The following is a guest post from Doing Social Studies contributor Joe Zlatnik, an 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Basehor-Linwood Middle School
Professional development, for most of us, occurs in our own building and districts, and, in my experience, is not usually planned with social studies teachers in mind. The professional development I have been involved with is usually very general and is rarely specific to what I teach. While this is unfortunate, the burden on school administrators planning professional development opportunities is understandable. STEM subjects and reading are the major priorities of the state of Kansas, and school districts follow suit. Considering the shrinking budgets across the state, there is less and less available for content-specific professional development, especially for Social Studies teachers.
While this is certainly a disappointing reality, there are incredible opportunities available for those who seek them out. Conferences, such as KCSS and NCSS, are great opportunities to network and learn from some of the best Social Studies teachers from around the state and country. There are also a number of opportunities available during the summer for teachers who seek to grow as a professional.
Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to take part in the George Washington Teacher Institute at the our first President’s beloved estate, Mt. Vernon. This five-day, four-night residential professional development program focused on the leadership and legacy of George Washington, and the lessons that we can derive from him and his experiences. Dr. Denver Brunsman of George Washington University led the institute. We also had opportunities to collaborate with Mt. Vernon’s historians, curators, educational experts, and the fellow teachers taking part in the institute.
Over the course of the week we toured the expansive grounds, including the mansion, crypts, gardens, farms, gristmill, distillery, and the Washington monument in Washington, DC. The majority of our time, however, was spent in the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. During our sessions at the library, there were lectures over different aspects of General Washington’s leadership (military, governmental, civil, agricultural, etc.) that paired with classroom application sessions on how we can utilize these lessons in leadership with our students. We also explored Washington through his own words via primary sources. In addition to primary source readings we analyzed paintings, buildings, and the landscape of Mt. Vernon in order to gain insight into Washington’s mind.
My experience at Mt. Vernon was second to none. The Institute itself was well planned and executed, the historians and staff at Mt. Vernon were incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about Mt. Vernon and George Washington. We also had complete access to the estate. Every morning we woke up prior to sunrise and walked to the piazza (back porch) to watch the sunrise over the Potomac River. We had the same opportunity every evening as we stayed up late, walked the grounds, and enjoyed the company of other educators as we explored the estate with no chaperones.
The highlight of the Institute, for me, was the people that I had the opportunity to share the week with. The teachers involved came from across the country; Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia, Nevada, Missouri, Florida, and Kentucky were just a few of the states represented. We also had a mix of professional backgrounds with APUSH teachers, middle school teachers, elementary teachers, gifted specialists, and curriculum directors present. The diversity of those involved created a unique dynamic where we were able to learn from each other’s experiences in addition to learning from the programming of the Institute. In the end, I was able to come home with materials, new knowledge, and a recharged battery that has me looking forward to the start of the school year.
If you teach American History or Government, I would strongly encourage you to reach out to the folks at Mt. Vernon, as they are more than willing to provide resources and work with teachers who are teaching the Founding Era and George Washington. I also came home with resources and ideas for teaching these topics so please feel free to reach out, as I will be glad to share anything and everything that I have.
I will be writing again shortly to describe my week in Charlottesville, VA at the Monticello Teacher Institute, where I am continuing my summer PD tour.