Virtual book club provides professional development, support and connections for faculty

Committed to education while adapting to distance learning, teachers continue to explore ways to connect with their students and rise up to new professional challenges.

Keeping up with the times, a professional development idea for summer quickly turned into a virtual book club when schools were suddenly closed. Facilitated by Jonathan Redeker, K-12 technology coordinator, and Aileen Behringer, high school librarian, the club’s book selections and discussion topics are designed to help teachers evaluate the relationships they are forming with their students, in the classroom or the current online learning environment.

Screen shot of group video call

Club members recently shared the reading of “Personal and Authentic” by Thomas C. Murray which makes the case for building relationships with students by focusing on who is being taught over what is being taught.

The author, a former teacher and administrator, and a graduate of Monroe-Woodbury High School, was a guest on a recent virtual club meeting and led a deep discussion on the chapter, Envisioning Personal and Authentic Learning Experiences.

Screen shot of group video call“I felt encouraged to take a step back from how I approach teaching on a day-to-day basis and look at the bigger picture,” said Nicole Penner, a fifth-grade teacher. “Many of the personal stories shared by the author were honest, emotional, insightful, and relatable. Above all, the takeaway is to focus on teaching the student, not the content, and making the learning experiences relevant, personal, and authentic for each child.”

Murray’s book also prompted reflection on the impact distance learning is having on teachers and students.

“This book really inspired me to see that there is a much bigger picture in the work that we do everyday as educators,” said Sarah Scoville, a third-grade teacher. “There were moments in this book that made me laugh and there were moments when I did shed some tears. This is a challenging time for all of us. However, it is also a wonderful opportunity to have a positive impact on our students and create more personal and authentic learning experiences that they will cherish and remember forever.” Screen shot of group video call

The book club setting is also providing a much-needed space for teachers to connect, share their stories, and support each other. In a time of social isolation and sustained uncertainty, it is reassuring to recognize they can continue to rely on their colleagues and the relationships they have built with each other.

“We encourage our kids to collaborate, to cultivate multidimensional perspectives, and that’s just what we have done with this group,” said Karyn Hughes, an eighth-grade ELA teacher. “Being a student in this group helps me to better appreciate each other’s stories.”

Carmina Villegas, a high school social studies teacher, has also seen visual evidence of the book club’s benefits. “My ‘happy spirit bar’ increased each time I knew we were going to meet with colleagues,” Villegas said. “Listening to the stories and experiences of my colleagues created a deeper connection to the people I work with and inspired me to remain strong throughout this difficult time, and to look forward to collaborating in the future.”