Teacher Day @ TLA: Powerful PD for All Educators

By Jessica Robbins who currently serves as the Director of Curriculum and Special Programs for Aransas County ISD in Rockport, TX.

About eight years ago, I was approached by my campus librarian who had something very sneaky up her sleeve. She was baiting me into a love affair with the Texas Library Association annual conference.  Maybe “sneaky” and “baiting” is a little overdramatic. The truth is, when you offer a young high school English teacher a 4-day trip to free books and rooms full of authors, you can expect hero status.  I had no idea as I responded with an emphatic “YES!” just what a gift she was offering me.

Most high school English teachers do not struggle with a love for reading.  They often chose the profession because literature lured them into a degree that has limited career options.  English majors share an appreciation for the canon and envision themselves sharing the passion for the greats with a classroom full of eager teenagers.  It isn’t until your first round with To Kill a Mockingbird or Beowulf that you discover that somehow you missed something in college.  

I was one of those English majors who entered the field of teaching not JUST because I loved American Lit.  I wanted desperately to inspire kids.  So when I was presented with an unconventional approach to reading something besides the classics with the possibility of reaching more students with more books, I ran quickly toward the door. I knew my librarian sprinkled some kind of fairy dust on kids who walked into the library, but I didn’t realize until after TLA that it wasn’t magic; it was young adult literature. She was keeping up with the latest releases on books that were written FOR my reluctant readers and my passionate readers.  She had her finger on the pulse of YA and this gave her most of what she needed to crack the door open to a world of reading.  My students needed this, and I didn’t realize how badly.

My immersion into this world changed my life.  I spent my week participating in sessions where authors sat at tables and talked about the experience of writing for my kids, I was exposed to the most recently released works from a wide variety of publishers, and I learned about digital applications for the classroom at a rapid rate. I realized how many opportunities my students were missing when I allowed the unknowns of technology to intimidate me to the point of avoidance.

At the end of each day, I returned with my treasures and met up with the team of professionals who traveled with me.  Our district had received some additional grant money that year to provide this opportunity to administrators, instructional technologists and teachers.  We debriefed each day, and I realized that I was not the only person experiencing this new level of enlightenment.   As we talked about our sessions, we wanted to take a piece of TLA home with us, and at the end of one of our final days, we committed to a K-12 collaborative team that I am still proudly a part of today.  

I now work at the district level in curriculum and instruction. As director over our K-12 ELAR program and several special programs, I take every chance I get to budget for and send teachers from our district to TLA. There are very few forms of professional development that have had such a powerful impact on my career, and I continue to hear the same from attendees who return in April.  TLA can inspire new teachers, veteran teachers, and tired teachers. It has immediate results. Teachers come home fueled and empowered to lead students toward a love for reading, and administrators come home equipped to lead their staff in powerful reading opportunities, cutting edge media and technology.

I know budgets are tight, but if you have any control over professional development in your district, the Texas Library Conference will be pennies well spent.  Texas teachers need this, and as difficult as it is for educators to break away from campus, the gains will be well worth the sacrifice.  I still shamelessly thank my librarian for paving my way to TLA and repay the favor as often as possible.  I signed my first administrator up for the April 2017 conference yesterday, as a matter of fact!   

Join Us! On Friday, April 21, 2017, 100 classroom teachers will have the opportunity to experience a one day special event during the TLA conference, comprised of speakers, activities, and pricing designed just for them. Planning has begun for a fun, interactive day for the classroom teachers who attend, as well as the librarians who sponsor them. Participants are welcome to stay for the full conference. The focus of this program is for classroom teachers to return to their districts after experiencing TLA as library advocates and collaborators.  Details about Teacher Day at TLA and the application for teachers to participate can be accessed at http://www.txla.org/teacher-day.

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