategies our Educational Assistants bring to their roles and discuss ideas on how we can best team up in the classroom. Another was led by Mrs. Koiter and Mrs. Alkema, helping us to better understand the unique needs of our English Language Learners, as well as students with special learning needs. We engaged with strategies and research on how to help students with diverse learning needs engage with Project Based Learning. Mrs. Alkema and Mrs. Koiter shared from their expertise in these areas and helped the staff better understand what the learning experience can be like for our English Language Learners and students with exceptionalities. Building on this workshop we will be continuing to work as a staff team towards implementing strategies and shaping projects to help all learners go Deeper In.

During the residency staff also had the chance to pursue Further Out learning opportunities by taking time to meet with experts, scoping out field trip locations, and researching authentic audiences for projects. Some teachers used this time to connect Further Out individually and some pursued connections as a group. Some examples of what teachers got up to included: checking out the maker spaces at the Hamilton Public Library and McMaster University; getting a tour of Liaison College culinary program and facility; meeting with and developing a project partnership with the Olive Branch; and exploring a labyrinth as a project field trip site. Field trips, experts, and authentic audiences in Project Based Learning often lead to incredible learning opportunities where students have the chance to connect with experts in the field to ask questions, learn about how the knowledge and skills are used in the work world, and be exposed to the cutting edge of information in that field. Making these connections can be challenging and time consuming for teachers, so it was great to have time and space for this during Winter Residency.

In addition to these specific Deeper In and Further Out sessions, small group collaboration sessions happened where teachers had different opportunities for project improvement and development. A variety of teacher volunteers facilitated these sessions, creating space to work together and get feedback from others. Examples of these sessions included: developing new projects, and creating digital assessment tools.

We do a lot of work during the residency, and it can be very intense. We also try to build some fun into our time together to enrich our sense of collegiality and community. The Phys Ed department planned some great activities for our lunch breaks, and not surprisingly, Mrs. Hielema kept us well fed over the two days. We spent time in devotions, reflecting on God’s goodness, praying for our school and students, and singing together.

A lot of hard work goes into planning the Residency, and our Professional Development Team of ten teachers put a lot of effort and thought into organizing this year’s activities using feedback solicited from the whole staff. Mrs. Alkema, Mrs. Koiter, and the EA team contributed a lot of time and care in preparing their workshops, and eight other teachers offered their time to facilitate mini-sessions. There is a richness of expertise, creativity and desire to be excellent in our staff here at HDCH and it is wonderful to have so many involved in leading and helping our staff team to grow. We look forward to a great semester ahead and are thankful for the time we had to grow and work together during the Residency.

Christy Bloemendal