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April 7, 2021

Ogdensburg - Student success and well-being continue to be the top priority for the diocesan Department of Education, even in this pandemic driven world. “The Catholic Schools of the diocese have been responsive, resourceful, and empathetic to the needs of our school community,” said Karen Donahue, Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the diocese.

“One of the hallmarks of our community,” Donahue said, “is providing quality professional development opportunities and resources to our faculty and staff members throughout the year. We have met the challenges with creativity and converted those into opportunities for everyone. The Department of Education staff provides leadership and guidance to our schools through an active Curriculum Committee.”

Sister Ellen Rose (Sister Ellen Rose Coughlin, SSJ, Director of Catholic Education for the Diocese and Superintendent of the schools) provides the leadership for the department and is quite involved in the planning and decision-making aspects of our offerings. Anita Soltero, the Eastern Regional Center Director for the Diocesan Faith Formation office is also involved in the effort and is responsible for the faith instruction components.

The Education Department staff explores new techniques and strategies that support student learning and perfect the teacher’s professional craft.

The Assistant Superintendent gave us some examples of how COVID-19 altered the department’s past practices and opened up new opportunities.

Typically, there is diocesan wide training three times a year for the instructional staff - Opening School Professional Development Day in late August; Superintendent’s Conference Day in October and Professional Development Day in March. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the March 2020 program was postponed.

The staff had to rethink how to function under new parameters of social distancing and other protocols. The curriculum committee began meeting virtually in February 2020. Committee members agreed there was an immediate need for quality virtual resources and skills training. A Virtual Resource Lab (VRL) was created to establish a safe way to inventory and archive virtual applications (apps) and other resources teachers had discovered were especially effective during this period of distance learning.

Individuals can “visit” the lab at any time to look over posted virtual resources, read reviews by colleagues, learn some tips on using specific apps, and/or suggestions for use.

To kick off the VRL, the department sponsored a virtual contest in which anyone could send an “entry” to the lab. Once submitted the resource/app was reviewed and posted. Individuals were invited to produce and submit video clips about how to use a particular app or resource, sort of a how-to or dos and don’ts information video.
To start school year 2020-2021 the diocese hosted virtual professional development days for the teaching staff in late August 2020. “Life is Uncertain, Eat Dessert First!” was held via ZOOM. Participants attended two two-hour sessions that featured training on:

• Transitioning Back: Building relationships and creating community

• Encouraging Independence and Student Voice

• Maximizing Classroom Discussion

•Increasing Accountability and Engagement

• Strategies to Support Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), Classroom Management and Engagement in an Online Environment

A number of programs were redesigned such as the Kindergarten to Grade 12 Digital Citizenship Training Program.

Staff professional development was conducted at the school level by a 3-person team that received in-depth training and resources to share with staff. They also supported their colleagues in presenting the lessons that are designed to be taught in the classroom or virtually.

This format proved to be quite successful, and the department decided to use it for the Spring 2021 professional development program. Differentiation of Instruction and Small Group Instruction designed to meet the needs of all students is a six-hour training program with optional follow up sessions known as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Each school established a two-person team to facilitate the 6-module training over the spring semester. They also serve as resident experts in their school.

New Teacher Orientation was also redesigned to go virtual. This allowed participants to log on from anywhere for one-hour presentations offered through the first month of school for a total of eight one-hour segments.

“We have learned that our staff is resilient, resourceful, and positive under some difficult circumstances,” Donahue said. “We learned that some professional development is most successful when offered in a virtual format that reduces travel time and allows the participant to receive information in smaller bites over time. We also have been able to connect virtually with nationally known experts to receive training and resources. Webinars, interactive Zoom sessions, virtual resources, chat room discussions, google classroom apps, parent portals have all become valuable tools for teachers, students, and parents.”

Karen Donahue said the Catholic School staffs are looking forward to a pre-COVID world in which students enjoy a less regulated learning environment. “The advantage for students and teachers,” she said, “is that they will have the best resources and practices the virtual world has to offer in addition to traditional proven practices.”

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