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Oakridge Teacher Describes Her Professional Development Experience

Last summer, NPR was reporting on the ‘different job’ that teachers have today; cultural awareness, diversity , and the increased sense of bullying . This was connected to the report of the updated state standards of teaching about the WW2 Holocaust, as well as the idea of genocides of Native Americans and Armenia, and many other connections to the idea of genocide of other cultures.

Corey Harbaugh, Co-Director of HEN, described the competitive essay writing that would lead to 20 teachers being chosen from across the state  to attend the week-long professional development, which was held in the Holocaust Memorial Museum/ Zekelman Campus of Farmington Hills, MI. Any teacher applying had to describe their reasoning for wanting to be a part of the seminar, how the subject could be applied to the age of their students, and how it may be personally connected to their own lives. Mrs. Fairweather (Oakridge 4th Grade Teacher) was accepted! “I couldn’t believe it!”, Fairweather said. “I was the only elementary -based teacher who would be joining the program.”

 Every teacher has his or her area that keeps them excited and involved in gaining new knowledge- even though Mrs. Fairweather has always taught in the upper elementary age range, the Holocaust and the affect on humanity has been her focus for 21 years in the classroom.

 The program was funded by the Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI). Mrs. Lengyel was the sole survivor of her family when they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. This funding keeps the program maintained each year. We are provided with Lengyel’s book, Five Chimneys, and each teacher is expected to read and write about the book, The World Must Know.

 What an incredible week! The days were full of writing, fantastic discussion about how to connect curriculum (or introduce it from the 4th grade point of view!), meetings with the Anti-Defamation League, two visits to Congregation Shaarey Zedek to have round-table shareouts about the idea of how the idea of genocide and basic human rights can be taught from Kindergarten to Seniors, attending Shabbat service, sharing lesson time with the Echoes and Reflections commitee (echoesandrefelctions.org), and most incredibly, meeting 4 Holocaust survivors who presented their ideas of teaching in today’s classroom.

 From the 4th grade point of view, the focus of Mrs. Fairweather included everything from the ideas of writing poetry, emphasis on primary resources, creating personal timelines, presenting lessons on empathy/sympathy, the idea of perpetrators/bystanders and upstanders,  cross-curricular connections, the hope of bringing the Anne Frank Writing/Art  Project to the west side of the state, and helping fellow teachers to understand better literacy choices than just what is included on mentor lists, and character point of view within literacy choices.

 Our professional development is written as 40 hours, but many of the day’s lessons continued well past 6pm and until 9-10pm. Twenty teachers given the task (and honor) of presenting new curriculum with personal connections leads to amazing, amazing classroom talks.

 “I am not the same teacher that I was before I was lucky enough to attend this seminar.”, explained Mrs. Fairweather. “You come away from this having a much deeper connection to the entire subject and the affect on us today AND in the future. I could not keep my teacher pride hidden during any of this week- talk about teacher geek excitement!”

Mrs. Fairweather is one of the many teachers at Oakridge Public Schools that spend their summers learning and collaborating with other educators, and discovering knew ways to bring books alive in our classrooms. We appreciate Mrs. Fairweather sharing her experience with us. Such an incredible opportunity for her, and we are excited to see how this translates into her 4th grade classroom in the coming weeks!
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