School's out for most students on Tuesday, Election Day, but not so for about 1,400 public school teachers across the Berkshires, who will participate in the third annual countywide cavalcade of professional development workshops.
Last year, when about 1,100 teachers took part, hot topics focused on student anxiety and the impact of early childhood trauma. But this year, the most popular presentations center on wellness, yoga, relaxation and stress reduction, not just for students but also for teachers, said co-organizer William Ballen of the Berkshire County Superintendents Association.
"That's because the job is changing and the pressure that teachers are feeling is increasing," Ballen told The Eagle. "Social media is also creating a lot of pressures for teachers and for administrators. Group-texting, sexting and rumor-spreading are out of sight, it's gotten out of hand and it's really crazy."
Along with learning-oriented workshops, other well-attended presentations will deal with anti-bias training, suicide prevention, how pop culture and social media mold children and society, and practicing yoga and mindfulness. Nearly all of the county's 17 public school districts are participating.
Although it was planned months ago, a program on "Anti-Bias Education: Pathways to Building Inclusive and Equitable School Communities" is especially timely. It will be presented to middle and high school teachers at Reid Middle School in Pittsfield by Phil Fogelman, education director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England.
The goal is to encourage inclusiveness and equitable school communities and to examine explicit and implicit racial, cultural and other forms of bias; increase awareness of personal responses to human differences and to identify strategies that foster safe environments, according to Fogelman's course description. The ADL is conducting a Peer Training Program in several Berkshire County school districts.
Among other presenters of the 40 all-day workshops are the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, the Clark Art Institute, Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Hancock Shaker Village, the Housatonic River Valley Association and Ramblewild.
Suggested topics for the presentations are offered by teachers who fill out online surveys following each year's professional development day, Ballen said. Faculty members and administrators follow up with specific workshop proposals in the spring and summer.
Based on 862 surveys last November, teachers gave high marks to the 2017 workshops, with 94 percent saying the one they attended "met or exceeded their expectations" and 85 percent commending the variety of program offerings.
Aside from suggestions for wellness topics, the teachers surveyed also asked for more workshops on early childhood trauma.
About 100 elementary and middle-school teachers have signed up for Tuesday's presentation by licensed social worker Jennifer Daily on "Creating Trauma-Informed Classrooms." The objective is to discuss "what is trauma and how does it affect students' ability to learn; differentiate between trauma and other 'look-alikes' in the classroom; how to create a trauma-informed classroom, and practical tools to use in the classroom."
According to the description prepared by Daily for the participants, "Every educator is noticing that trauma is on the rise in their classrooms. More and more kids are struggling with self-regulation, and your old tools don't seem to be working. In this workshop, you'll learn about the neurobiology of trauma, how it affects your students' ability to learn, and what you can do about it."
A program to be attended by about 50 teachers at Morningside Community School in Pittsfield is titled "How Pop Culture, Social Media, YouTube, Netflix and Other Media Outlets Mold Our Children and Our Society."
Presented by Pittsfield-based children's book author and motivational speaker Ty Allan Jackson, the course aims to understand "how media outlets like YouTube and Netflix have become the viewership of choice among children and teens; why pop culture always has and always will be a driving force in engaging young people, and how to use social media and pop culture to connect with your students."
"I believe a great project for educators is to give students a platform to express themselves," Jackson wrote in his workshop description. "That's in essence what social media is, a vehicle for self-expression. A great project could be to give students the opportunity to create their own social media platform with the objective of connecting with students from different countries."
Among this year's new offerings are about 25 science workshops at Taconic High School in Pittsfield, coordinated by the Flying Cloud Institute of New Marlborough, Ballen said, with community-partner presenters such as General Dynamics, Berkshire Botanical Garden, Berkshire Community College, Clark Art Institute, Mass Audubon, Miss Hall's School, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Bard College at Simon's Rock and Williams College. Several art-oriented presentations will be held at the Berkshire Museum.
All course proposals are reviewed by the Professional Development Committee consisting of teachers, administrators, specialists and museum representatives, chaired by Ballen. The committee is part of the Berkshire County Superintendents Roundtable, of which Ballen is executive secretary, and the Berkshire Compact for Education based at MCLA.
The designated professional development day used to be held in late October or early November when the program started developing about 10 years ago. But to get the Pittsfield schools involved, Ballen said, the presentations were moved to Election Day three years ago, since the city's schools are polling places and classes are not held. "That immediately engaged all the Pittsfield teachers, and then it all took off," said Ballen, former superintendent of what's now the Shaker Mountain School Union.
"Teachers are saying they want to get out of their own districts and be with other teachers around the county to share ideas, network and learn what's going on in other districts, so it's been overwhelmingly successful," he added.
Workshop presenters offer followup activities beyond the designated professional day, Ballen pointed out, including additional meetings, online participation or specific projects. That qualifies participants for additional professional development credits from the state.
The event is "countywide, collaborative and cost-effective because every district puts in money for professional development through the Superintendents Roundtable," Ballen pointed out. "With costs getting tighter and enrollment going down, we feel we have to do it this way. We have to engage our community partners because they want to participate more with education. Many of them are involving themselves in curriculum and what's going on in the schools so the kids are improving their learning and doing better in school, because kids learn in different ways."
The only school districts not taking part this year are Central Berkshire Regional in Dalton, because parent-teacher conferences are being held after early release for students on Tuesday and Mount Greylock Regional, which has a half-day of classes because the new middle and high school building had a delayed opening in September.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.